June 23, 2016 - 9:30 AM
OTTAWA - Mike Duffy is being asked to repay $16,955 in what a Senate committee considers ineligible expenses, despite the controversial senator having been acquitted earlier this year on 31 charges related to his spending claims.
It marks the first time since late March that a senator has been asked to repay questionable spending — an order Duffy is entitled to take up with a special arbitrator, former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie.
The arbitration process was originally set up to handle disputes arising from a federal audit of Senate spending — a review that missed Duffy initially, because he was under RCMP investigation and facing criminal charges.
Some senators on the committee tasked with oversight of Senate spending wanted auditor general Michael Ferguson to come back and review Duffy's spending, but the majority of committee members opted against rekindling the controversy.
But details that emerged during Duffy's criminal trial led Senate administrators to take another look at his spending, with the head of Senate finance alerting the Senate's internal economy committee to the questionable claims.
In a June 8 letter, the clerk of the Senate's internal economy committee cited "new information" that "had surfaced in the public domain" as the reason for the Senate taking another look at the eligibility of seven expense claims, which range from $10,000 for a personal trainer to $8 for personal photos.
The letter gives Duffy 10 days to "provide observations or information that could establish the eligibility of the expenses" — Senate lingo for requiring Duffy to prove the spending was legitimate.
Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne says his client has been "fully exonerated" on the seven expenses in question, calling the Senate's persistence "a further compounding of injustice upon injustice, and should be stopped."
Ontario Court Justice Charles Vaillancourt said that Duffy’s actions weren't criminal, even if they raised eyebrows, in acquitting Duffy on 31 charges including fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
"That judgment, in addition to finding Sen. Duffy not guilty of any criminal misconduct, makes definitive findings of fact in relation to each of the 7 expense times, factual findings by a court of law that cannot be attacked collaterally," Bayne wrote in his response, a copy of which was distributed to reporters.
Bayne wrote that the investigation dented Duffy's reputation and the Senate's decision to suspend him without pay for two years delivered him a net loss of $155,867. Bayne wrote that seeking $8 for personal photos now is "unseemly in the extreme" and “smacks of petty vindictiveness."
A letter from Duffy's office accuses the committee of refusing to accept the court's judgment and describes the Senate’s actions as a "collateral attack" on Vaillancourt.
Duffy pleaded not guilty to 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery and was cleared of all charges in April, with the Crown later saying it would not appeal the verdict.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016