Convicted Senator Lavigne quits

Raymond Lavigne, convicted of fraud 10 days ago, quit the Senate Monday before it could debate suspending him and freezing his pay.
Raymond Lavigne, seen here on March 11, 2011, after his conviction on fraud and breach of trust charges, resigned from the Senate Monday before the Upper Chamber could debate whether to suspend him. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Raymond Lavigne has resigned from the Senate, 10 days after the Quebec senator was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust by a public official.

The Senate voted to block Lavigne from spending any of his Senate budget the same day the judge delivered his verdict, and the Senate was due Monday to hold an historic debate over whether to suspend him from the Chamber. That would have frozen his salary until his colleagues could permanently remove him after his sentencing in May.

Lavigne, appointed to the Senate by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien in 2002, has continued collecting his pay since he was first charged in 2007 over false travel expense claims and having his staff do work on his personal property during Senate hours.

The Liberals kicked him out of caucus in 2006 after he was censured by the Senate, but it didn't affect his salary or office budget.

Hours after an Ontario Superior Court judge delivered his decision in an Ottawa courtroom March 11, the Senate announced it was suspending Lavigne's right to use its resources for his parliamentary duties. His research, office, travel and telecommunications budgets were put on hold, and the senator remained on a leave of absence and barred from entering the upper chamber.

Judge Robert Smith found Lavigne guilty of defrauding the government of $10,120.50 related to false and inflated mileage claims for 54 car trips between Ottawa and Montreal. In some cases, reimbursement claims were made when his assistant drove his own car and Lavigne wasn't a passenger.

Smith also found the 65-year-old senator guilty of using his public position for personal financial gain. According to the court decision, the senator had his assistant cut down about 60 trees over a period of weeks on Lavigne's property during work hours, while being paid by taxpayers. Lavigne did this in order to save money, according to the judge.

"I find that using a research assistant to cut down 60 trees on a lot owned personally by the senator while being paid by the Senate during regular working hours constitutes a serious and marked departure from the standard expected of a Senator who holds a position of public trust," Smith said in his decision.

Lavigne was acquitted on a third charge of obstruction of justice, relating to charges that he asked his staff to lie when the Senate began asking questions about his conduct.

A sentencing hearing was set for May 10 at 10 a.m. The maximum sentence on the fraud charge is 14 years in jail, with a maximum five years on the breach of trust conviction, Bonin said.

Lavigne was elected three times as the Liberal MP for the Quebec riding of Verdun-St Paul.