Remember Stephen Harper’s attack on Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin — the one that had her squirmin’ in her ermine? And then there was Dean Del Mastro’s assertion that his guilty verdict on four counts of electoral fraud was only Judge Lisa Cameron’s “opinion.”
The CPC crew has always been happiest being judge in its own cause. It treated the judiciary like interfering busybodies good only for rubber-stamping the government’s agenda, constitutional or otherwise.
So on one level, it’s no surprise to see the Harper appointees who control the Standing Committee on Internal Economy returning at warp speed to a scandal that’s a political shade of kryptonite. They are once again in full-throated pursuit of Senator Mike Duffy for — you guessed it — disputed expense money. Nearly $17,000.
It’s like fox-hunting: the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.
It’s also quite a turnaround. As recently as last April, the Senate’s Internal Economy board suggested that Duffy had run his last gauntlet, telling the CBC’s John Paul Tasker that, as far as the board was concerned, “the matter is closed.”
As it should be. Given past history alone, you’d think Cons like Senator Leo Housakos would rather go camping with Vladimir Putin than look to dun Duffy for more cash — especially since Housakos himself was found to be an expense abuser by the auditor general. (As I recall, he didn’t move a motion to suspend himself from the Red Chamber.) This is the same body that ousted senators Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau and Harb with less due process than the KKK on cross-burning night.
It all brings Alice in Wonderland to mind:
“Let the jury consider the verdict,” the King said …
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterward.” Senate justice.
It pays to remember that these railroaded senators lost all payment, expenses, sessional allowances and living allowances on the mere allegation of mismanaging Senate resources.
A month after that outrage, which left even Conservative senators like Hugh Segal shaking their heads, the suspensions began as if that little thing called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms didn’t exist. Off with their heads without a hearing? Really? Is the Senate a Charter-free zone, as Senator Claude Carignan once quipped?
There may not have been much due process — but there was plenty of undue process in the Duffy affair. All of it came from the former Harper PMO. Everything that happened in the Duffy expenses fiasco ran straight back to Harper and his chief of staff, Nigel Wright. In the end, it was exactly as Senator Frances Lankin described it on TVO: cover-up and revenge.
Harper forced Duffy to be appointed from P.E.I., setting up the whole residency scandal in the first place. Yet the former PM was never asked the question that would have blown up in his face: If Harper knew where Duffy actually lived, why did he appoint him from P.E.I.?
As for Wright, the man who has spent his life in Business Class — he wrote the check to repay expenses that he, the PM and Duffy himself knew weren’t owed. It was all about cleaning up a political mess on behalf of the Conservative base.
And at every step along the way, the PMO’s machinations were supported by Tory hacks in the Senate who brought disgrace on the institution. Now some of those same hacks are pretending that they’re serving the public and enforcing the rules of the Senate. Housakos claims that the renewed pursuit of Duffy is based on new information. Duffy’s lawyer says he has it on record that there is no new information.
There’s just one little problem with the Senate’s move. Mike Duffy stood trial on the very expenses the Senate now wants to collect (along with a few other things) and was acquitted on all 31 charges. As the Supreme Court ruled in 1985, and Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne has since pointed out, “an acquittal is the equivalent of innocence.”
What senators like Carignan and Housakos don’t grasp is that the Vaillancourt verdict does leave them with unfinished business. It doesn’t involve practicing a unique version of double jeopardy on Duffy, though.
Carignan, who himself was flagged by Auditor General Michael Ferguson as an expense abuser in June 2015, was the senator who moved Duffy’s suspension from the Red Chamber. (He didn’t move his own suspension for the same alleged offence, oddly enough.) The Duffy suspension came with multiple financial penalties and was based on Carignan’s allegation against Duffy of inappropriate expenses.
Perhaps Carignan didn’t read his paper for a year. Or perhaps he read the National Post. Justice Vaillancourt threw out each and every allegation against Duffy, which means that all of the draconian penalties inflicted on the now reinstated senator were wrongfully imposed. And when you get it wrong, you have to put it right, boys.
So the question looms: When will Senator Carignan and his colleagues move to restore Duffy’s net loss of salary for his Alice in Wonderland suspension — $155,867.56? When will Duffy’s pension accrual, which began again after his acquittal, be made whole for the entire suspension period? And when will the Senate debate the justice of a lone individual running up an estimated seven-figure legal bill proving that he was the object of a witch hunt?
It is unforgivable that the Senate and Standing Committee that unjustly and improperly imposed all this misery on an innocent man should be using seven expense items already cleared in the court case to go after him again. This is more than just Duffy-bashing. It’s judge-bashing.
Bayne points out that this amounts to challenging and attacking Justice Vaillancourt’s finding of facts on those very same impugned expense matters now being regurgitated by the Senate. As Bayne reminds the Clerk of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy in a hand-delivered letter dated June 22, “leading evidence which is inconsistent with findings made in the accused’s favour in a previous proceeding” is precluded from subsequent proceedings. “Thus Justice Vaillancourt’s positive factual findings about all of the impugned expense matters cannot be challenged, attacked or contradicted.”
Justice Vaillancourt had all the evidence available to arrive at his decision. There was no new evidence, as the Standing Committee on Internal Economy originally claimed in their June 8, 2016 letter to Duffy asking for repayment of $16,955 in ineligible expenses.
For those who like the idea of never-ending punishment for Mike Duffy, they should know that their wish has been granted, to some extent. Even assuming that every crushing bill Duffy was forced to run up after being targeted by the PMO and its enablers in the Senate is paid in full, one thing will never be restored: his reputation.
According to a new poll by Corporate Research Associates, Duffy may have been acquitted by the courts but not by the public — at least not in his home province. Seventy-one per cent of Islanders surveyed (albeit in a relatively puny sample size) said they were against Duffy continuing to represent them in the Senate.
The Senate needs to mitigate this man’s problems, not add to them. To pretend this is about transparency and accountability is like pretending that the Senate is the victim here instead of what it really is — the perpetrator. Time to disband the lynch mob.
Author: Michael Harris