Mike Duffy is not a sympathetic figure. And the media, taking its cue from the Harper spin machine, has worked very hard to make him less sympathetic. But, Michael Harris writes, there's a big difference between being a pariah and being guilty. Once the Duffy trial moved out of the media and into the court room, things changed:
When the venue shifted from a prime minister’s public vendetta to close scrutiny of the evidence in court, [Donald] Bayne showed why he said he was surprised when the Crown laid charges against his client in the first place. Over and over again, Bayne zeroed in on the Senate Administrative Rules to show that what Duffy did was permitted — and in some cases, required — under the system in place from 2008 to 2012, the period of Duffy’s alleged criminal liability.
In his surgical cross-examination of Mark Audcent, the Law Clerk of the Senate, Bayne proved beyond any known concept of reasonable doubt that Duffy was largely operating within the Red Chamber’s rules.
Take Duffy’s much-pilloried expense claims for housing. Bayne got Audcent to confirm that the Senate does not provide guidance or criteria for, or definitions of, a primary or a secondary residence. That was the same conclusion reached in two independent audits, one by Deloitte and the other by KPMG.
Did Duffy lie, cheat or misrepresent when he signed a declaration saying that he was a resident of P.E.I.? Turns out he didn’t. In order to become a senator he was obliged to designate his P.E.I. property as his primary residence. The PMO and the PCO knew that — because they both pre-vetted Duffy’s appointment.
As Audcent also testified, there was no definition of how much time a senator has to spend in his provincial residence and no prohibition against designating a cottage as his primary residence.
Bayne was equally sure-footed in showing that Duffy’s travel expenses on behalf of the party were not merely permissible, but that partisan activities were in fact an “inherent” part of a senator’s parliamentary functions. The Law Clerk of the Senate agreed.
Bayne went further. He got Audcent to confirm that there was no definition of partisan activities to guide senators and that he wasn’t aware of any limitations on such partisan work, beyond campaigning in a writ period or during a nomination.
It became clear that the Duffy Trial was a show trial. And instead of pilloring Duffy, the trial gave us an insider's look at the Senate, the PMO and the former Prime Minister of Canada. And the pile of rot just got higher and deeper.
Is Duffy guilty of breaking any laws? Mr. Justice Charles Vaillancourt will let us know after hearing closing arguments next week. But that decision is no longer the central issue. In fact, it never was the central issue.