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Trial of Senator Duffy set to begin; top Tory figures will land in defence's sights

Sen. Mike Duffy arrives to the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 28, 2013. Suspended senator Mike Duffy may be the one on trial, but he won't be only person to see their motives, character and actions dissected, examined and critiqued over the next several weeks inside an Ottawa courtroom.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
April 06, 2015 - 12:55 PM

OTTAWA - Suspended senator Mike Duffy may be the one on trial, but he won't be only person to see their motives, character and actions dissected, examined and critiqued over the next several weeks inside an Ottawa courtroom.

Beginning Tuesday, Crown lawyers will lay out their fraud, breach of trust and bribery case against the former Conservative — 31 charges in total.

But so too will begin attorney Donald Bayne's defence of Duffy, a counter-attack that will likely focus in part on the behaviour of key figures from the Prime Minister's Office and party circles.

The expected release of new documents and internal emails in the form of court exhibits has the capacity to breathe new life into the political scandal that consumed the House of Commons two years ago.

A crush of media interest in the trial has prompted officials to establish an overflow room at the downtown Ottawa courthouse where several camera angles are displayed on large screens in order to accommodate journalists.

Bayne has already given a public preview of sorts of how he plans to approach the allegations. Back in October 2013, Bayne held an animated press conference to respond to the looming suspension of his client from the upper chamber. Charges were laid in July 2014.

"You've seen a little of Sen. Duffy's evidence and side of the story," Bayne said at the time.

"It's simply the tip of the iceberg, if he ever had a proper hearing and an opportunity to advance this evidence. That's why we have trials."

That spring, news broke that the prime minister's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had secretly paid for Duffy's $90,000 in contested living expenses. Duffy had submitted claims for a secondary residence in the Ottawa area, even though an audit said he spent approximately 30 per cent of his time at the designated primary residence in P.E.I..

Police allege Duffy was the one setting conditions and making demands in exchange for resolving the expenses controversy — hence the bribery charge. An email dated Feb. 13, 2013, in which Duffy's previous lawyer outlined a number of scenarios and conditions, is a central document.

Bayne and Duffy have alleged it's the other way around.

"The payment of $90,000 was not the doing of Sen. Duffy," Bayne said in 2013. "It was a political tactic forced on him by the Prime Minister's Office."

That concept — a political tactic orchestrated by Stephen Harper's underlings — is something Justice Charles Vaillancourt is likely to hear a lot about.

Wright's lawyers told police during an interview in June 2013 that he believed covering Duffy's expenses "was the proper ethical decision that taxpayers not be out that amount of money," according to the RCMP's court filing.

"He did not view it as something out of the norm for him to do, and was part of being a good person," the police said of a later interview with Wright.

Wright's friends have praised him as someone of impeccable ethics, guilty only perhaps of an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment.

But other emails back and forth between Wright and Duffy, and between Wright and other Conservative staffers, could be framed to suggest that it was politics, not morality, that motivated Wright and others.

In emails, Wright called the brewing controversy "our public agony," and spoke of Conservatives "circling the wagons."

One of the most revealing sets of internal emails filed in court involved the manipulation of a Senate committee, one drafting a report on Duffy's expenses in the spring of 2013.

PMO staffers set about ensuring the committee remove any negative language from the report on Duffy, and at one point discussed how to get an independent audit firm to refrain from drawing any conclusions on Duffy's residency status.

As the RCMP put it, there was a "moment of impasse" when a staff member in then-government Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton's office balked at the PMO's interference.

"Do I need to call Marjory?" Wright asked in an email. "They think they are hurting Duffy, but they will end up hurting the prime minister instead."

Duffy was also coached by PMO staff on what to say to the media about the repayment of his expenses.

"It's a scenario, in Nigel Wright's own words, that was created for Sen. Duffy not because he had anything to hide or he'd made inappropriate claims, but because the PMO had decided they wanted to sweep a political embarrassment to their Tory base under the rug," Bayne said in 2013.

The trial is scheduled to take place between April 7 and May 12, and from June 1-19.

Nigel Wright, chief of staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appears as a witness at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 2, 2010. Nigel Wright is among dozens of people who are expected to make an appearance in an Ottawa courtroom over the next several weeks as suspended senator Mike Duffy stands trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery.
Nigel Wright, chief of staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appears as a witness at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 2, 2010. Nigel Wright is among dozens of people who are expected to make an appearance in an Ottawa courtroom over the next several weeks as suspended senator Mike Duffy stands trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Here's a guide to some of the people who are expected to be on hand:

The Men in Robes

Ontario Justice Charles Vaillancourt: The Toronto-based judge presiding over the case.

Mark Holmes and Jason Neubauer: Crown attorneys from Ottawa with signficant criminal convictions under their belts.

Donald Bayne: A veteran Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer with experience in government inquiries and high-profile cases involving murder, war crimes, and conspiracy.


Former Prime Minister's Office Staff

Nigel Wright: Ex-chief of staff to Stephen Harper. Secretly repaid $90,000 of Duffy's contested Senate living expenses in 2013. Back working now for private equity firm Onex, in London.

Benjamin Perrin: Former legal adviser in the PMO. Perrin has said he did not participate in Wright's decision to cut Duffy a cheque. RCMP documents show Perrin negotiated directly with Duffy's lawyer to set the terms of the repayment.

David van Hemmen: Van Hemmen was Wright's former executive assistant, and knew about the $90,000 cheque. Currently the director of budget planning for Finance Minister Joe Oliver.

Chris Woodcock: Former PMO director of issues management, who worked with others on reshaping a Senate committee report on Duffy and developing media lines for the senator. Now an executive at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.


The Senate

Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton: Former Government Leader in the Senate. LeBreton complied with PMO desire to try and close the book on the Duffy expense issue after repayment. Scolded behind the scenes for not controlling situation better.

Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk: Part of a three-member sub-committee which prepared a whitewashed report on Duffy's living expenses.

Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen: A member of the same Senate committee. Relayed back to committee changes the PMO wanted to the Duffy report and voted for the edits.

Chris Montgomery: Former head of issues management inside LeBreton's office. Pushed back at PMO's meddling in the Senate committee report on Duffy. Now works for Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Gary O'Brien: Recently retired clerk of the Senate.

Nicole Proulx: Senate's chief corporate services director, formerly finance director.


Duffy Contractors

Gerald Donahue: A friend of Duffy's from TV days. Duffy awarded him money for contracts for consulting and writing services. Police allege no real work was done.

Ezra Levant: Television commentator and columnist. Received contract money for speeches written for Duffy.

Mike Croskery: A personal trainer who police allege received more than $5,000 in Senate funds via Duffy.

Mike Duffy is shown arriving at the Senate in Ottawa, Monday, October 28, 2013.
Mike Duffy is shown arriving at the Senate in Ottawa, Monday, October 28, 2013.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Here's an abridged chronology of his part in the Senate expense scandal at the heart of the allegations:

December 2012: Questions are raised about how much time Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy spends at his declared primary residence in P.E.I., since he is claiming living expenses for staying in his longtime Ottawa-area home.

Dec. 4, 2012: Duffy says he got an email from Nigel Wright, the prime minister's chief of staff, saying it appeared that Duffy's residence expenses complied with the rules.

Feb. 5, 2013: Reports emerge that Duffy applied for a P.E.I. health card in December 2012 and that he does not receive a resident tax credit for his home on the island.

Feb. 8, 2013: Senate hires external auditing firm to review residence claims of Duffy, fellow Conservative Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb.

Feb. 11, 2013: Duffy sends email to prime minister's chief of staff Nigel Wright apparently containing advice from his lawer. It outlines certain scenarios for repayment of the expenses and the "assurances" he would require.

Feb. 13, 2013: The date Duffy says he meets Harper and Wright after a Conservative caucus meeting. Harper tells Duffy he must repay questioned housing expenses. "The prime minister agreed I had not broken the rules but insisted I pay the money back, money I didn't owe, because the Senate's rules are, in his words, 'inexplicable to our base,'" Duffy says in an October 2013 speech in the Senate.

Feb. 21, 2013: Duffy agrees to follow what he later describes as a PMO-drafted plan to cover up the source of a $90,000 payback to the Senate, including a story that he borrowed the money from RBC. "On Feb. 21, after all of the threats and intimidation, I reluctantly agreed to go along with this dirty scheme," he says in the speech.

Feb. 22, 2013: Claiming confusion with the rules, Duffy pledges to pay back the expenses. "My wife and I discussed it and we decided that in order to turn the page to put all of this behind us, we are going to voluntarily pay back my living expenses related to the house we have in Ottawa,'' he said at the time.

Feb. 27, 2013: Harper says all senators meet the requirement that they live in the area they were appointed to represent.

Feb. 28, 2013: Senate audit fails to turn up any questionable housing allowance claims beyond those of Brazeau, Harb and Duffy.

Mar. 25, 2013: Wright sends a bank draft for $90,172.24 to the office of Duffy's lawyer.

Mar. 26, 2013: $90,172.24 is transferred to Duffy's RBC bank account, and his cheque for $90,172.24 is delivered to the Senate. The cheque cleared Duffy's bank on Mar. 28.

April 19, 2013: Duffy confirms he has repaid more than $90,000 in Senate housing expenses. "I have always said that I am a man of my word. In keeping with the commitment I made to Canadians, I can confirm that I repaid these expenses in March 2013.''

May 8, 2013: A meeting between PMO and Conservative senators and staff occurs to discuss the altering of a committee report on Duffy's residency and expenses. Negative language is removed.

May 9, 2013: Senate releases Deloitte audits of Duffy, Harb and Brazeau, as well as the Senate committee reports. Harb and Brazeau are ordered to repay $51,000 and $48,000 respectively. The report on Duffy is shorter and does not include the same language suggesting he should have known the difference between primary and secondary residences. Government Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton says the Senate now considers the Duffy matter closed.

May 10, 2013: Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan says of Duffy: "He showed the kind of leadership that we would like to see from Liberal Sen. Mac Harb, who instead is taking up arms against the Senate, saying that he should not have to pay back inappropriate funds.''

May 12, 2013: RCMP says it will examine Senate expense claims.

May 14, 2013: Brazeau says he also broke no rules and is exploring all options to overturn an order to pay the money back.

May 15, 2013: The Prime Minister's Office confirms that Wright personally footed the bill for Duffy's housing expenses because Duffy couldn't make a timely payment.

May 16, 2013: The Canadian Press reports that Duffy submitted travel expense claims to the Senate on the same days that he was campaigning for Conservative candidates in 2011 and claiming expenses from them. He resigns from the Conservative caucus later that day.

May 17, 2013: Sen. Pamela Wallin also announces she's leaving the Conservative caucus. Her travel expenses, which totalled more than $321,000 since September 2010, have been the subject of an external audit since December.

May 19, 2013: Wright announces his resignation as Harper's chief of staff, a move Harper says he accepts with "great regret." Wright is replaced in the chief of staff's role by Ray Novak, who has been by Harper's side since 2001. In October, Harper says Wright was "dismissed."

May 28, 2013: Senate internal economy committee holds a public meeting to review Duffy's expenses associated with travel. Senate finance officials say they've detected a pattern that concerns them. The committee votes to send the matter to the RCMP.

June 3, 2013: Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative leader in the Senate, says she intends to ask the auditor general to look into all the expenses of the upper chamber.

June 6, 2013: Conservative and Liberal senators agree to invite the auditor general to scrutinize the way they spend taxpayers' money. The same day, Harper tells the Commons that Wright paid the $90,000 with his own money: "Mr. Wright wrote a cheque on his own personal account and gave it to Mr. Duffy so he could repay his expenses. He told me about it on May 15. He obviously regrets that action. He has said it was an error in judgment and he will face the consequences as a consequence."

June 13, 2013: The RCMP confirms it has launched a formal investigation into Wright's involvement in the expense scandal. Brazeau and Harb are given 30 days to reimburse taxpayers for their disallowed living expenses — bills that together total more than $280,000.

July 4, 2013: Media reports say RCMP investigators allege that the Conservative party had planned to repay Duffy's improperly claimed living expenses, but balked when the bill turned out nearly three times higher than expected.

July 5, 2013: Harper is accused of misleading Canadians after repeatedly insisting Wright acted on his own when he gave Duffy $90,000 to reimburse his invalid expense claims. The RCMP says in a court document that Wright told three other senior people in the PMO about the transaction.

July 17, 2013: Harper's office says it has not been asked by the RCMP for an email at the heart of its criminal investigation into the Senate expenses scandal. The PMO denies withholding the email, which apparently summarizes the deal struck between Duffy and Wright to pay off invalid expense claims.

Aug. 26, 2013: Harb resigns from the upper chamber. Harb, who earlier left the Liberal party to sit as an Independent, drops a lawsuit and pledges to repay his questioned living and expense claims.

Oct. 8, 2013: RCMP alleges Duffy awarded $65,000 in Senate contracts to Gerald Donahue, a friend and former TV technician, who did little actual work for the money.

Oct. 17, 2013: Claude Carignan, the government's new leader in the Senate, introduces motions to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau from the Senate. The motions call for the three to be stripped of their pay, benefits and Senate resources.

Oct. 21, 2013: Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, alleges Harper's staff and key Conservative senators were behind a scheme to have Duffy take the fall for wrongdoing that they agreed he had not committed.

Oct. 22, 2013: In his explosive speech in the Senate chamber, Duffy accuses Harper's office of orchestrating a ''monstrous fraud'' aimed at snuffing out controversy over his expenses. Duffy accuses the prime minister of being more interested in appeasing his Conservative base than the truth.

Oct. 28, 2013: Duffy delivers another speech, this time saying the Conservative party made arrangements to cover his $13,560 legal bill. "The PMO — listen to this — had the Conservative party's lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, pay my legal fees," Duffy says. He also casts doubt on whether Wright actually paid the $90,000: "I have never seen a cheque from Nigel Wright."

Nov. 5, 2013: A Nov. 1 letter from the RCMP superintendent in charge of the investigation reveals that investigators want copies of emails and documents mentioned by Duffy, including emails from the PMO related to a "script" for Duffy to follow in publicly explaining how he financed repaying the expenses. The documents "may potentially be evidence of criminal wrongdoing by others," the letter reads.

Nov. 5, 2013: Senators finally vote to suspend Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin without pay — but with health, dental and life insurance benefits intact — for the remainder of the parliamentary session.

Jan. 29, 2014: Liberal leader Justin Trudeau expels the 32 Liberal senators from his caucus in what he calls an effort to reduce partisanship in the upper chamber. He says if he becomes prime minister he would appoint only independent senators, chosen through an open public process.

April 15, 2014: RCMP inform Nigel Wright he will not face criminal charges.

July 17, 2014: Duffy is charged with 31 counts, including fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Sept. 23, 2014: A trial date is set for April 7, 2015, with 41 days set aside in April, May and June.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
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