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Coke charge dropped as ex-Tory MP Jaffer pleads guilty to careless driving

ORANGEVILLE, Ont. - Cocaine possession and drunk driving charges against former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer were withdrawn Tuesday after the one-time anti-drug activist pleaded guilty to careless driving.

ORANGEVILLE, Ont. - Cocaine possession and drunk driving charges against former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer were withdrawn Tuesday after the one-time anti-drug activist pleaded guilty to careless driving.

The plea deal sparked an angry exchange in the House of Commons, after the opposition Liberals accused the government of hypocrisy.

In convicting Jaffer and fining him $500, the Ontario court judge said he would not interfere with the joint submission by Crown and defence.

"I'm sure you can recognize a break when you see one," Justice Doug Maund told Jaffer.

Prosecutor Marie Balogh told the court there was no reasonable prospect of conviction on the more serious charges, saying there would be "significant legal issues" with proceeding on those.

"The matter was carefully reviewed," Balogh told Maund.

She would not comment afterwards.

Asked by Maund if he had anything to say, Jaffer simply said, "No, thank you, your honour."

Jaffer, 38, refused to discuss his guilty plea under Ontario's Highway Traffic Act. He said he was relieved the case was over.

"I know that I should have been more careful," he said outside court.

"Once again I apologize for that, and I take full responsibility for my careless driving."

Jaffer, who is married to junior federal cabinet minister Helena Guergis, was arrested last Sept. 10 after police stopped him for driving at 90 kilometres an hour in a 50 km/h zone in Palgrave, Ont., north of Toronto.

Court heard that Jaffer told police he had two beers before heading home to Angus, Ont., in his Ford Escape from Toronto. He failed a breath test and was arrested.

In the Commons, Liberal MP Anita Neville called on the Conservative government to condemn the plea arrangement, saying Jaffer had got off with a "slap on the wrist."

"The Conservatives are conspicuously silent only when the law's being flouted by one of their own," Neville said.

"Does this government really believe that the punishment fits the crime?"

"This is about as low as you can go," retorted Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

Jaffer's lawyer, Howard Rubel, said outside court Jaffer had always "refuted" the charges of driving over the legal limit or possession of any illegal substance.

"The withdrawal of those charges vindicates that refutation."

Rubel said Jaffer was simply driving without paying attention to how fast he was going.

"He has acknowledged that today as anyone would, and he will pay the same fine that everyone else will."

Jaffer was well known for his tough stance on drug abuse and dealing. He was the face of several Conservative public-service announcements on radio that called for a sentencing crackdown on drug dealers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office, offered little by way of comment in light of the government's strong justice agenda and anti-drug efforts.

"I would simply point to the fact that it was judged and prosecuted under provincial law," said Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas.

Ontario's Attorney General said plea deals are the normal purview of Crown and defence.

He did not know why the drug charges were dropped but said there was no favourtism.

"We have one rule for all," Bentley said. "The law has to be administered equally."

Margaret Miller, national president for MADD Canada, said Jaffer's plea deal was not unusual and would have no impact on efforts to combat impaired driving.

The issue has now garnered attention only because of Jaffer's profile, Miller said.

"This happens every day in our Canadian courts," Miller said from outside Halifax.

Outside court, Jaffer joked it was nice to see all the reporters, saying he had been out of the political business for awhile.

He was first elected as an Alberta Conservative MP in 1997 in Edmonton-Stratchona but lost in his riding in 2008.

In 2001, Jaffer apologized to the House of Commons after admitting an aide impersonated him on a live national radio call-in show based in Vancouver.

The aide resigned.

The party suspended Jaffer as chairman of its small-business advisory committee, and demoted him to the backbenches.

Guergis, who represents Simcoe-Grey for the Conservatives, has faced problems of her own recently after a meltdown at Charlottetown airport for which she apologized.

Jaffer was a regular on the Ottawa party scene before his relationship with Guergis.

She has previously not commented on her husband's case.