Duffy lawyer says travel to funerals included government work

Three funerals that Sen. Mike Duffy attended — and billed taxpayers for — each included some element of government business and weren’t personal trips, his lawyer argues.

OTTAWA — Three funerals that Sen. Mike Duffy attended — and billed taxpayers for — each included some element of government business and weren’t personal trips, his lawyer argues.

The funerals that Duffy’s criminal trial heard about Thursday cost the Senate more than $5,000 in flights and food expenses and were all for people with whom Duffy had a personal connection.

There was the acquaintance who was a well-known Second World War hero from P.E.I. and died in 2011.

There was the high school volunteer basketball coach who died in 2012.

And there was a close friend of Duffy’s mother who died in 2009.

Among other things, the Crown alleges that Duffy wrongly charged taxpayers for what amounted to personal travel rather than government business.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges, including fraud, breach of trust and bribery stemming from his questionable Senate expenses.

A witness at who was at the 2011 funeral said she believed Duffy was there as a government representative for the funeral of Clifton (Cliff) Elmer Stewart, affectionately known on the island as “the spy from P.E.I.”

The court heard that Duffy and Stewart were friends.

Testifying by phone from P.E.I., Myrna Sanderson said she believed Duffy was at the funeral representing the government, given Stewart’s standing on the island as a well-known Second World War veteran.

In January 2012, Duffy travelled to the province for the funeral of Robert (Bobby) Leclair, who was described as a father figure to many of the students he coached in basketball.

Duffy read Scripture at Leclair’s funeral, the court heard.

Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, argued his client was there because he had responsibilities to represent the region and “funerals are an important public paying of respect to community members.”

Not only that, but Leclair was a lifelong Conservative and helped during elections. He also suggested Duffy met a senior provincial bureaucrat in his role as a senator during the visit.

And then there was the funeral for Isobel DeBlois, an longtime, close friend of Duffy’s mother. DeBlois died in 2009, only a few months after Duffy became a senator, and he gave the eulogy at the service.

Her lineage, Bayne argued, made her worthy of having a government representative at the funeral, meaning taxpayers could get the tab.

DeBlois was a descendant of George Coles, the first premier of P.E.I. and one of the Fathers of Confederation. The family also had deep business roots in the province, Bayne said, suggesting Duffy wasn’t there for personal reasons.

“In terms of P.E.I. life, we’re talking about a woman who was part of a …VIP-type family,” Bayne told the court.

“If you’re part of the descendants of one of the fathers of Confederation and one of the first premiers of the province, you don’t lose that status over the years.”

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