Senate lawyers call Duffy lawsuit an overreach, ask to be stricken from case

OTTAWA — Lawyers for the Senate warned of dire consequences for Canada’s democracy Wednesday as they laid out their case for why Sen. Mike Duffy shouldn’t be allowed to sue the upper chamber over his dramatic and protracted suspension without pay five years ago.

Allowing Duffy to target the Senate with his $7.8-million lawsuit would obliterate the protective walls aimed at keeping the courts and Parliament separate, they argued. They cited parliamentary privilege — a centuries-old right designed to protect legislators from legal consequence in the course of doing their jobs.

Senate lawyer Maxime Faille told the court that while parliamentary privilege may appear arcane, it cannot be taken for granted when looking at “recent events around the globe, near and far.”

Chipping away at that right could potentially unleash a flood of cases that would result in an unprecedented tearing down of the separation of powers between the government and the courts, Faille said.

The portion of the lawsuit against the Senate hinges on Duffy’s arguments that senators acted unconstitutionally and violated his charter rights when they decided to suspend him without pay in 2013 over questioned expense claims.

Faille said the Senate, like the House of Commons, has the right to discipline its members free from judicial review, even if their actions appear repugnant.

“The Senate may be wrong, the Senate may be incorrect, but that is a matter for the Senate to determine,” he said.

“If we are to sort of crack open this exception — but if they really did it for a really harebrained reason — then we have eviscerated parliamentary privilege and the courts would be sitting in regular review of (parliamentary) discipline actions.”

If the court agrees, Duffy’s suit would proceed only against the federal government over the actions of the RCMP during the investigation.

Unlike Duffy’s high-profile criminal trial, the arguments made in the first of two days of hearings on the Senate’s request happened in a sparse courtroom. Federal lawyers representing the government and RCMP sat on one side of the room. Duffy sat opposite, with his criminal trial lawyer, Donald Bayne, one row ahead.

Duffy is seeking damages from the Senate and the Mounties in the wake of the high-profile investigation and suspension surrounding his expense claims, an explosive political scandal that plagued then prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, culminating 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 fast to the argument that the Senate should be allowed to govern its internal affairs and dole out administrative penalties without fear of judicial sanction.

Indeed, Faille said the court lacks any jurisdiction to review the Senate’s decision, order the Senate to pay any money to Duffy, or make a value judgment on whether the upper chamber acted appropriately.

Lawrence Greenspon, another of Duffy’s lawyers, told the court later Wednesday the Senate waived its right to privilege when it turned to outside auditors and the RCMP to review Duffy’s spending. He argued the Senate now “seeks to stand privilege on its head” in order to quash Duffy’s lawsuit.

Greenspon is expected to resume his arguments Thursday.

— Follow @jpress on Twitter.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Alberta investing $3.7B to move oil by rail, leasing cars

EDMONTON — The Alberta government says it’s investing $3.7 billion to move… Continue reading

Red Deer College introduces safety app

Safe RDC provides reliabilty and speed

Alberta farmers await Saskatchewan court decision on carbon tax

Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association applaud Saskatchewan government

Halifax fire claims seven Syrian refugee children: ‘Our entire municipality is heartbroken’

HALIFAX — Seven children, all members of a Syrian refugee family, died… Continue reading

Pro-pipeline protest convoy reaches Ottawa after rolling across country

OTTAWA — A convoy of angry Albertans and other westerners rolled up… Continue reading

Historic win for Team Nunavut at Canada Winter Games

Four years in the making boiled down to a collection of firsts… Continue reading

TSB says improved tankers involved in Manitoba derailment that spilled crude

ST. LAZARE, Man. — Federal investigators say CN rail cars that spilled… Continue reading

Vancouver duo faced health scare while making Oscar-nominated ‘Animal Behaviour’

TORONTO — Husband-and-wife filmmakers Alison Snowden and David Fine had almost finished… Continue reading

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard drops second-round match against Simona Halep

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard is out of the… Continue reading

Chanel: Iconic couturier Karl Lagerfeld dies in Paris

PARIS — Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s iconic couturier whose designs had an unprecedented… Continue reading

Canadian women beat US 2-0 to win inaugural Rivalry Series

DETROIT — The inaugural Rivalry Series was created to give Canada and… Continue reading

Don Cherry blasts Hurricanes as ‘jerks’; team responds with his words on T-shirt

TORONTO — Don Cherry’s latest rant about the Carolina Hurricanes and their… Continue reading

Country star Miranda Lambert reveals secret marriage

NASHVILLE — Country star Miranda Lambert celebrated Valentine’s Day weekend with the… Continue reading

‘Black Panther’ costume designer blazes trail to inspire

LOS ANGELES — Ruth E. Carter is a black woman blazing a… Continue reading

Most Read