The Crown zeroed in on Mike Duffy's travel claims today, bringing in Conservative MP John Duncan and a New Brunswick dog breeder to try to further its case alleging the now suspended senator inappropriately expensed the government.
Former Sun News host Ezra Levant also testified about two cheques he received for writing speeches for Duffy, saying they were for non-partisan, public policy events.
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However, it was Duffy's travel expenses that were the main focus of today's testimony. Duncan, the first parliamentarian to testify, told court about a June 22, 2009, local party fundraising event that Duffy had been invited to in Comox B.C., to give a speech and meet with local constituents.
Duncan said Duffy was a popular and sought-after speaker among the Conservative caucus. He said that the electoral district association paid for Duffy's room and meals in the hotel for the event. The president of the association had offered to pay for a flight from Vancouver to Comox, Duncan said. But when the association received an invoice from Duffy's staff for the flight, the treasurer refused to pay it, Duncan added.
The trial, now in its 20th day on Wednesday, began April 7 in the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa. 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.
The Crown contends that Duffy expensed travel claims for partisan activities that should not have been billed to the Senate, including his trip to Comox.
But Donald Bayne, Duffy's lawyer, has previously argued that the definition of partisan activities in the Senate administrative rules is extremely broad and ambiguous.
For this trip to B.C., Bayne said, Duffy was tying it in with other business, including meeting with veterans to do some damage control for the party over the issue of pensions. Bayne also said Duffy, while there, met with local mayors to talk about infrastructure spending.
Paul Ives the mayor of Comox, tweeted that he had no recollection of meeting Duffy at that time, but it's possible he met with mayors of Courtenay or Cumberland
Duncan also testified that he had no knowledge of Duffy meeting with local mayors that day.
"I would just find it unusual that I didn't know about it," Duncan said.
Dog show testimony contradicted
Earlier, the Crown resumed its focus on Duffy's claim for a trip to Peterborough, Ont., in 2010 that included a stop at a dog show. Court heard from Barbara Thompson, a New Brunswick Kerry blue terrier breeder, who testified that Duffy and his wife, Heather, purchased a puppy from her home in New Brunswick in January 2011.
The Crown has accused Duffy of filing expense claims for events not related to parliamentary work functions. This includes $698, which the Crown alleges was for a trip he took with his wife to a dog show in July 2010 to buy a Kerry blue terrier.
On Tuesday, court heard from Louise Lang, secretary of the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of Canada, who testified that she briefly met with Duffy at that show. She also testified that Thompson was at the show at the same time as Duffy and that she told the RCMP that Duffy had picked up a dog at the show.
On Wednesday, Thompson contradicted some of Lang's testimony, saying she never attended that 2010 dog show in Peterborough.
"Heather and Mike Duffy never ever got a dog from you from the Peterborough dog show?" Bayne asked. "No they didn't," Thompson responded.
"You never ever met them at the Peterborough dog show," Bayne asked. "No I did not," she said.
Levant testifies about 2 speeches
At the start of the day, Levant testified by phone, telling the Ottawa court that he received two cheques for writing speeches for April 2010 and March 2011, one on the history of democratic government in P.E.I. and the other about RCMP traditions.
"To me they were very much public policy events and frankly non-partisan. There were no 'rah-rah Conservatives, boo Liberals.' It was all public interest, history and policy, which is what I was hired to do by other senators as well," Levant told court in Ottawa.
Levant received $2,100 for each speech, receiving one cheque from Maple Ridge Media Inc. and the other from Ottawa ICF.
Court has heard that Duffy's friend Gerald Donohue issued cheques for services expensed by Duffy that included payments to an office volunteer, a makeup artist, a photo processing firm and a personal fitness trainer. Cheques signed by Donohue to pay for those services came from either Maple Ridge Media, or later Ottawa ICF, companies owned by Donohue's family, court has heard.
Court has also heard that a series of Senate research contracts worth $64,916.50 were awarded by Duffy to Donohue, mostly to perform editorial, research, consulting and speech-writing services. The RCMP has said Donohue received the money for "little or no apparent work." It's the Crown's contention that Duffy set up a fund with Donohue to pay for some inappropriate or non-parliamentary services — expenses, the Crown believes, wouldn't have been covered.
Levant testified that for the other speeches he wrote for senators, he was paid by the Senate.
"If I was writing for a senator, the contract would have been signed with the Senate of Canada and the cheque would have come from the Senate of Canada," Levant said.
Under cross-examination by Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne, Levant testified that Duffy never sought any personal kickback for the speeches or was asked to keep the payment arrangement secret.