The weight of evidence

Two floors below, the charges include assault, assault with a weapon and uttering threats.

Two floors below, the charges include assault, assault with a weapon and uttering threats.

As the morning evolved, the outcasts and the frightened floated into Ottawa’s Provincial Courthouse, waiting to be summoned by loudspeaker to the room where their date with justice awaited.

Into this daily maelstrom that unfolds largely unchronicled, history entered in the name of Mike Duffy, Canada’s one-time schmoozer of the century, the man who never met a back unworthy of a slap, the man who spent a lifetime seeking the camera, the microphone and the spotlight.

Instead this morning, in Courtroom 33, he stood stone-faced as a court clerk of uncommon stamina read out 31 charges against him, a catalogue of criminality and malfeasance that stretched through the mid-morning silence, so minute in detail it listed expense forms T640508, T6420166, T640124, drip, drip, drip.

The clerk’s soliloquy took nearly a quarter hour.

“I am not guilty, your Honour,’’ Duffy proclaimed, when finally allowed to answer, using the broadcaster baritone that was loud and clear with a hint of defiance.

Some 40 or more sitting days later, we’ll find out whether he is.

But Duffy didn’t just enter the courtroom with his wife, Heather, and lawyer Donald Bayne in tow, of course, he was dragging the Stephen Harper government, the prime minister’s one-time inner circle and the Conservative leadership in the Senate into the tiny courtroom with him.

If there was any doubt, Bayne made that clear at the end of a day that contained two warring, diametrically opposed versions of the suspended senator, who sat patiently, wife Heather sitting a row behind.

All through the morning, Crown attorney Mark Holmes painted Duffy as a serial expense abuser who was essentially running a slush fund, visiting family, attending funerals and even heading to Peterborough to shop for puppies with the discredited and convicted former parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, Dean Del Mastro.

He called that one a meeting with local officials on broadcasting issues, but all trips were charged on the public dime.

Never once did Duffy glance backward or sideward in the courtroom to acknowledge the throng watching this spectacle, among them many of his former colleagues.

As he returned for the afternoon, in anticipation of playing on his turf, he brightened, leaning back to acknowledge an old friend sitting beside his spouse, later in the afternoon even trying to amplify a point Bayne was making until his counsel subtly shushed him with a quick back of the hand.

There was no puppy, Bayne said. Another event was cancelled, meaning under the Senate rules Duffy was entitled to full reimbursement. And these family visits? Well, family reunification is not only allowed under the rules, but encouraged under the rules.

The primary residence in Prince Edward Island, the home at 10 Friendly Lane that Holmes had described as uninhabitable for much of the year, was exactly what it was, Bayne said. The primary residence is the residence in which the senator had been appointed, Bayne said, during an afternoon that hinged heavily on Senate rules, which he painted as arcane, fuzzy and poorly enforced, the antithesis of common sense.

Duffy is really a victim, Bayne said. His client was alone facing justice for playing by rules that applied to all 105 senators, a man who, “as every Canadian knows,” had a unique position in the Senate and was used to great advantage for partisan purposes by Harper.

Much of this is a sideshow to Canadians, if not Duffy, who is in very deep trouble.

If there is one thing that Canadians outside Ottawa still find compelling, it is the question of why Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright, other operatives in the PMO and the Senate leadership went to such great lengths to try to protect Duffy and make their “public agony” go away instead of just standing up and saying he cheated and must pay the money back and face the consequences.

Why would Wright take it upon himself to ante up $90,000 from his own chequing account?

Duffy was an equal partner in the $90,000 plot, “if not the instigator,” the Crown contends. He is a man who agreed to repay the money only if someone else paid it.

No, said the defence, he was “extorted,” a man who succumbed to pressure from Wright and his gang of co-conspirators.

And Wright, according to testimony read into the record by Bayne, agreed that Duffy may have been playing by the rules and he thought he might be forcing a man to pay back money he didn’t owe.

That was something the prime minister had to know, Wright said, should it ever come up again with another caucus member.

It was all right there in the mountain of emails and documents Bayne has, a mountain he dropped on the table with a theatrical thud.

A tease, or a smoking gun?

The old Duff knows and he has waited a long time to tell his story.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at tharper@thestar.ca.

As the morning evolved, the outcasts and the frightened floated into Ottawa’s Provincial Courthouse, waiting to be summoned by loudspeaker to the room where their date with justice awaited.

Into this daily maelstrom that unfolds largely unchronicled, history entered in the name of Mike Duffy, Canada’s one-time schmoozer of the century, the man who never met a back unworthy of a slap, the man who spent a lifetime seeking the camera, the microphone and the spotlight.

Instead this morning, in Courtroom 33, he stood stone-faced as a court clerk of uncommon stamina read out 31 charges against him, a catalogue of criminality and malfeasance that stretched through the mid-morning silence, so minute in detail it listed expense forms T640508, T6420166, T640124, drip, drip, drip.

The clerk’s soliloquy took nearly a quarter hour.

“I am not guilty, your Honour,’’ Duffy proclaimed, when finally allowed to answer, using the broadcaster baritone that was loud and clear with a hint of defiance.

Some 40 or more sitting days later, we’ll find out whether he is.

But Duffy didn’t just enter the courtroom with his wife, Heather, and lawyer Donald Bayne in tow, of course, he was dragging the Stephen Harper government, the prime minister’s one-time inner circle and the Conservative leadership in the Senate into the tiny courtroom with him.

If there was any doubt, Bayne made that clear at the end of a day that contained two warring, diametrically opposed versions of the suspended senator, who sat patiently, wife Heather sitting a row behind.

All through the morning, Crown attorney Mark Holmes painted Duffy as a serial expense abuser who was essentially running a slush fund, visiting family, attending funerals and even heading to Peterborough to shop for puppies with the discredited and convicted former parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, Dean Del Mastro.

He called that one a meeting with local officials on broadcasting issues, but all trips were charged on the public dime.

Never once did Duffy glance backward or sideward in the courtroom to acknowledge the throng watching this spectacle, among them many of his former colleagues.

As he returned for the afternoon, in anticipation of playing on his turf, he brightened, leaning back to acknowledge an old friend sitting beside his spouse, later in the afternoon even trying to amplify a point Bayne was making until his counsel subtly shushed him with a quick back of the hand.

There was no puppy, Bayne said. Another event was cancelled, meaning under the Senate rules Duffy was entitled to full reimbursement. And these family visits? Well, family reunification is not only allowed under the rules, but encouraged under the rules.

The primary residence in Prince Edward Island, the home at 10 Friendly Lane that Holmes had described as uninhabitable for much of the year, was exactly what it was, Bayne said. The primary residence is the residence in which the senator had been appointed, Bayne said, during an afternoon that hinged heavily on Senate rules, which he painted as arcane, fuzzy and poorly enforced, the antithesis of common sense.

Duffy is really a victim, Bayne said. His client was alone facing justice for playing by rules that applied to all 105 senators, a man who, “as every Canadian knows,” had a unique position in the Senate and was used to great advantage for partisan purposes by Harper.

Much of this is a sideshow to Canadians, if not Duffy, who is in very deep trouble.

If there is one thing that Canadians outside Ottawa still find compelling, it is the question of why Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright, other operatives in the PMO and the Senate leadership went to such great lengths to try to protect Duffy and make their “public agony” go away instead of just standing up and saying he cheated and must pay the money back and face the consequences.

Why would Wright take it upon himself to ante up $90,000 from his own chequing account?

Duffy was an equal partner in the $90,000 plot, “if not the instigator,” the Crown contends. He is a man who agreed to repay the money only if someone else paid it.

No, said the defence, he was “extorted,” a man who succumbed to pressure from Wright and his gang of co-conspirators.

And Wright, according to testimony read into the record by Bayne, agreed that Duffy may have been playing by the rules and he thought he might be forcing a man to pay back money he didn’t owe.

That was something the prime minister had to know, Wright said, should it ever come up again with another caucus member.

It was all right there in the mountain of emails and documents Bayne has, a mountain he dropped on the table with a theatrical thud.

A tease, or a smoking gun?

The old Duff knows and he has waited a long time to tell his story.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at tharper@thestar.ca.

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