OTTAWA — Sen. Mike Duffy’s lawyers are recalling the political scandal surrounding his expense claims in a bid to keep the Senate in the crosshairs of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over his suspension from the chamber in 2013.
Lawyers for the Senate spent hours Wednesday arguing the upper chamber’s disciplinary actions are shielded by parliamentary privilege — a centuries-old right designed to protect legislators from legal consequence in the course of doing their jobs.
Duffy’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said Thursday the upper chamber gave up that protective privilege when Conservative senators allowed the Prime Minister’s Office to dictate decisions around Duffy’s punishments five years ago.
Evidence submitted at Duffy’s criminal trial unveiled the machinations inside the office of then-prime minister Stephen Harper all aimed at clamping down on the rising political scandal over Duffy’s housing claims.
Months later, in November 2013, a majority of senators voted to suspend him indefinitely without pay — a punishment that was lifted after about two years.
Greenspon said he had to hold himself back from smirking when Senate lawyers argued that Duffy could always go to his fellow senators if he felt the upper chamber had treated him unfairly.
“If he’s restricted to seeking justice from the same group of people who one expelled him because of alleged misconduct. … I don’t know how that could possibly be construed as access to justice,” Greenspon said.
“A remedy in the Senate? Hardly.”
Duffy is seeking more than $7.8 million in damages from the Senate and the RCMP in the wake of the high-profile investigation and suspension surrounding his expense claims, which ended in Duffy’s acquittal on 31 charges in April 2016.
He filed his claim last August, claiming “an unprecedented abuse of power” when senators voted to suspend him without pay in November 2013 before any criminal charges were filed.
Senators who supported Duffy’s suspension stuck to the argument that the Senate should be allowed to govern its internal affairs and dole out administrative penalties without fear of judicial sanction.
Greenspon argued that the decision to suspend Duffy — which he likens to an effective expulsion because it was indefinite — was for reasons unconnected to the Senate’s primary function as a legislative chamber, meaning privilege doesn’t apply.
The lawyer said the suspension without pay had a devastating financial impact on Duffy and left his constituents on Prince Edward Island without one of their representatives in the Senate.
Duffy is in the courtroom for the second of two days of hearings on a Senate motion that seeks to get the chamber off the hook in the lawsuit.
If the court agrees, Duffy would only be able to sue the RCMP for its actions in the investigation.