Patrick Brazeau clear to return to Senate as fraud charges dropped

Senator Patrick Brazeau's lawyer says his client has gone 'through a hell of a life' since the legal battle over his living expenses began more than three years ago.

Crown drops last case in Senate expenses scandal after fraud, breach of trust claims against Quebec senator

Senator Patrick Brazeau's fraud and breach of trust charges were the only remaining criminal case in the Senate expenses scandal. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Charges of fraud and breach of trust against Patrick Brazeau were withdrawn by the Crown Wednesday, meaning the Quebec senator is now able to return to his seat in the Red Chamber after a long legal battle over questionable expense claims.

"As you know my client had many difficulties with his personal life," Brazeau's lawyer Christian Deslauriers told reporters outside the courthouse. "He's very happy that the charges have been dropped," he said, adding that Brazeau will return to the Senate, although he didn't know exactly when.

Deslauriers said the RCMP's decision to charge Brazeau was a costly mistake that tied up police resources and put Brazeau through a great deal of emotional pain, which ultimately led to a failed suicide attempt.

"Quite frankly, it was a big waste of money that these charges were authorized to proceed ... and this destroyed Mr. Brazeau for three years now. He's been having a hard time with this. Mr. Brazeau went through a hell of a life since then."

The lawyer said Brazeau's living expenses were audited by Deloitte and KPMG — accounting firms that found the rules around residency fuzzy at best. He also said that his client filed expense claims only after getting approval from Senate finance officials.

Senator Patrick Brazeau's lawyer, Christian Deslauriers, says his client has gone through hell since the RCMP pressed charges. (Lorian Belanger/Radio-Canada)

"If there was any political interference, I can't prove it, [but] I can believe in it," Deslauriers said when asked if he thought former prime minister Stephen Harper's office pressured the RCMP to pursue charges despite the findings of  independent audits.

The RCMP alleged Brazeau fraudulently claimed his primary residence was in Maniwaki, Que. — 135 kilometres north of Ottawa — in order to collect a housing allowance only available to senators who live outside the National Capital Region.

Brazeau took a shot at Harper on Twitter Wednesday, saying the former prime minister could officially step down as a member of Parliament — and abandon his right to claim parliamentary privilege — now that all of the criminal proceedings related to Senate expenses had wrapped.

Parliamentarians can avoid testifying at a criminal trial by invoking that privilege.

No 'reasonable' possibility of conviction

The Crown in Brazeau's case said Wednesday there was no reasonable possibility of conviction given the outcome of other recent criminal cases involving Senate spending.

The three senators who were initially singled out by the Senate over their expenses have all had their expense claims reviewed and dealt with.

Senator Pamela Wallin's expenses were the subject of a "thorough investigation," after which RCMP decided they would not press charges.

Senator Mike Duffy was charged with 31 offences relating to his expenses. He went to trial and was eventually cleared of all charges.

Retired senator Mac Harb was also charged, but those charges were withdrawn by the Crown.

Other brushes with the law

While his fraud and breach of trust charges were dropped Wednesday, it won't be the end of Brazeau's legal woes. He still must return to court Oct. 26 to answer a charge of refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test for an incident that took place April 3.

Brazeau has pleaded not guilty to that charge. 

The senator pleaded guilty to assault and possession of cocaine last year and received an unconditional discharge. A more serious charge of sexual assault was dropped because of insufficient evidence.

Brazeau was on a leave of absence from the Senate with pay. But late Wednesday he tweeted out a letter from the clerk of the Senate dated July 13 informing him that, with the Crown's decision to drop charges, his leave of absence has ended and his "access to Senatate resources is restored (pro-rated)."

He was initially suspended without pay in 2013, but that suspension came to an end when Parliament was dissolved for the 2015 federal election.

Brazeau's salary was clawed back for several months to repay almost $50,000 in ineligible expenses.

The charges against Patrick Brazeau have been dropped, bringing a scandalous chapter in the senate's history to a close. 2:38

With files from the CBC's Catherine Cullen