Next 'in-and-out' court date set for September

Sept. 22 is the next time the lawyer for the Conservative Party and four of its members will be in court over charges they're facing for alleged violations of election spending rules.
Senators Irving Gerstein and Doug Finley are among four Conservative Party members facing charges under the Elections Canada Act. The next court hearing will be in September. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Sept. 22 is the next time the lawyer for the Conservative Party and four of its members, including two senators, will be in court over charges they're facing for alleged violations of election spending rules.

Defence and Crown attorneys were in court in Ottawa on Wednesday and the routine proceeding resulted in the next court date being set for this fall.

The next appearance will be a pre-trial hearing where the parties will discuss with a judge how long the trial might last, issues related to evidence and other matters. Lawyers will appear in court on Oct.5 at which time a date for the trial could be set.

The charges were laid under the Canada Elections Act in February and relate to the so-called "in-and-out" campaign financing case stemming from the 2006 election. The charges are not criminal. The Elections Act is a federal statute.

Senator Doug Finley, the party's campaign director at the time, and Senator Irving Gerstein, a fundraiser for the party, are among the four individuals charged. Michael Donison, the former national party director, and Susan Kehoe, who served as the party's interim executive director, are the other two people charged.

The Conservative Party of Canada and the Conservative Fund of Canada, the party's fundraising arm, also face charges.

The last court date related to the matter was in March. At that time, Crown attorney Richard Roy said defence lawyer Mark Sandler had been provided with "substantial" evidence against his clients.

Wednesday's court hearing is part of a lengthy and ongoing legal battle between Elections Canada and the Conservatives over how election expenses are claimed and reimbursements issued. 

The Conservatives argue they followed the election financing rules that were in place in 2006 and that Elections Canada later changed its interpretation of the rules.

Elections Canada alleges that the Conservative Party broke the spending rules by improperly reporting $1.3 million in national advertising as expenses incurred by local candidates. The elections agency alleges the party violated the rules by moving funds in and out of local ridings to pay for national ads, allowing the party to surpass the maximum spending allowance and for candidates to claim rebates on expenses that weren't actually incurred.

In addition to a charge that the election spending limit of $18 million was exceeded, Gerstein faces a charge of providing Elections Canada with a return that he knew or ought to have known contained a false or misleading statement, namely that all elections expenses had been properly recorded.