Judy Sgro (Interview)

SINCE NOVEMBER, former minister of citizenship and immigration Judy Sgro has been dogged by scandal. First came "strippergate" - allegations that she helped Romanian erotic dancer Alina Balaican skip the immigration line in return for volunteering on Sgro's political campaign. Then Brampton, Ont.

Sgro, Judy (Interview)

SINCE NOVEMBER, former minister of citizenship and immigration Judy Sgro has been dogged by scandal. First came "strippergate" - allegations that she helped Romanian erotic dancer Alina Balaican skip the immigration line in return for volunteering on Sgro's political campaign. Then Brampton, Ont., pizzeria owner Harjit Singh claimed Sgro had promised to help him fight deportation to India in exchange for free food for her campaign workers - which led to her resignation from cabinet in January. Last week, the 60-year-old York West MP was cleared by the ethics commissioner in the first instance, and in the latter, received a public apology and retraction from Singh, who has since been deported to India, where he was previously convicted of people-smuggling.

How does it feel to have your name cleared?

I'm relieved and pleased. I got the public retraction and apologies - that was the most important to me. I got an apology from some of the opposition. I appreciated that. The fact the opposition critic [Diane Ablonczy] has not been prepared to do it speaks for itself.

Once we, as politicians, put ourselves out there, we're subject to all kinds of people making allegations and accusations against us. It's unfortunate that I had to go to the lengths of choosing to resign to fight back. But frankly, it was the right thing to do.

What went through your mind when the accusations were first made?

I was devastated someone would actually go to those lengths - to swear an affidavit that I had made promises in return for pizza and garlic bread. It was hard to explain to my 11-year-old grandson why I had to step down. He so innocently suggested: 'Nonna, don't you think you should get a better job?' I told him I had the best job in the world.

Do you regret your decision to resign?

It was the right thing to do. It wasn't a decision I made easily. If I pay a high political price, so be it. I think it's very important to stand on principle. If I'm right about something, I'm going to fight back on it. As for my career, time will tell. That was yesterday. I'm moving forward already today.

How were you were treated in the media?

The media went very strong. There's a lot of competition out there today. So often they just run with stories and politicians seem to be fair game.

Have they covered your exoneration as extensively as the accusations?

When the day comes that they play up the exoneration as well as the accusations, that will be a great day, but that'll never happen. [Former Conservative minister] Sinclair Stevens waited 17 years to be vindicated on an accusation of conflict of interest. But for 17 years he carried this cloud over his head. The lesson to be learned is that we shouldn't rush to judgment.

Are you alluding to the current scandal?

I'm referring to what's been going on in the House. When Ed Broadbent indicated that he wasn't going to run in the next election, he raised the issue of how Question Period had reached an all-time low with personal attacks and accusations. Just because someone has immunity for 45 minutes doesn't give them the right to make personal attacks.

Do you still eat pizza?

No pizza and no garlic bread. And on the next campaign, I think we'll have very little of it as well.

Maclean's May 23, 2005