Mike Duffy trial: More drama coming in case of suspended senator

For 22 days, Mike Duffy's criminal trial in Ottawa has slowly moved along to what was supposed to mark the halfway point. It is likely nowhere near that. And it's clear defence lawyer Donald Bayne isn't feeling rushed in his bid to exonerate his client from wrongdoing related to his Senate expenses.

CBC's Rosemary Barton examines the first 22 days of the trial in Ottawa heading into 3-week break

Mike Duffy has sat through 22 days of his trial, which broke Friday for three weeks at what was supposed to be about the halfway point for the trial. It is now expected to last much longer than that. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

For 22 days, Mike Duffy's criminal trial in Ottawa has lumbered along.

Friday was supposed to mark the halfway point of the trial, which is now on a three-week break. It is likely nowhere near that.

It has become clear over the past month or so that Donald Bayne, lawyer for the suspended senator, isn't feeling rushed in his bid to exonerate his client from any wrongdoing related to his Senate expenses.

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 from the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

Bayne has spent days and days cross-examining Senate administration witnesses and others. He flogs the dead horse and then finds another one.

He repeats time again it is because "a man's liberty is at stake," and that is, of course, true.

Donald Bayne, lawyer for suspended Senator Mike Duffy, clearly isn't feeling rushed in his bid to clear his client from any wrongdoing related to his expenses, writes CBC's Rosemary Barton. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

But Bayne may have other motivations. The longer this goes, the closer it gets to the federal election campaign.

As we have seen, Bayne is not hesitant to drag politics into the courtroom: an autographed photo from the Prime Minister to Duffy, a mention of other Conservative Senators and reports being kept "secret" by the Senate.

All of it is an attempt to deflect, distract and somehow convince the judge that Duffy is not alone and Duffy is not to blame. 

The Crown may have the advantage of the first witnesses, and documents and RCMP investigators who have toiled for months on this case, but it also has the burden of proof. 

It must show the judge that Duffy committed fraud wilfully and that he ignored rules. 

It's unclear just how convinced Justice Charles Vaillancourt is at this stage. He is difficult to read and gives few clues. 

On one occasion, Vaillancourt told Bayne bluntly, he got the point and asked him to move along. Recently, he seemed frustrated the Crown didn't have witnesses at the ready.

Big questions, big witnesses ahead

In spite of it all, and Bayne's valiant attempts, the Crown has covered some ground. Laying out the rules (or lack thereof perhaps) for senators in managing their expenses, and bringing through witness after witness who received money from Duffy's friend, Gerald Donohue. 

The makeup artist, the personal trainer, the Jiffy photo fellow — they have, in many ways, been the most damaging of witnesses, for there has been little explanation as to why Duffy paid for these services through a third party and why he believed he could claim from taxpayers at all. 

But the real drama of the trial in the Ontario Court of Justice has yet to come.

Yes, there have been sitting Conservative MPs on the witness stand of late, testifying about Duffy's popularity and ability to fundraise for the party, while allegedly claiming Senate expenses as well.

But the Senate report that suddenly becomes less damning of Duffy hours before being tabled, the supposed negotiations with the Prime Minister's Office to make it all just go away, and the infamous $90,000 cheque from Wright to Duffy have barely been mentioned in this courtroom.

These are the questions that are still very much alive inside that courtroom. The "big" witnesses in this case have yet to come, to say nothing of Duffy's own defence and his promised testimony.

The first 22 days may have been tedious at times. The next part of this trial, which began April 7 and is set to resume June 1, promises to be quite the opposite.


Rosemary Barton is CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, based in Ottawa.


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