How they got the story: Kenneth Jackson on APTN’s Bruce Carson affair scoop

‘Escort, pimp, senior policy advisor to Harper, native affairs and government contracts.’ Those were the words of a source that piqued Kenneth Jackson’s interest and began an investigation that would lead Jackson and APTN's Jorge Barrera to uncover the Bruce Carson affair. Jackson explains how they got the story. 


Introduction by Media mag editor David McKie

‘Escort, pimp, senior policy advisor to Harper, native affairs and government contracts.’ Those were the words of a source that piqued Kenneth Jackson’s interest and began an investigation that would lead Jackson and APTN's Jorge Barrera to uncover the Bruce Carson affair. Jackson explains how they got the story. 


Introduction by Media mag editor David McKie

The story of a Conservative backroom operator who allegedly used his influence to try to win contracts for his then-fiancee, was one of the juiciest stories to reach Parliament Hill in recent memory, and a story that shot a little-known TV network into the big time. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network worked the story, using contacts from—from all places—the sex trade industry.

Ken Jackson's account of how he and Jorge Barrera got the story, and then how they confronted Bruce Carson with the damning evidence, is a fascinating read, and one that deserved a little extra space in order for his narrative to breathe.

Of course, the Carson story is far from over, and there were many aspects of the case that the network didn't cover, as Ken explains in the piece. Still, the network blazed a trail and caused other media outlets, including my own (the CBC), to play catch-up.


By Kenneth Jackson

I tell the guy on the phone to meet me at the gas station across the road from Collins Bay Institution.

This will be the drop.

It’s a crisp, dark February evening in Kingston, Ontario, just after five o’clock.

As I pull in, I see the man parked where he said he’d be. I go to on the other side.

My fiancée is in the car, as we had just left the gym.

I’ve never met him before. I don’t want to take any chances.

I walk towards him. He’s talking on his mobile phone through a bluetooth earpiece.

I wave and say hello. He motions for me to come closer.

“It’s in the back,” he says, opening the vehicle’s sliding door.

There it is. I see it immediately, sitting on a child booster seat,  a small box taped completely in duct tape.

He reaches in and hands it to me.

I say thanks and don’t stick around.

When I get back to my car, I rip the box open.

I reach in and quickly read a bit.

“Holy shit,” I say to my soon-to-be wife.

Inside, are dozens of emails, bank records — pieces of the Bruce Carson story.

Calling in the RCMP to investigate a former Harper advisor

Fast-forward from that February 2011 meeting in the parking lot.

In July, 2012, the RCMP charged the 66-year-old Carson with influence peddling after an investigation that lasted nearly 15 months.

Carson was a senior advisor in Prime Minister’s Office from 2006 to 2008, and is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The matter is now before the courts.

The Mounties began their investigation when the Prime Minister’s Office called the police to investigate a political staffer, one of their own. Carson may had been out of office for a couple years, but he’s a Conservative as a summer day is long.

He’d be given a cushy job as director of the Canadian School of Energy and Environment in 2008, but he didn’t really sink his teeth into the Calgary, and Conservative think-tank, until the following year.

That’s because in 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called him back to help briefly in the PMO.

Getting the scoop from a sextrade source

When I got an email from an old source on February 15, 2011, saying they had a potential story, I quickly called the person.

I was a freelancer living in Kingston, separated only weeks from my former job as the crime reporter at the Ottawa Sun.

“How do the words ‘escort, pimp, senior policy advisor to Harper, native affairs and government contracts” sound for a Kenneth Jackson headline?’” the person writing the email asked.

The person had deep connections in Ottawa’s sex trade, something I had exclusively covered during my time in Ottawa.

During the telephone conservation, I said I needed proof, which is why I set up the meeting with the stranger at a gas station across from murderers and thieves.

My first challenge was selling the story.

Who could I trust?

I wanted to, not only sell the story, but, even more importantly, I wanted to work it. I wasn’t just going to hand it off.

I had known Jorge Barrera for several years and we always wanted to work a story together.

He was working at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network; I was a free agent with a story in a box.

The Carson story was of a well-connected man trying to use to his contacts in the federal government to land lucrative water contracts on First Nations reserves with long-standing and severe water-quality problems.

Carson was trying to land contracts for an Ottawa company that sells water filtration-systems. But, really, he was doing it for love.

Following the email trail

He was engaged to 22-year-old Michele McPherson, also known as LeannaVIP,  her working name as a popular Ottawa escort.

She was friends with the owner of the water company. They all worked out a deal where she’d receive a cut of the profits from potential contracts.

The aboriginal angle was obvious, plus Barrera covered federal politics. He was an ordinary, decent reporter, and a friend.

“I have a story but I can’t tell you about it,” I said to him sitting on his couch.

He laughed.

I was only sort of joking. I knew I had something. I quickly caved and told him a bit about it. Then I pulled out the emails.

“Holy shit,” he said when he came across one of the emails where Carson said he spoke to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about a cabinet shuffle in August 2010, a day before it was made public.

It wasn’t long before I had a deal with APTN to work the story with my friend.

We had emails that provided a paper trail from about the beginning of July 2010 to the middle of October. It was now March 2011.

We needed to fill in the gap.

Initially, we over-thought the entire story.

By that I mean, we thought we needed to almost go undercover to get what we needed. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ultimately, we wanted to catch Carson with McPherson. Connect them.

Carson spent his week in Calgary. On weekends he flew back to Ottawa for business — and to  be with McPherson.  He always stayed at the Chateau Laurier, a high-end hotel.

We called the hotel on a Saturday and asked for Carson.

“I’m sorry but he’s not in yet,” replied the lady on the phone.

She said he was expected to check inlater that day. We then checked arrivals from Calgary to Ottawa. There was a direct flight. So we went to the airport. Sure enough, a man looking like Carson appeared. He walked a bit slouched over and was wearing jeans. He had a small, carry-on bag.

After spending about 15 minutes on his phone, he walked over to rent a car even though he had leased or purchased two vehicles for McPherson, a black Mercedes SUV and a Hyundai Sonata.

The car he rented was a white Chevy Cobalt.

It was raining, and with one car, a handful of other excuses, the slow-moving

Carson evaded us.

Deflated, we headed back to APTN’s office in the World Exchange Plaza in downtown Ottawa.

Then Barrera did what he does best. He began poking around the Internet. We had already pulled a bunch of stuff that added to the story, but somehow missed a Facebook page made by the company, H20 Global Group, also known as H20 Water Professionals (H2O Pros). It appeared that it was just made.

In its description, the company said it was interested in providing clean drinking water in first nations’ communities.

Barrera then had the idea of just emailing the company and saying we want to meet and talk about the work they wanted to do.

The encounter with Carson

It was a risk. I was hesitant. I didn’t want to lose them before we even started.

We really needed to think of all the angles.

But, in the end, we didn’t have much choice. About 10 minutes after sending that fateful email, we got a response from Christine McPherson; yes, Michele’s mother, saying they’d love to meet. Owner Patrick Hill would be there, too, as well as Mr. Bruce Carson.

We were floored.

“Carson is going to come too?” I asked Barrera.



In that interview, Carson would confirm most of what we already knew, and then some, and without us asking him.

He introduced McPherson into the interview saying he was only doing it for his girlfriend, and then he named her. He said he spoke to Harper on a regular basis, along with his cabinet.

It was bureaucracy that was holding up the company getting contracts.

Federal public servants were making it difficult.

He then agreed to do another interview at the office of the company.

It was then that he spoke about how he didn’t want to get in trouble for being a lobbyist, which he said he wasn’t.

We had a lot, but we didn’t have Carson and McPherson together.

She was supposed to be the face of the company, according to a contract Carson witnessed and was signed by the owners of the water company, along with McPherson.

We tried one last time to get McPherson on camera. It was a Sunday.

First, she was going to show, then wasn’t, then was. Finally, only Carson showed.

Up until this point, I was never really part of the interviews for fear they’d make me. I had met McPherson years earlier, and had connections to them through my sources in the sex-trade business.

This time I sat down with Barrera. Carson seemed impatient and tired.

He was fine, though, until we brought up McPherson. He got agitated the first time.

Then I asked my first question about McPherson.

He got up and called off the interview.

That was when we told him everything we had.

The camera rolled the entire time, with APTN Investigates cameraman Josh Grummett capturing what unfolded next.

We expected Carson to dart for the door, but he didn’t.

He stuck around.

As we told him what he knew he began to say things like “I’m in so much shit.”

Then he walked into an office and was a silhouette of a man by the window as he peered below to the street six floors down.

We kept rolling and continued to confront him. It was our due diligence as reporters to give the man a fair shake.

He admitted to witnessing the contract and writing the email about Harper, but said he lied when he wrote he spoke to Harper. Carson said he spoke to someone else about the shuffle.

The interview continued for several minutes before he eventually walked out and into the parking garage to his rented Cobalt.

Confronting the Prime Minister’s Office

Three days later we set up a meeting with Harper’s former chief spokesman Dimitri Soudas. We also had an obligation to give them a head’s-up for comment. In today’s world, it’s the proper thing to do, and legally responsible.

Still, it was tough laying our cards on the table to a trained public relations man like Soudas. His job was deflect, not accept us as friends.

Hours later, the Prime Minister’s Office sent a letter to the RCMP asking them to investigate Carson. Similar letters were sent to the Lobbying Commissioner and Office of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

We had three federal investigations, all before we wrote a single word.

We had intended to do an hour-long show as part of APTN Investigates, butnow we had to roll with what we had, and quickly.

That evening, we only broke the story of the PMO calling in the authorities on Carson. We didn’t get into detail.

Then all hell broke loose. Reporters were trying to get in our story. We haven’t even had time to breathe.

It happened, what felt like, a blink of an eye.

The next day we broke more of the story.

APTN’s website crashed. Our BlackBerrys were going nuts. It was only a five-minute story of what was going to be an hour. There was much more to tell.

Then it reached Question Period and flooded the halls of the House of Commons. The government fell, and then Harper won a majority.

In hindsight

The story went quiet, at least publicly.

My contract with APTN was up and Barrera was on to other stories. Looking back, I should have written about it throughout, every day if I could. Some weeks I could have, but I didn’t have an employer.

There’s plenty that was never published. Our published work really is just a small portion of what we uncovered and what I continued to.

But, Carson barely made the news until Barrera and I hooked up again this past April.

We had information the RCMP was cranking up their investigation.

We learned authorities had thousands of Carson’s emails while at Canada School of Energy and the Environment, and were looking into a mystery $5,000 cheque and whether the water company paid Carson.

In addition, the Mounties were heavily interested in McPherson’s role.

They also wanted to know if people believed Carson had contacts in the government he said he had, and if they believed he could help the company with those contacts. In other words, they were looking at influence peddling.

We also reported Hill, the water company owner, was under investigation for fraud by the Ontario Provincial Police.

In an interview, Hill said Carson and McPherson destroyed his life.

Then, while I was writing a story on real estate, because I’m still a freelancer, I got an email from Barrera July 27 saying only “Carson’s been charged!!” in the subject line.

What separates this story from others is we didn’t report on someone else’s investigation. We did our own. It was a reporter’s investigation.

We flew by the seat of our pants, at times, and counted on our ability to find the truth. Nothing was published that wasn’t confirmed. If someone told us something, it had to be backed up with documents or several other witnesses.

This story is far from over.

The lobbying reported is said to be “unprecedented” and also expected to look at Carson’s involvement in oil, as he played a big part in the Conservative government’s attempt to clean up the oil sands.

That report will likely come out after the influence peddling court case.


Kenneth Jackson is a freelance reporter. You can reach him at or @afixedaddress.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of CAJ's Media magazine and has been reprinted here with permission of editor David McKie. 

Related links:

APTN’s Carson affair investigation, uncut