Mike Duffy trial: Crown, defence cases overshadowed by political bombshells

Political revelations from the third phase of the Mike Duffy trial made for great headlines. However, much more crucial to the senator, and to an extent overshadowed by the headlines from the Ottawa trial, was the respective cases being laid out by the Crown and defence.

3rd phase of trial heard from 3 witnesses, including PM's former top aide, Nigel Wright

Senator Mike Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed in 2013 as a senator and later repaid with money from Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper's right-hand man at the time. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Crown in the Mike Duffy trial likely couldn't care less whether Ray Novak was there for some, all or none of the now controversial March 2013 conference call in which Nigel Wright, then the prime minister's top aide, announced he was personally repaying the senator's expenses.

But it certainly made for great headlines, as did the other political revelations from the third phase of the trial in Ottawa. However, much more crucial to the senator, and to an extent overshadowed by those headlines, were the cases laid out by the Crown and defence.

And in that respect, both sides may believe that they advanced their causes.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed in 2013 as a senator and later repaid with money from Wright.

Judge Charles Vaillancourt portrayed Duffy as an unwilling partner in a scheme to accept a $90,000 cheque from Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright to cover questionable expenses, even though they were likely legitimate. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

From Wright, the trial heard a fuller explanation for why he repaid the money, that in part he felt he had an obligation to Duffy, who had committed to do the Prime Minister's Office's bidding — admit he may have made a mistake with his expenses on the understanding he would have those expenses covered.

Wright's emails cause political damage

But it was two emails from Wright to Novak that were presented in court that carried some of the most political damage.

One email said Novak, Harper's current right-hand man but then principal secretary, was part of a conference call with Wright, Duffy's then lawyer Janice Payne and then PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin. During the call, Wright said he repaid Duffy's expenses. The other email said directly that Wright had paid.

The Harper campaign, already being dogged daily by the Duffy testimony, went into damage control, saying that Novak had missed the part of the call where the cheque was discussed and had never read the other email.

However, that defence took a beating when Perrin, who seemed to be on a crusade to clear his own name, came to testify.

Indeed, Perrin was bursting to talk about the conference call and offered up, without any prompting from the Crown, that Novak was there throughout the entire call. And that's when he dropped another political bombshell, that Novak had not only been informed about Wright's cheque during the call, but he was told about it a minute before the call as well.

Benjamin Perrin was a former legal adviser to the Prime Minister's Office. (Lorian Bélanger/Radio-Canada)

Then came Chris Woodcock, the former director of issues management, who also, it had been reported, knew about Wright's repayment of Duffy. Wright himself believed Woodcock knew as he had sent him an email March 8 that read, in part: "For you only 'I am personally covering Duffy's $90K.'"

Not read the emails

Woodcock, who had been responsible for crafting media lines for Duffy, denied he knew about Wright's repayment and, similar to Novak's explanation, testified that he had not read that part of the email.

It was that type of evidence that Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne seized upon, in an attempt to argue, in part, that Crown witnesses Wright and Woodcock lacked credibility. He facetiously and incredulously suggested to Woodcock that not reading emails seemed to be a common occurrence in the PMO. And he hammered Woodcock on crafting lines for Duffy that he knew were misrepresentations. 

As for Wright, Bayne also went after his credibility, arguing he was the leader of a fraudulent scheme to deliberately deceive Canadians. Some of Wright's testimony was just not believable, Bayne suggested, including Wright's insistence that, at the time, he didn't give much significance to the fact he had paid Duffy's expenses.

Chris Woodcock, former director of issues management in the prime minister's office, also testified at the fraud trial of Duffy. (Lorian Belanger/CBC)

He suggested his client could not be guilty of these charges as he was hardly the architect of the scheme, and noted that both Wright and Woodcock had said in interviews with the RCMP that Duffy was "forced" into this deal. Other emails, he argued, revealed that Duffy continued to resist admitting he had done anything wrong.

But from the Crown's perspective, the three Crown witnesses would have bolstered their case.  Wright established he wrote a cheque for Duffy, thereby providing him a benefit, and that this benefit, in the Crown's view, was received with corrupt intention, illustrated by the deceitful and secret arrangement in which it emerged.

Was Duffy forced into deal?

That Duffy was "forced" or capitulated into this deal was countered by Wright, who, under questioning from the Crown, said Duffy had legal representation, was acting of his own free will and was never threatened.

Perrin, the Crown attempted to show, backed up that claim, with his testimony that Duffy's lawyer was an active participant in crafting the deal and asserted herself in the process, including suggesting revisions for the media lines. 

Woodcock, as well, testified that he never imposed media lines on the senator, and that it was very much a collaborative and "two-way relationship."

And in the end, it will be those arguments, not the media noise around the political bombshells, that Ontario Court Justice Charles Vaillancourt will focus on to render his verdict.


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