North·In Depth

Duffy trial evidence shows PMO's concern over Nunavut senator's residency

Emails released as part of Senator Mike Duffy’s fraud trial show the Prime Minister’s Office had grave concerns over Nunavut Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson’s 'unusual' residency issues.

Emails chronicle attempts to reconcile the Conservative senator's 'unusual' residency issues

'We have three Conservative Senators (Duffy, Patterson and Wallin) that filed their 2011 return in another jurisdiction,' writes Christopher Montgomery to Nigel Wright on Feb. 13, 2013.

Emails released as part of Senator Mike Duffy's fraud trial show the Prime Minister's Office had grave concerns over Nunavut Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson's "unusual" residency issues.  

In seven different emails from February 2013 members of the Prime Minister's Office mention Patterson by name. 

Questions had arisen because Patterson lived and worked in British Columbia prior to being called to the Red Chamber and frequently travelled back and forth from that province, despite the fact that he declared that he lived in Nunavut.

The matter of Patterson's residency was settled on Feb. 28, 2013, when the chair of the Senate Board of Internal Economy ruled in his favour. 

The released emails from the Duffy trial illustrate how Patterson's travel expenses and tax filings raised red flags for Nigel Wright and other members of the Prime Minister's Office.  

Filing taxes in B.C.

"We have three Conservative Senators (Duffy, Patterson and Wallin) that filed their 2011 return in another jurisdiction," writes Christopher Montgomery to Nigel Wright on Feb. 13, 2013.

In the email, Montgomery outlines how this could violate section 31 of the Constitution Act of 1867 dealing with residency.

"Senators must file taxes in the province from which they were appointed in order to qualify as Senators and provide an accountability mechanism," adds Montgomery.  

In the emails, questions about Patterson's residency are often coupled with the cases of Duffy and Wallin.

"I am gravely concerned that Sen. Duffy would be considered a resident of Ontario under this ITB (interpretive tax bulletin)," writes Wright to Benjamin Perrin on Feb. 15, 2013. 

"Possibly Sen. Patterson in B.C. too. If this were adopted as the Senate's view about whether the constitutional qualification were met, the consequences are obvious."

Patterson's case seems to have raised a number of issues for the PMO, particularly his frequent travel to his home in British Columbia while representing Nunavut.

'Unusual cases like Senator Patterson'

"Unusual cases like Senator Patterson clearly were not considered," writes Senator Marjory LeBreton, then-leader of the government in the Senate, to Wright on Feb. 19, 2013. 

"In his case, the flights back and forth to B.C. (his home) raised a red flag because Nunavut is his region. 

"We worked all this out when he was appointed because of the uniqueness of the North and I am confident that we will resolve his issues," adds LeBreton.

The same email highlights how to deal with the fact that Patterson held an Ontario driver's licence, one of the primary means by which residency could be established. 

"He has an Ont [sic] driver's licence because he keeps a car in Ottawa. This makes sense and should have no bearing whatsoever on his status as a Senator. I will seek clarification for you, going back to the arrangements made when he was appointed," writes LeBreton.

Resolving 'the Patterson situation'

The emails show the amount of time and energy the PMO spent on managing these issues.

"I am completely willing to expend some time, because getting confirmation of qualification residency is all that is needed to close out the Duffy situation and likely the Patterson situation and to stop our public agony on those," writes Wright to Perrin and Patrick Rogers on Feb. 18, 2013.

The correspondence illustrate how closely the PMOs office worked with the senators to help them navigate the process of meeting residency qualifications.

"Sen. Tkachuk's subcommittee is interviewing Zimmer and Patterson today or tomorrow. Why? I think that they both have qualification residency issues, so I am concerned that the interview is about more than just expenses," writes Wright on Feb. 18, 2013.  

As part of their work, Wright and other members of the PMO seem to be constantly managing and spinning the information in order to avert political fallout.  

"I do think we need responsive lines averring that Sens. Duffy, Wallin, and Patterson are residents of the PTs [Province/Territory] they represent without getting into constitutional exegesis," writes Wright on Feb. 19, 2013.

"We would point to their property ownership and deep, continuing ties," 

Vancouver or Iqaluit?

Patterson lived and worked as a private consultant in Vancouver before he was appointed to the Senate. Provincial land title records from 2013 show he owned a home there. Municipal records also show that he claimed a homeowner grant from the government of British Columbia, a grant only available to people who primarily live in the province.

Patterson says he rented out his home in Vancouver in favour of a condo in Ottawa. There were also questions regarding his claim to have voted in Nunavut in the federal election, since Elections Canada records indicate he was registered as a voter in B.C.

In 2013, Patterson was among 98 senators asked to submit a driver's licence, a provincial health card and information from income tax returns as part of a review by the Senate's bipartisan Board of Internal Economy. Following that process Patterson was interviewed by the committee. He was able to convince the committee that he resides primarily in Nunavut.

When contacted for comment, Patterson's staff told CBC News that he was "on the land and unreachable." Later, CBC was told he had returned and was boating in Iqaluit. Patterson sent an email statement.  

"The Senate Board of Internal Economy reviewed my housing and residency situation in 2013 and found that I satisfied the requirements for residency," he said in the statement. "Furthermore, I have filed my annual Declaration of Primary Residence every year and have provided ample evidence that my residence is in Iqaluit."

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