Senate expense claim disputes tackled by ex top court judge

Former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie, the special arbitrator tasked with evaluating questionable expense claims of more than a dozen Canadian senators, held a two-day session with participants last week and will begin focusing on individual cases later this month.

Independent arbitrator Ian Binnie will evaluate files of 14 Senators flagged by auditor general

Retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Ian Binnie has begun his work as special arbitrator for senators disputing expense claims deemed questionable. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The special arbitrator tasked with evaluating the questionable expense claims of more than a dozen Canadian senators held a two-day session with participants last week and will begin focusing on individual cases later this month.

Former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie, who was appointed in May to carry out a dispute resolution process, told CBC News the "collective" session last week was open to all participating senators and their lawyers, and most attended the hearings with evidence around the relevant rules, policies and guidelines on reimbursement of expense claims and their application.

 Confidential individual sessions will begin the week of Nov. 16, with other days set aside in December and January to accommodate senators' schedules.

"I expect hearings will conclude in January. I will then prepare my report and submit it to the Senate internal economy committee," he wrote in an email.

There are now 14 senators going through the arbitration process, which was established to ensure a fair and fast resolution after a report from the auditor general flagged spending claims from 30 current and former senators totalling nearly $1 million. A repayment status report shows the outstanding amounts owing range from $1,120 to $75,227.

Four retired senators (Sharon Carstairs, Rose-Marie Losier-Cool, Bill Rompkey, Gerry St. Germain) opted out after signalling they would participate, and another senator (Elaine McCoy) paid the amount identified by the auditor general and her case became moot.

Senators carry on duties

Jacqui Delaney, a spokeswoman for Senate Speaker Leo Housakos, said sitting senators can carry on with regular duties as arbitration unfolds.

"There's nothing precluding them from being full participating members of the Senate while that process is taking place," she said.

As CBC News reported Friday, Senator Pamela Wallin will resume sitting in the upper chamber when the new session of Parliament opens, with all office resources restored. Senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau are both on a leave of absence until all legal proceedings they are involved in are completed.

Both have no access to office resources, and are not accruing time toward their pensions. Additionally, Brazeau is having his full paycheque garnisheed towards what is owed to the Senate, less the amount he owes for child support.

"As a result of his child support payments and what we're garnishing, he is not receiving any money. Anything that's left after his child support payments, the Senate is garnishing that amount."

Brazeau receiving no money

Before Brazeau was put on a leave of absence after the last Parliament dissolved for the election, he was docked only 20 per cent of his pay.

To date, he still owes $35,615.

Brazeau declined to comment on the decision.

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