A significant part of the Canadian Establishment is not only blaming a victim — it’s blaming an exonerated victim. Some want even more punishment for a man the courts decided deserved no punishment at all.
RCMP brass have buried themselves head-first in the sands of denial. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud actually wrote congratulatory letters to the investigators who worked on the Duffy case and helped come up with the 31 charges against him.
Never mind the fact that the Mounties never “got their man” on anything, not even jaywalking. In the wake of the court’s verdict, the RCMP decided it was “inappropriate to comment”.
Small wonder. It’s hard to speak with a mouthful of crow, even if you’re the assistant commissioner who held the splashy press conference announcing all those bogus charges. Besides, it gets harder to congratulate the team for a 31-0 blowout when they’re on the doughnut-hole end of the score.
When a judge issues a stunning rebuttal of a vicious and baseless criminal case that made salacious headlines at Duffy’s expense for years, it’s simply not normal to argue that ‘acquittal does not equal innocence’. That’s what Andrew Coyne wrote in the immediate aftermath of Justice Charles Vaillancourt’s decision. Some people have forgotten that, as an accused person, you answer only the charges as they are brought against you — not every aspersion cast against your character that comes along.
Is Coyne entitled to his opinion? Of course he is. But should that have been his very first take-away, given the verdict? Was Duffy’s acquittal so relatively unimportant compared to new and equally baseless allegations that he is still somehow corrupt? With the judge’s accusatory finger pointing toward the Harper PMO and the Senate rules themselves, after the Crown brought such a breathlessly spurious case, I hardly think so.
Where was the righteous indignation against the entire Harper operation in this scuzzy affair? Where was the castigation of a hypocritical Senate hierarchy? Some pundits preferred instead to cling to their pet theories about the case — to Duffy’s abject ‘guilt’ over the judge’s actual verdict — when it came to reading the post-trial tea-leaves. Their focus says more about them than than it does about Duffy. They threw aside the presumption of innocence like an empty popcorn bag (never a good practice in this business).
Nor does it help that the National Post seems to be the house organ of last resort for die-hard Harperites. Remember those yellow wrappers Paul Godfrey had placed around 16 Postmedia papers when he was fearmongering for Harper just before the last election? The tiny Manitoulin Expositor exhibited a better grasp of the Duffy verdict than this tottering national media giant. So did Althia Raj in the Huffington Post, the CBC’s Neil Macdonald and the Toronto Star’s Tim Harper.
Despite a few notable exceptions, the lynch-mob is still raising dust in its pursuit of Duffy. As the Expositor editorialized, this was a classic case of an accused being found guilty before the fact. After the fact, too: The assumption of Duffy’s guilt before the trial simply has been replaced in some quarters by the assumption of some kind of wrongdoing that wipes out the force of his acquittal. It’s a death-march of partisan cheerleaders in support of a discredited ex-prime minister.
The former PM’s lawyer Robert Staley recently advanced the theory (again, in the National Post) that Harper acted honorably and cooperatively in the Duffy affair. Which is a lawyer’s job, I suppose. As soon as the laughter dies down, I’d like to ask each and every reader to judge Staley’s claim based on what came out at Duffy’s trial — especially the part about the PMO’s “ruthless” behaviour.
Staley says he was instructed by Harper to cooperate with the RCMP and that doing so was politically inexpedient — which, he argues, offers some sort of evidence of good faith.
He talks about it as if Harper had a choice. He didn’t. If he hadn’t cooperated, it would have been seen immediately as a cover-up — and rightly so. Is Staley really suggesting that the former PM had the option of suppressing all the emails that put the lie to Harper’s claim that only Duffy and Nigel Wright were in on this deal? That it was somehow selfless of him to hand them over?
Besides, had Harper refused to cooperate, it could have led to him being subpoenaed. Everyone remembers how much he likes answering questions. Imagine the fun he would have had answering them under oath.
Staley also points out (correctly) that there is a constitutional principle that prosecutorial decisions must be free of partisan concerns. He forgets that Harper was the serving PM who congratulated the RCMP when they charged Duffy, through his spokesman Jason MacDonald. Harper was also the PM who directly involved the RCMP in the Helena Guergis affair when he had Ray Novak write on his behalf to the RCMP commissioner to pass on unfounded criminal allegations against her. (I might add that in the wake of her exoneration by the Mounties, she was kicked out of the Conservative caucus anyway. Harper rules.)
Another part of Staley’s article caught my eye: “No one,” he wrote, “could believe that my client’s interests were served by criminal charges against Mr. Duffy.”
Au contraire, Mr. Staley. The charges against Duffy served to support Harper’s claim that he and his office had nothing to do with the tawdry deal between his former chief of staff and a sitting senator. That, of course, turned out to be blatantly false. Moreover, convicting Duffy would shift the blame away from the PMO and Senate — where it belonged — and place it on a single, expendable scapegoat. As with Michael Sona in the robocalls conspiracy, one person would serve to pay for the sins of the invisible many.
Now that Justice Vaillancourt has found that it was Harper’s PMO, for political reasons, that was responsible for trying to impose a rotten deal on Duffy to pay for expenses he didn’t owe, Staley asks readers to believe a strange assertion — that Harper decided Duffy was constitutionally fit to serve as a senator from P.E.I. … but was not allowed to claim the expenses that went along with that designation because the former PM’s base wouldn’t understand them.
Given Vaillancourt’s finding that Duffy operated under the rules, that leaves Harper as the one who was breaking them. In Harper’s world, his narrow political interests trumped both constitutional reality and Senate rules. Look at how often his government’s legislation has ended up bursting into flames at the Supreme Court level — this was hardly the first time Harper was odd man out.
Think about it. Harper knew Duffy lived in Ontario but appointed him from P.E.I. anyway, over Duffy’s protests. Harper’s PMO lawyer, Benjamin Perrin — a constitutional expert — advised the PM that Duffy was not entitled to the appointment because of the residency issue. Harper — an economist — overruled his in-house counsel. Harper knew from Wright that Duffy was not breaking Senate rules and likely was entitled to his housing expenses. Yet he triggered the war on Duffy regardless. Perhaps that contributed to Perrin declaring publicly just before the last election that Harper had lost the moral authority to govern.
The bottom line of Staley’s article is that it repeats Harper’s own mistake. He argues that now that Duffy’s criminal trial is over, it’s somehow important to hold Duffy to account for his expenses at a level lower than the criminal threshold:
“The Auditor General’s review of Mr. Duffy’s spending is likely to proceed now that the criminal charges against Mr. Duffy have been addressed.”
If so, it’s only because Harper wanted this whole mess to be about Mike Duffy, not him and his rogue PMO. He is still the Shirker in Chief of Duffygate.
Despite Staley’s absurd suggestion — which, I suppose, he hopes will be picked up by Harper hacks in the Senate — it would be an act of vengeful injustice for the Senate to ask that Duffy be re-audited now. The guy had his pay cut off, was forced out of caucus and was suspended from the Senate to ultimately face 31 criminal charges over those very expenses. Justice Vaillancourt found that Senator Duffy acted within the rules. So what does the Senate want to do? Try him retroactively under its new rules with judges who themselves were found in violation of expense excesses by AG Michael Ferguson? Punt his case back to the AG, who doesn’t want it?
Who has undergone more audits and more public scrutiny in this sad affair than Mike Duffy? The Duffy camp notes that the Senate itself did a complete re-audit of all 215 of his expense claims. All of them were forwarded to forensic auditors at the RCMP. Everyone now knows how that turned out.
As for the view that Duffy had engaged in “a pattern of systematic” abuse of his Senate expenses — consider this. This alleged systematic abuser was 23rd on the list of Senate spenders and had his claims reduced by financial officials in the Red Chamber an average of $2.03 per claim. How abusive can it get, right?
Someone came out of this affair with his reputation in tatters. It wasn’t Mike Duffy.
Author: Michael Harris