The Mike Duffy trial resumed today following a three-week break with the judge siding with the defence on two issues, including allowing into evidence a Senate report that contained the findings of an independent audit into senators' office and travel expenditures.
But the trial, which began on April 7 in the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa, was abruptly adjourned for the day. Arguments were supposed to be heard over whether details of a separate 2013 internal Senate audit on the residency status of senators should be admissible. Those arguments have now been postponed.
Earlier, Judge Charles Vaillancourt had issued his ruling on the Senate report that included the findings of three audits that were carried out over the previous year by independent auditing firm Ernst and Young. The Crown in the trial in Ottawa had argued that the report should be disallowed, claiming its conclusions are hearsay and that it merely repeated or rubber stamped the findings of Ernst and Young,
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But Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, had argued the report was an exception to the hearsay rule and should be admissible because it's a public document — it was made by public officials, intended to be a permanent record and accessible to the public — meaning it has "inherent reliability."
Vaillancourt agreed with Bayne that the report meets the definition of public document, and that he didn't find admitting it would result "in any issues of trial fairness."
Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money from the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Vaillancourt also ruled that a series of posts and comments associated with Duffy's Wikipedia entry and that reportedly defamed the suspended senator should not be admitted as evidence.
The Crown had attempted to persuade Vaillancourt to add the documents to the official trial record due to concerns the contents had been inaccurately portrayed during Bayne's cross-examination of freelance journalist Mark Bourrie last month.
Bayne, at the time, had suggested the comments about Duffy were so defamatory that "nobody deserves this kind of material on the public record."
Vallaincourt concluded that it was "not necessary" to enter them, as neither the Crown nor, for the most part, the defence referred to them. "At the end of the day, I considered them, at best, theatrical props," Vaillancourt conclude.
The 23-day-old trial has yet to hear from important witnesses, including other senators, Duffy's business associate Gerald Donohue, Wright and Duffy himself.
The case had been slated for 41 days, but both the Crown and defence made it clear during the trial they would need more time. The second part of the trial is scheduled to end June 19, before resuming yet again at some undisclosed date.
While the bribery charge has grabbed the most headlines, it has barely been mentioned.
Instead, Crown prosecutors Mark Holmes and Jason Neubauer spent the first 22 days slowly building their case, alleging Duffy committed fraud and breach of trust (a charge specific for parliamentarians) by willfully ignoring Senate rules and claiming expenses for services that served no parliamentary function. Court has heard from top Senate administrative officials who have, in painstaking detail, gone over those rules.
The Crown has also zeroed in on a series of Duffy's travel expenses they allege were claimed for partisan fundraising events. Some Conservative MPs have testified that Duffy, a popular draw, was asked to and agreed to participate in such political events.
Bayne spent days cross-examining some Senate administrative officials, poring over Senate rules with those witnesses, arguing the regulations Duffy is accused of contravening were unclear and ambiguous.
Bayne has suggested that the expenses in question were all allowed under the rules laid out in Senate guidelines, and all legitimate part of parliamentary functions,
Bayne has defended the travel expenses, arguing the Senate administrative rules explicitly state that partisan activities are an essential part of a senator's duties, adding that nowhere in those rules does it define the term "partisan."