OTTAWA — Mike Duffy’s defence began what’s likely to be a lengthy — and testy — cross-examination Friday of the Senate official overseeing the upper chambers’ expense regime during the allegedly free-spending days of the senator from P.E.I.
At the close of the third week of Duffy’s trial on fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges, his lawyer seemed poised to return to a theme he raised at the start of the trial — that the investigation was biased.
Bayne repeatedly asked Nicole Proulx, who used to run the Senate’s finance directorate, why she refused invitations to meet him, but appeared to have ample time for the police and Crown attorneys as they put together their case.
Proulx was responsible for assembling many of records relating to Duffy’s expense claims that are now evidence in the case.
She said that she didn’t feel she had a choice when it came to providing statements to police or evidence to the Crown; court heard she began meeting them in May 2013 and may have most recently conferred with the Crown last weekend.
As for Bayne, she told him several times she was too busy to meet and though a tentative meeting was once set up, she cancelled after consulting her lawyer.
As Bayne continued to push her, pointing to all the time she had for the cops and the Crown, she eventually pushed back.
“I’d like to say for the record, your honour, during that period of time I also contributed to providing a number of documents for Sen. Duffy,” she said, though she admitted that she was told to do by the clerk of the Senate.
Timing appeared to be on the judge’s mind on Friday and he told both sides he’d like them to hold a case conference in two weeks to determine how much longer the trial will go beyond its allotted 41 days.
Proulx has been on the stand since Wednesday discussing elements of Senate expense policy and how or why certain claims were or weren’t approved.
For example, court heard about a claim of more than $3,000 which Duffy submitted for travel to Ottawa from P.E.I for a doctor’s appointment.
Initially, Proulx testified, the Senate rejected the claim, saying expenses would only be covered if a senator had to leave Ottawa for medical care at home when the Senate was sitting.
Less than 10 minutes after the rejection note was sent, Duffy’s assistant wrote back saying she’d made a mistake and he also had official events in Ottawa that day. The upper chamber paid.
At the heart of the Crown’s case are allegations that Duffy deliberately circumvented Senate rules to get personal expenses paid for by taxpayers between 2009 and 2012 and assistant Crown attorney Jason Neubauer took Proulx through some of the existing guidelines in place prior to 2012.
But Bayne disagreed with the line of questioning, saying the prosecutor was asking the witness for an opinion and to address hypotheticals.
Neubauer said he was trying to show that before 2012, there were clear rules in place about legitimate Senate expenses, despite the fact that an updated rule book put out that year added more explicit guidelines than had existed previously.
Justice Vaillancourt jumped in.
“That’s the whole point, were there any rules at all?” Vaillancourt said.
“And at the end of the day, I hope you have something more substantial than what appears on the platter right now.”
The remark prompted Neubauer to question whether the judge had already made up his mind.
“I’ve got a long way to go before the determination of facts,” Vaillancourt replied.
“But I would like to start moving along and hearing some evidence.”
Duffy has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.