Ex-senator Lavigne jailed 6 months for fraud

Former Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne, convicted of fraud and breach of trust, has been sentenced to six months in jail and six months of house arrest.
Former senator Raymond Lavigne arrives at the Ottawa courthouse on Thursday for sentencing. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Former senator Raymond Lavigne, convicted of fraud, has been ordered to spend six months in jail.

The sentence handed down by Judge Robert Smith in an Ottawa courtroom Thursday also includes six months of house arrest following Lavigne's time behind bars, and an order to pay $10,000 to a charity.

After the sentencing, Lavigne was told he would be brought to an Ottawa jail. He removed his suit jacket and tie as family members with him wept.

"Incroyable," Lavigne was heard saying in French, apparently in disbelief over the sentence. As he was taken out of the courtroom, Lavigne said in French that justice had not been served.

Lavigne, who was a Liberal senator from Quebec, was convicted in March of fraud and breach of trust and was acquitted on a third charge of obstruction of justice.

He is planning to appeal both the conviction and sentence, and his lawyers hope to see him released while the appeal process wends its way through the courts.

"I've been doing this work for 20 years in the interest of justice," said Lavigne's lawyer Dominic St-Laurent. "When we decide to file an appeal, it's because we consider justice wasn't done."

As he arrived at the downtown Ottawa courthouse with his wife Thursday morning, Lavigne was carrying a bag and said he was ready to be sent to jail. He also said he was not guilty and that he hadn't received a fair trial.

He repeated those assertions in the courtroom before Smith handed down his sentence. The judge said fraud is not excusable and that Lavigne had shown no remorse.

The Crown was seeking a jail sentence of 12 to 15 months, but Lavigne's lawyer had argued at a sentencing hearing in May that the senator's public humiliation and his repayment of some of the money should be taken into account and a lesser sentence given and served in the community.

Smith found Lavigne guilty of defrauding the federal government of $10,120.50 related to false and inflated mileage claims for 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 Lavigne 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 on his personal property over a period of weeks during work hours, while being paid by taxpayers. Lavigne did this in order to save money, according to the judge.

A neighbour's inquiry into the tree-cutting is what sparked an investigation by the RCMP and the charges were laid back in 2007. Lavigne was kicked out of the Liberal caucus when the charges were laid against him. The Senate prevented him from entering the chamber or sitting on committees but he continued to collect his $133,000 salary while the case dragged through the court.

When he was convicted in March, the Senate cut off his ability to spend taxpayer dollars on his office, travel and other expenses and it was to consider kicking him out, but he quit before that decision was taken. His resignation means he can still collect his government pension.

Lavigne was an MP before he was appointed as a senator in 2002.

His sentencing comes amid debate on Parliament Hill about Senate reform. NDP Leader Jack Layton said it will add to the cynicism felt by Canadians about the upper chamber. "This is one of those things that will undermine even more Canadians’ acceptance that we have an institution like the Senate," he said following question period.

"This is supposed to be a respected democratic place but yet we have an institution that’s increasingly in disrespect and completely undemocratic," he said.  

With files from The Canadian Press