Mike Duffy trial delayed until Monday due to battle over evidence
Crown, defence given time to prepare arguments about admissibility of Senate report
The judge in Mike Duffy's Senate expenses trial has adjourned proceedings for the rest of the week in an Ottawa court to give the Crown and defence time to prepare arguments over the admissibility of a Senate committee report.
The Crown is arguing the report, which is already a public document, should not be considered evidence because, the Crown contends, its conclusions are hearsay.
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The 2010 report from the Senate's internal economy committee followed up on audits of the senators' financial management conducted in 2009.
Defence lawyer Donald Bayne told the judge he was worried that a delay in the trial might endanger the appearance of Gerald Donohue, Duffy's friend and key witness. Donohue is recovering from serious health issues, and Bayne said that his health is a "grave concern," and Donohue "may not be with us."
Ontario Court Judge Charles Vaillancourt said it could take him until sometime in June to reach a decision on the issue. But the court will continue to hear from other witnesses after Monday.
The trial, in its 17th day, began April 7 in the provincial court.
The adjournment put on hold Bayne's cross-examination of the former head of Senate finance, Nicole Proulx. Proulx had returned for her sixth day in the witness box, where she has undergone intense, and at times combative, grilling by Bayne about the administration's rules and regulations regarding senators' expenses. Proulx will come back to testify after Vaillancourt has ruled on the admissibility issue.
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.
Witness under scrutiny by defence
Bayne has argued that the rules guiding senators' expenses were vague, ambiguous or non-existent. He has charged that Senate finance officials provided little oversight and he has suggested they rubber-stamped claims.
He has also suggested that Proulx herself may not be an objective witness, that she had a too cozy relationship with Crown officials, willing to meet with them but not with him about the case.
Proulx, while agreeing many of the Senate rules are broad and that terms like "partisan" activities lack clear definitions, has nevertheless defended Senate finance. She has denied that officials in that department rubber-stamp expense claims, and rejected the accusation that she has a bias in the case.
This week, former Sun News host Ezra Levant was expected to testify about two cheques he received for writing speeches for Duffy.
Duffy awarded contracts worth roughly $65,000 to Donohue, but the RCMP have alleged that "little or no apparent work" was done in exchange for the payments.
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The Crown has argued that Donohue instead used some of that taxpayer money to pay for inappropriate or non-parliamentary services for Duffy.
Court has heard that Donohue issued cheques for services expensed by Duffy that included payments to an office volunteer, a makeup artist, a photo processing firm and a personal fitness trainer. Cheques signed by Donohue to pay for those services came from either Maple Ridge Media, or later Ottawa ICF, companies owned by Donohue's family, court has heard.
With files from Jason Ho