A case that has been called one of the biggest scandals in Canada reaches a new turn today as Mike Duffy goes on trial for expense scandals from last July.
Suspended Senator Mike Duffy is on trial on 31 charges of breach of trust, fraud over and under $5,000, bribery and an offence called “fraud on the government” laid by the RCMP. The trial is expected to last 41 days.
Duffy allegedly cheated on housing and travel expenses, faked or inflated contracts for more Senate cash and allegedly ensured the Prime Minister’s Office paid off his contested expenses to buy his silence when the allegations came under media scrutiny.
Duffy has pleaded not guilty on the first day of the trial.
The Prime Minister’s Office has slammed the case as a “monstrous political scheme” last year to turn Duffy into a scapegoat according to the Toronto Star.
Who is Mike Duffy?
Mike Duffy was one of the biggest TV personalities in in Canada.
He was also a prominent political journalist.
In 2008, he was appointed as a Conservative senator representing Prince Edward Island.
In May 2013, he resigned from the Tory caucus and and sat as an independent until his colleagues voted to suspend him without pay for two years on Nov. 5, 2013.
What can we expect out of the trial?
Today, the crown and the defence make the opening arguments before the witnesses are called to testify in the coming days.
The charges require the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Duffy intended to deceive and intended to gain personal benefit from some of his alleged acts.
His defence lawyer, Donald Bayne will argue that Senate rules are unclear and that the government is desperate to avoid embarrassment, according to the Toronto Star.
Judge Charles Vaillancourt is expected to wade through much paper work in the form of Senate rules and receipts and documents from Duffy himself, to determine whether Duffy’s explanations in justifying his expenses are legitimate.
MPs and PM’s former advisors to testify
Some of the Prime Minister’s former advisors will appear as crown witnesses, including Conservative MPs.
A key witness is going to be Nigel Wright, who was the prime minister’s chief of staff and was subpoenaed by the Crown prosecutor.
The witnesses are going to help the Crown make its case in drawing the line between the $90,000 that Duffy accepted from Wright to him repaying ineligible living and travel expenses and allegations Duffy double-dipped while claiming expenses with the Senate for partisan events according to CBC.
Other MPs that are subpoenaed by the crown, are going to be asked about fundraising by the senator for his days with the conservative party, when the RCMP alleges he filed Senate expense claims while conducting personal or partisan trips.
The political fallout
Since this is an election year, the trial is expected to dominate the federal political agenda.
The evidence that comes forward in the criminal trial will likely shape the opposition campaigns, especially if expense claims are linked to partisan work for the Conservative Party of Canada or evidence that suggests the Prime Minister’s Office party interests before ethical concerns, according to the Globe and Mail.
If evidence comes forward that suggests the government was trying to protect Duffy- who was a valuable celebrity fundraiser who ranked in cash for the party- it could be damaging to the Conservatives according to the Globe and Mail.
When it was initially found that Duffy filed housing expenses for his home in Ottawa, where he had lived for decades, the Conservative Party initially defended him.
Last week at a press conference, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said Harper’s team rushed to keep Duffy scandal quiet to “protect someone who was very useful as a source of revenue.”
The Prime Minister has insisted he did not know of the payment of $90,000 made by Wright to Duffy, but NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has expressed skeptimism, citing emails written by Wright that suggested plans for a settlement of expense issues with Duffy were “good to go from the PM.”