Senators rejected Mike Duffy's request to cover some legal fees

Senator Mike Duffy made attempts last year to be reimbursed for some of the legal costs related to his three-year expenses saga and 63-day trial.

P.E.I. senator sought reimbursement for some costs after his acquittal on expenses-related charges

Senator Mike Duffy, left, walks with his lawyer Donald Bayne outside the Ottawa courthouse in April 2015. The Senate has refused to cover Duffy's legal costs stemming from his lengthy trial on fraud and breach of trust charges. Duffy was acquitted on all charges. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Senator Mike Duffy made attempts last year to be reimbursed for some of the legal costs related to his three-year expenses saga and 63-day trial but was rebuffed by members of a key Senate committee.

Duffy's trial ended last April, when he was found not guilty on all 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery relating to his Senate expenses. Duffy returned to the Senate last May.

Duffy sent his original written request for assistance to the steering committee of the Senate's internal economy committee last summer. The three members of the steering committee, Conservative senators Leo Housakos and David Wells and Liberal Senator Jane Cordy, turned Duffy's request down in August.

Duffy asked to appeal their decision to the full committee.

Housakos, who is also chair of the full committee, gave the reasons for turning down Duffy's request at a meeting on Nov. 24.

"Under the advice, of course, of our law clerk, and understanding there has never been a precedent in the Senate for having reimbursed fees in instances of criminal charges against any senator, we thought we would remain consistent to that policy," Housakos told the committee, according to audio and transcripts of the proceedings posted to the Senate's website.

Duffy's Senate assistant contacted CBC News on Friday to note the Senate's Legal Assistance and Indemnification Policy says that the Upper Chamber will not pay costs "arising out of a criminal conviction." Duffy was cleared of all charges.

Duffy didn't specify the amount he was seeking in his original letter, only requesting "reasonable and partial assistance."

Conservative Senator Denise Batters, who also sits on the internal economy committee, had concerns about hearing Duffy's appeal.

"I note that there were countless media reports throughout that whole trial process referring to how his lawyer was handling this matter on a pro bono basis, which means at no cost to Senator Duffy," Batters said.

"To me, if that is the case, then seeking reimbursement for expenses not actually incurred seems to be how this whole unfortunate saga started in the first place," Batters told the other committee members.

Batters did not identify the media reports to which she was referring.

Although some observers questioned how Duffy was covering his legal expenses during the trial, his lawyer, Donald Bayne, has never publicly disclosed whether or how he was paid for his work.

Senate's responsibility debated

Conservative Senator David Tkachuk told the committee the Senate only suspended Duffy, it wasn't responsible for charging him.

"Why on earth would the Senate contemplate paying for that? If we do that, we expose ourselves to every criminal charge outside of the jurisdiction of the Senate," Tkachuk said.

Mike Duffy returned to the Senate last May after his acquittal. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

But other members of the committee felt it was important for Duffy to appear and explain why he needed financial assistance.

"This began in the Senate and it should end in the Senate. The Senate referred this to the RCMP," said Liberal Senator Jim Munson.

In the end, the majority on the committee voted in favour of hearing from Duffy and set a date of Dec. 1, 2016. Duffy did not show.

Neither Duffy nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment for this story.

But in an email to CBC News on Friday, his Senate assistant said the committee had already decided not to reimburse him, adding there was no point for the senator to appear before the committee as it had already decided the issue.

Duffy could still take his case to the Senate as a whole.

About the Author

Hannah Thibedeau

Parliament Hill

Hannah Thibedeau is a veteran political reporter having covered the Hill for more than 15 years, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. She covers politics for CBC TV, CBC Radio and CBC Politics online.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.