Out in the Open

'I'm just lucky to be here': Patrick Brazeau's quiet comeback after years of scandal

In a wide-ranging interview with Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay, the controversial senator reflects on the personal turmoil that nearly ended his career.

Controversial senator reflects on the personal turmoil that nearly ended his career

Senator Patrick Brazeau enters the Senate on Parliament Hill on Sept. 27, 2016, in Ottawa. He was returning from a three-year suspension after charges of fraud and breach of trust related to the Senate expense scandal were dropped. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
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Patrick Brazeau's life in the Senate these days has its uncomfortable moments.

"The majority of my former colleagues wanted to kick me out of that place," he said. "It's not easy to look at some of those faces on a daily basis."

But since returning to work in 2016 after a three-year suspension over the Senate expense scandal, Brazeau is slowly getting back on track.

"It's a work in progress," Brazeau told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay as he recounted the turmoil that nearly ended his career — and his life. "But I'm slowly getting there."

Brazeau has managed to walk away from a string of bad press and criminal charges with his career intact.

In part, that's because of the nature of his job; he's appointed, not elected. But as Brazeau sees it, there's a simpler reason: He did nothing wrong.

Downward spiral

Former prime minister Stephen Harper appointed Brazeau, who was national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples at the time, to a Senate seat in 2008.

He didn't become a household name until 2012, when he faced Justin Trudeau, then a Liberal MP, in a boxing match to raise money for cancer research. Trudeau won, outlasting the muscular senator in three rounds.

Had I won that boxing match, I don't believe that Justin Trudeau today would be the prime minister of Canada.- Senator Patrick Brazeau

"My ego was definitely bruised because, at that time, there was no way in hell that I thought that I was ever going to lose to him," Brazeau said.

Even six years on, he hasn't been able to watch video of that match in its entirety — but he believes it had real political consequences.

"Had I won that boxing match," Brazeau said, "I don't believe that Justin Trudeau today would be the prime minister of Canada."

Patrick Brazeau, right, lost a charity boxing match to Justin Trudeau in 2012. Trudeau went on to become Liberal leader and then prime minister after that match. Brazeau's career, meanwhile, went into a tailspin. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Brazeau elaborated: "Going into the boxing match, people ridiculed him, saying he looked weak and not much of a fighter. But the fact that he beat me, I think that certainly changed his image."

Trudeau acknowledged in a Rolling Stone profile last year that Brazeau seemed like an effective "foil" for him, though he later said he regretted those comments.

'My world just fell apart'

In the ensuing years, Trudeau followed up his pugilistic victory with parliamentary ones, becoming leader of the Liberal Party, and then eventually prime minister.

Brazeau's life, meanwhile, went into a tailspin.

Following an auditor general's report in 2012, Brazeau was one of four senators accused of improperly claiming housing expense allowances.

I knew the truth, but I just couldn't get it out there. I felt helpless.- Senator Patrick Brazeau

In February 2013, police were called to an alleged domestic violence incident at his Gatineau, Que., home.

Brazeau was arrested and charged with assault and sexual assault. He would learn while sitting in a jail cell that he'd been kicked out of the Conservative caucus over the incident.

"My world just fell apart," he said of that moment.

Other charges would follow over the next three years for assault, drunk driving, weapon possession, drug possession, uttering threats and failing to provide a breathalyzer test. 

Those charges were in addition to ones of fraud and breach of trust over the Senate expense scandal.

In 2014, he took a job as a manager at an Ottawa strip club. He describes that move as an act of desperation when no one else would hire him.

That period of his life included substance abuse — "a lot of drugs and alcohol," he said. A judge had sent him to rehab twice.

In December 2013, during Patrick Brazeau's suspension from the Senate, the parliamentary press gallery denied Brazeau's bid for accreditation as a freelance reporter for Halifax-based Frank Magazine. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"People always say there's a reason for everything," Brazeau said of his struggles. "I still don't know what that reason is, but I'm just lucky to be here."

Brazeau wasn't only referring to his job in the Senate. He feels lucky to be alive.

In August 2015, he tweeted that he'd tried to kill himself because of what had happened to his career. The following January, paramedics broke through his door to save him from another suicide attempt.

"I just got to a point where I was tired to fight," he said. "Tired to hear my name in the papers, to hear people talk about me, to say negative things, when I knew the truth, but I just couldn't get it out there. I felt helpless."

Turning his life around

Brazeau woke up in a hospital two days later after an induced coma. He remembers a surgeon sitting by his bedside for half an hour, convincing him of all the things he had to live for.

"Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is — I don't want to get emotional here — but ... the kids," he said, his voice cracking. "My kids, and obviously my immediate family. They didn't deserve this."

Brazeau admits to "bad decisions" in his past, but acknowledges little wrongdoing. He feels the "so-called expense scandal" was politically motivated and based in untruths. He also feels vindicated by the courts.

"Almost every single accusation that came my way during this entire ordeal was never proven," he said. "That's the reason I have my job back."

Patrick Brazeau leaves the courthouse in Gatineau, Que., after entering a guilty plea for charges of assault and possession of cocaine from incidents in 2013 and 2014, respectively, in September 2015. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Brazeau pleaded guilty in 2015 to an assault charge related to the incident two years earlier, and to cocaine possession in a separate domestic incident.

One charge for allegedly failing to provide a breathalyzer test in 2016 remains unresolved. But the other charges were either withdrawn or ended in acquittals.

Brazeau has so far walked away with no criminal record and no jail time to serve. At 43 years old, he could remain in the Senate for the next 32 years.

Return to the Senate

Brazeau is now getting accustomed to Ottawa under a new government.

He says he feels he can be more effective as an Independent senator, free of a partisan allegiance to the Conservative Party.

"I don't owe anybody anything," he said. He says he was used by his former party, and that they ultimately tried to discard him when his personal troubles became a political inconvenience.

Out in the Open reached out to Stephen Harper for comment for this story, but he did not respond as of publication time.

Senator Patrick Brazeau sits down for an interview with CBC Radio's Out in Open at a CBC Montreal studio. (Susan Mckenzie/CBC)

Brazeau acknowledged that he paid little attention to politics during his suspension, so readjusting to his old job has taken time. He's sitting on a couple of committees, voting on legislation and trying to determine how he can best contribute going forward.

​"I can't, as an individual, as a human being, I cannot dwell on having regrets, because it's not going to change anything," he said. "What changes is from this day forward, to tomorrow to next month to next year."


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