Conservative Party reverses course on Trost, now says MP didn’t leak list to firearms group

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A year and a half after it accused one of its MPs of leaking a list of Conservative Party members to a firearms rights group, the party has changed course and now says Brad Trost had nothing to do with the leak.

‘In short, [the Leadership Election Organizing Committee] does not believe there is evidence that the Trost Campaign was responsible for leaking of the membership list, and … this matter is now closed, » said a statement by party spokesman Cory Hann.

In June of 2017, the Conservative Party alleged that the office of former party leadership candidate Brad Trost, the MP for Saskatoon University, gave a list of the party’s members to the National Firearms Association.

The Conservative Party used a practice called « salting » to trace unauthorized releases of its membership list: each leadership campaign received a slightly different copy of the list to allow officials to pinpoint leaks.

Trost, who finished fourth in the leadership contest, was ordered to pay a fine of $50,000 and an additional $22,000 to cover the party’s legal costs.

Trost’s campaign asked the courts to launch a judicial review of the party’s decision. The courts declined. In a decision released in May, 2018, the Ontario Superior Court said it couldn’t launch a judicial review of Trost’s case because the dispute involved a private organization.

The socially conservative Saskatchewan MP maintained his innocence and threatened to take his battle to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary to clear his name.

‘Insufficient evidence’

According to a statement from the party’s organizing committee, the list possessed by the National Firearms Association was the copy of the list given to Trost’s campaign, but « there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the Trost Campaign was the source of its leak. »

« Accordingly, the non-compliance ruling against the Trost Campaign by LEOC on June 8, 2017 has been overturned, » Hann said in a statement.

« The Conservative Party of Canada and the Trost Campaign have come to a settlement with regards to the financial aspects of the decision, including the fine and the judicially awarded costs from a related legal action. »

Despite the fact that his dispute with the party has been settled, Trost won’t be representing the Conservatives in the next election. He’s one of a handful of incumbent Conservative MPs who had to fight to run again for the party in the 2019 election. Trost lost the nomination battle to provincial politician Corey Tochor.

‘We’re extremely pleased’

While Trost initially suggested elements within the party were trying to oust him, he ultimately blamed the loss of his nomination on himself, saying he was « too complacent. »

Joseph C. Ben-Ami, Trost’s former campaign manager, told CBC News that it had been their argument from the outset that the campaign was not the only body to have access to Trost’s salted version of the list.

« We’re extremely pleased. Its exactly what we’ve said all along, » said Ben-Ami. « We never were in a position to dispute whether or not the list that was obtained by the National Firearms Association was the same that the party had provided to us.

« Our position was always that we were not, certainly, the only people with a copy of that list and we were not the source, and that was it … So we’re very happy. It’s taken a while, but there it is. »

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19th-century firearms retrieved from ocean bottom being restored in N.L.

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Twenty rifle-muskets, with walnut stocks and brass fittings, sit in a partially intact wooden crate at the department of archeology at Memorial University in St. John’s, where they are being conserved.

The iron barrels have corroded, but the P53 Enfield rifle-muskets are in remarkable shape after spending close to 150 years at the bottom of the ocean. 

They were dragged to the surface in 2011 by the Newfoundland Lynx, fishing 150 nautical miles east off Cape Freels in 800 metres of water.

Since then, the P53 Enfields have spent most of the time submerged in a tub of chemicals, including polyethylene glycol, a bulking agent that prevents the wood from collapsing.

Conservationist Donna Teasdale has been working on the crate of P53 Enfields since 2011. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

Donna Teasdale, a conservator at the university, said the British-made weapon was common in the 1850s and ’60s.

« The interesting part is that they’re in a crate. [That’s] very rare, and we only know of one other example and that was found in Chesapeake Bay. »

It’s very rare to find P53 Enfield rifle-muskets in their original crate. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

More than a thousand hours of work has gone into restoring the crate of guns alone.

That is nearly complete, and once they spend a few weeks in a vacuum freeze dryer, they’ll be ready for display.

But it’s not settled where they’ll go from here.

« My hope sincerely is that somewhere like The Rooms takes them and puts them on permanent display, » said archeological conservator and graduate student Alexa Spiwak.

« They’re a fantastic find. They have such huge heritage value. They’re such a one of a kind thing. And I think the public loves them and they deserve to be seen. »

The P53 Enfield was ubiquitous in the British army and used during the American Civil War and the Crimean War.

Spiwak has been working on the rifle-muskets for 2½ years.

When the firearms and crate arrived, they weighed around 270 kilograms. They’re now down to half that.  

Along with cleaning out lots of packing grease, silt and iron particles, Spiwak spent time researching the guns’ origins.

Conservator Alexa Spiwak has been busy cleaning and restoring the guns. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

« These were actually what they called first class, the finest that Enfield made at the time, » she said.

They were machine-made and parts were interchangeable, dating from around 1860 onwards.

Spiwak thinks the P53s were in use, possibly in Canada at the time, and were on their way back to Britain.

« In 1866, the British government actually recalled P53s across the empire because what they wanted to do was actually modify the stocks themselves to be breech-loading. »

Until that time, soldiers would use a ramrod to pack in the bullet and gunpowder from the muzzle.

The P53 Enfield rifle-muskets are weeks away from being fully restored. (Todd O’Brien / CBC)

The project is being funded by the provincial Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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