POLITICS

Mike Duffy trial: Senate law clerk expected to shed light on expense rules

04/08/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 05:59 EDT
A former Senate law clerk may be the only witness on the second day of the Mike Duffy trial, which is expected to focus on some of the rules and regulations regarding senators' expenses.

The testimony will come after a day in which both the Crown prosecutor and Duffy's lawyer presented an overview of their respective cases. In the Ottawa courtroom on Tuesday, Duffy pleaded not guilty to 30 charges of fraud and breach of trust and one count of bribery.

The Crown's case centres around Duffy's travel claims, contracts and the $90,000 payment he received from Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff. The Crown contends Duffy wrongly claimed his living allowance and other expenses, and also paid a friend for little or no work under a contract that was effectively a clearinghouse for Duffy to hand out money. As well, the Crown argues, Duffy was at least an equal partner in the arrangement, if not the instigator, of the $90,000 payment. It's for that payment that Duffy faces the bribery charge.

Wright secretly paid that $90,000 while Duffy told the public it was he who had repaid the public purse, back in early 2013.

"Apart from the policies, there is something more fundamental at play and I think it can be reduced to two propositions," Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes said. "One, you can't steal from your employer; and two, you can't
abuse your position of authority to unjustly enrich yourself."

Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, spent Tuesday afternoon refuting the charges, saying his client was following Senate rules, and certainly did nothing criminal.

Bayne added it's not up to the court to rewrite rules or fill in the gaps if the rules are "found lacking." As for the $90,000 payment, Bayne said Duffy was pressured by a small group of political operatives, led by Wright, to capitulate to their scheme that would have Duffy admit publicly to a mistake in order to stem the political fallout when problems were raised with expenses the senator had claimed. Admitting to the payment, said Bayne, was the culmination of this "conspiratorial strategy."

Duffy was later suspended without pay by a vote in the Senate, along with fellow former Conservative senators Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin. Brazeau and former Liberal senator Mac Harb, who retired, also face charges over their expenses, while an RCMP investigation continues into Wallin's expenses.

Senator urges fairness

In an interview Tuesday with CBC News Networks' Power & Politics, Senator Anne Cools said that she believes Duffy and other senators have not been treated fairly.

"I think that these senators have been sacrificed for political reasons," she told host Evan Solomon. "I think senator Duffy, senator Wallin and senator Brazeau have been persecuted."

She urged the media to be fair in reporting, and while she did not want to comment specifically on the trial underway, Cools called the quest for certainty around expense rules a "false chase."

"We have some basic rights — and one of then is your right to your life, one of them is your right to limb, and one of them is your right to security of your reputation. These people have been dragged through the mud, up and down and around, for years now."