Blame the rules, not Mike Duffy, defence says
OTTAWA - Mike Duffy's criminal trial will pit common sense against complicated, confusing Senate rules about the expenses senators are allowed to claim, say the lawyers involved in the high-profile trial.
Rules governing what expenses senators are allowed to bill to the public are an "administrative mess," Duffy's lawyer said Tuesday during his opening statement.
"Sen. Duffy is not to blame if they are found lacking," defence lawyer Donald Bayne said.
Duffy, who was appointed to the Senate in 2008, is on trial for 31 fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges connected to travel expenses, the awarding of government contracts to his friends and an attempt to repay the money once questions arose about the claims.
The charges stem from his period in the Senate between 2009 and 2012.
"He never had a corrupt or fraudulent intent," Bayne said.
Duffy's defence lawyer said he was also made the scapegoat for powerful Conservative players — including Nigel Wright, then Harper's chief of staff — and the Tory leadership in the Senate.
Eager to "sweep under the rug" ongoing news stories about Duffy's expenses, Bayne said, they came up with a "conspiratorial strategy" to make Duffy admit a mistake and repay the questionable expenses even though Duffy believed he hadn't done anything wrong.
Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes said Duffy's expenses don't stand up to "common sense."
Duffy "portrayed himself as a traveller to Ottawa" to bilk the Senate out of $82,000 in expenses, when what he was really doing was "commuting" a mere 30 km from his home in Kanata, an Ottawa suburb, Holmes said.
Senators who live more than 100 km from Parliament are allowed to submit claims for a secondary residence. Duffy claimed a cottage in Cavendish, P.E.I., as his primary residence and his Kanata home as his secondary home.
But Duffy was "habitually a resident of Ottawa," who paid his income taxes in Ontario and carried an Ontario driver's licence and health card, Holmes said.
Duffy had lived in Ontario since the 1970s — so long he should be "probably ineligible" to represent P.E.I. in the Senate, Holmes said.
Duffy used his position in government to cover travel expenses to attend a theatre production in B.C., where his daughter was performing, to go on a "shopping trip" in Peterborough, Ont., and to visit with family after his daughter had a baby. Ostensibly, the trips were official business, but few meetings were held and little work of substance done, Holmes said.
Bayne said senators are allowed to claim travel expenses for official, representative and political party work they do.
"Why wouldn't Sen. Duffy, if he's out on other business, meet with his daughter in Vancouver?" Bayne said, adding the Vancouver trip was to meet "key business leaders."
All 105 senators have "exceptionally broad administrative discretion" under the Senate's own rules.
"Administrative policies were poorly communicated to, and not well understood by senators,” Bayne said.
Where Duffy lives is irrelevant, his lawyer said. As soon as Harper named him a senator, representing P.E.I., his primary residence became P.E.I., Bayne said.
Many senators lived in Ottawa before they were appointed to represent their home province in Parliament's upper chamber, Bayne said. But Duffy is the only one charged with defrauding the government.
"He's alone here, as if he's answering for all the sins of Senate administration," Bayne said.
The court has set aside 41 days for the trial.
email@example.com Twitter: Twitter: @Corey_Larocque
On mobile? Click here to see our live coverage