Politics

Mike Duffy trial: Crown dogs suspended senator over Peterborough trip

The Crown in the Mike Duffy trial went to the dogs on Tuesday, but the suspended senator's lawyer suggested that the prosecution was barking up the wrong tree.

Prosecution claims he billed $698 in expenses for a trip to dog show

Suspended senator Mike Duffy and his lawyer arrive at the Ottawa courthouse for day nineteen of his fraud and breach of trust trial. 1:20

The Crown in the Mike Duffy trial went to the dogs on Tuesday, but the suspended senator's lawyer suggested that the prosecution was barking up the wrong tree.

The prosecutor contends that Duffy billed $698 in expenses for a trip he took with his wife to a dog show in Peterborough, Ont., in July 2010 to buy a Kerry blue terrier.

​​Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright. 

According to Duffy's expense claims, he and his wife travelled to Peterborough in July 2010 on "public business," for what he said were meetings with local officials to discuss "broadcasting issues." His personal diary said that he and his wife drove to Peterborough on July 2 and spent the night at a Super 8 motel; the next morning, they had coffee with then Tory MP Dean Del Mastro and his wife. 

Louise Lang, secretary of the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of Canada, testified on Tuesday by phone that she was involved in organizing the show that year. Although she was busy attending to her duties, she said her husband introduced her to Duffy, who was there with his wife. Lang said her meeting with Duffy was brief, lasting about a minute. 

She also testified that a Kerry blue terrier breeder from New Brunswick was at the show the same time as Duffy.

But Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne questioned Lang's memory of the events of that day. Lang admitted that when she was interviewed about the issue by the RCMP in 2013, she couldn't recall the exact year she had met Duffy. She also said she told the RCMP that she couldn't remember if Duffy's wife was there with him.

"I asked my husband and he said she was there," Lang said.

"Has it not been explained to you that you should give us the evidence of what you know and not what others have told you?" Bayne asked.

Bayne later asked Lang if she had told police that Duffy had picked up a dog at the show.

"I was under the impression that he was there to pick up a dog," she said, adding that she told the RCMP that he picked up a dog from the New Brunswick breeder.

But Bayne said that Duffy never purchased a dog at the show, but instead purchased a dog from the New Brunswick breeder in that province in January 2011.

Earlier Tuesday, on the 19th day of the trial,  the Crown had argued that a report looking into senators' office and travel expenditures is merely the opinions of an outside auditor and shouldn't be considered a public document or exempt from hearsay rules.

Witness testimony at the trial, which began April 7, had been temporarily put on hold as the Crown and the defence argue about the annual report on internal audits 2009-10, issued by the Senate internal economy committee.

The report included the findings of three audits carried out over the previous year by independent auditing firm Ernst & Young — including one that dealt specifically with senators' office expenditures.

The Crown believes the report shouldn't be considered as evidence, claiming its conclusions are hearsay. 

"The problem is we don't know whose opinion this is," Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes argued in the Ottawa provincial courtroom. "We don't know about [the auditors'] ability or their experience. We don't know if there were any dissenting views expressed.

"We don't know with whom they spoke or what was said, compounding problems, because now we have other layers of hearsay," Holmes said.

On Monday and part of Tuesday morning, Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne argued that the report should be considered as evidence. While he agreed that the report is hearsay, he argued it's an exception to the hearsay rule.

Bayne said the report should be admissible because it's a public document — it was made by public officials, intended to be a permanent record and accessible to the public — meaning it is has "inherent reliability."

But Holmes rejected that claim, saying that the hearsay exception for public documents involves documents not containing opinions. That means data such as birth/death records, passenger manifests and nautical charts — facts that are unambiguous and can be easily corrected.

​At suspended Senator Mike Duffy's trial in Ottawa on Tuesday, the legal dispute continued over the admissibility of a Senate report continued. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Holmes said the documents were not made by public officials but auditors who were "clearly outsiders." While the auditors were retained by the Senate, their work was "not a public duty or function."

As well, Holmes argued, the report was more of a work product and not made with the intent of making it a permanent record.

In its report to the committee, the auditors noted the Senate "should provide clearer guidance and criteria on which activities constitute a parliamentary function." During the trial, Bayne has argued that the rules guiding senators were ambiguous and unclear.

Ontario Court of Justice Judge Charles Vaillancourt said it could take him until sometime in June to reach a decision on the issue. 

With files from Kady O'Malley and The Canadian Press

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