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The Hill: Duffy trial loses its political lustre

The Hill
|Written By Richard Cleroux

Back in August when Sen. Mike Duffy’s trial took a recess, some said it was to give then-prime minister Stephen Harper the time he needed to get back into power.

It didn’t work out that way. Politics had its way.

Harper has gone off to Calgary. Nobody’s seen him in Ottawa for weeks. He may end up selling oil for a big multi-national.

He started out with an oil company, pushing the mail cart around at Imperial Oil in Calgary before he went into politics.

In Courtroom 33 in Ottawa, where the Duffy trial is being held, nobody talks about Harper anymore. Two weeks ago, his name didn’t come up even once during the trial.

The Duffy trial is into the fourth quarter. It’s a regular criminal trial now, not the political circus that it was earlier this year.

No more daily parade of Ottawa’s Conservative Party elite, no more of those dozen-or-so people from Harper’s office, including no more Nigel Wright, Harper’s chief of staff, explaining how he gave Duffy a $90,000 cheque to pay off Senate debts.

This trial is serious. Duffy faces jail time on 31 charges of bribery, breach of trust, and fraud related to his Senate expenses and his office budgets on Parliament Hill.

What happens to him all depends on Ontario Court Justice Charles Vaillancourt, a jurist who knows his stuff.

Duffy chose trial by judge alone. No jury for him. He also has one of the best criminal lawyers in the country — Donald Bayne.

Nobody talks about Wright or any of the other Harper staff that Duffy called “the boys in short pants.”

For the past two weeks, the wackiest witness was an old friend of Duffy’s, Gerald Donohue, a former CTV technician with a Grade-10 education whose health has been slipping.

Donohue told the court how he signed something like $65,000 in cheques to pay Duffy debts. Donohue did the cheque signing through a couple of small construction companies that belonged to his wife. The cheques were made out to individuals and to companies such as Jiffy Photo and to several people who worked for Duffy, including a private trainer and a makeup artist.

Donohue told the justice the amounts he signed on the cheques were what appeared on company invoices or what Duffy told him to pay.

Donohue’s heart problems and other health issues forced him to testify via closed-circuit video from his home in Carp, Ont., near Ottawa.

There was a problem. The video transmission was faulty. It kept being interrupted or came in garbled.

If there’s something that upsets a judge, it’s when he can’t make out what a witness is saying. Every so often, Vaillancourt would halt the trial and ask a technician to fix the video, while Donohue took a needed break.

At first, Vaillancourt gave the technician 15 minutes to fix the transmission problem and then later ordered another time out.

Finally, he postponed the trial for the entire weekend until the following Tuesday. A patient man he was but not a happy justice.

None of this struck Duffy as funny. He sat stone-faced next to his lawyer, the brilliant Donald Bayne, who has been waiting to take over with his defence as soon as the prosecution is finished, likely some time this week. Bayne has promised us that Duffy will testify on his own behalf.

Earlier in the year, Duffy promised that from the witness box he would spill the beans on Harper.

Duffy told the news media and the Senate that Harper and his people had forced him to do things that led to criminal charges against him.

But a bombshell is no certainty now. Going after Harper as in “Good to Go, now” is no longer such a major objective. This is no longer a political trial. The Canadian electorate took care of that.

Staying out of jail is the objective now for Duffy.

Duffy now has more important things to do than attack Harper.

When Vaillancourt finally rules on the case, no matter what he rules about Duffy, perhaps he’ll have some useful advice for Canada — something about how the Canadian Senate should run its business from now on. That would be useful.   

Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill. His e-mail address is richardcleroux34

  • Duffy Must Sing

    Jake Bonn
    Duffy had better come through with his testimony and evidence concerning the PMO's involvement
    We've been waiting far too long already.
    Still mystified because Wright is still walking free of charges for Bribery and Conspiracy.
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