06/04/2015 04:05 EDT | Updated 06/03/2016 05:59 EDT

Duffy Trial: Witness Thought His 2011 Funeral Appearance Was Official Business

OTTAWA - Three funerals that Sen. Mike Duffy attended — and billed taxpayers for — each included some element of government business and weren't personal trips, his lawyer argued Thursday.

The funerals that Duffy's criminal trial heard about cost the Senate more than $7,000 in flights, food and hotel food expenses and were all for people with whom Duffy had a personal connection.

There was the acquaintance who was a well-known Second World War hero from P.E.I. and died in 2011.

There was the high school volunteer basketball coach who died in 2012.

And there was a close friend of Duffy's mother who died in 2009.

Among other things, the Crown alleges that Duffy wrongly charged taxpayers for what amounted to personal travel rather than government business.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges, including fraud, breach of trust and bribery stemming from his questionable Senate expenses.

A witness at who was at the 2011 funeral said she believed Duffy was there as a government representative for the funeral of Clifton (Cliff) Elmer Stewart, affectionately known on the island as "the spy from P.E.I."

The court heard that Duffy and Stewart were friends.

Testifying by phone, Myrna Sanderson said she believed Duffy was at the funeral representing the government, given Stewart's standing on the island as a well-known Second World War veteran.

The trip cost $3,496 for the flight, and $103 in meal and other expenses.

In January 2012, Duffy travelled to the province for the funeral of Robert (Bobby) Leclair, who was described as a father figure to many of the students he coached in basketball.

Duffy read Scripture at Leclair's funeral, the court heard.

Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, argued his client was there because he had responsibilities to represent the region and "funerals are an important public paying of respect to community members."

Not only that, but Leclair was a lifelong Conservative and helped during elections. He also suggested Duffy met a senior provincial bureaucrat in his role as a senator during the visit.

The trip cost about $1,800 for flight, $180.60 in expenses, and $140 for a hotel.

And then there was the funeral for Isobel DeBlois, a longtime friend of Duffy's mother. DeBlois died in 2009, only a few months after Duffy became a senator, and he gave the eulogy at the service.

Her lineage, Bayne argued, made her worthy of having a government representative at the funeral, meaning taxpayers could get the tab.

DeBlois was a descendant of George Coles, the first premier of P.E.I. and one of the Fathers of Confederation. The family also had deep business roots in the province, Bayne said, suggesting Duffy wasn't there for personal reasons.

"In terms of P.E.I. life, we're talking about a woman who was part of a ...VIP-type family," Bayne told the court.

"If you're part of the descendants of one of the fathers of Confederation and one of the first premiers of the province, you don't lose that status over the years."

The trip cost about $1,400 for the flight and $145 for taxis.

The court also heard Thursday from Sandra Acorn, an assistant to P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie. It was Acorn who answered a call from Duffy on Jan. 3, 2013. Duffy had just applied for a provincial health card — shortly after the Senate made it a requirement to support their residency claims — and wasn't happy with the length of time he was going to have to wait to get his card, Acorn said.

"And he requested Minister Currie expedite the process," she told the court by telephone.

Acorn said she heard later that day from one of Duffy's assistants. Duffy never did call her back after that, she said.

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