And the Old Duff shall have his day
This week, an Ottawa judge will bring down a verdict that used to seem more important than it does now.
Judge Charles Vaillancourt is scheduled to bring down his decision in the case of the Queen vs. Michael Dennis Duffy, who has been facing 31 bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. Back when the trial was underway last August, the senator’s case was frontpage news. The federal election was on, former PMO staffer Nigel Wright was on the stand, and the courtroom was packed.
But the election ended, the media faded away and, as Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, aptly pointed out to Maclean’s post-election, “Now, it’s just a criminal trial.”
Just a criminal trial. Not a political circus, not a hunt for political involvement from the Prime Minister’s Office, but simply a question of whether one person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of having committed a series of crimes.
That bar, as many seemed to discover for the very first time in the Jian Ghomeshi trial, is a high one indeed. As it should be. After all, while court cases may seem like blood sports for those who are not personally involved, they have serious implications for those who are charged, not the least being the possibility of jail time.
It’s meant that both the defense and the Crown have gone to great lengths to persuade Vaillancourt that their side is in the right.
To give an idea of just how far that’s gone, consider the Crown’s closing arguments, where lawyers made a great deal of the fact that Duffy was a polished, practiced storyteller. Stop and think about that: yes, Duffy is — but so are a lot of people, and that doesn’t mean any of them are guilty of crimes.
Early on, with the release of things like Duffy’s diaries, there was plenty of material for news stories. News stories, though, are not evidence. Not even close.
After a year before the courts and 62 days in court — more than many murder trials — Vaillancourt’s verdict will probably come down to two Latin words: Mens rea — it’s the concept of the guilty mind.
You don’t just have to break the law, you have to knowingly break the law. And that’s the hard part. It’s hard to knowingly break rules when those rules are nebulous, inconsistently applied and inadequately explained.
I would not be surprised in the least if the judge finds that the Crown hasn’t met its evidentiary burden in most if not all of the charges. I would not be surprised if, after all this time, trouble and expense, there’s just enough reasonable doubt about the criminality of something as patently ridicu- lous as Duffy claiming to live in P.E.I. when he clearly did not. Fact is, the Senate rules were as hole-filled as Swiss cheese, and the boys and girls on the Senate bus were used to — and told they were allowed to — drive through any loophole they wanted.
Mike Duffy was on trial, but it’s the Senate itself that looks guilty — well, if not guilty, at least criminally stupid. Duffy may be among the most egregious of the Senate truffle-pigs — he may never have seen an entitlement that he didn’t readily absorb as well and truly deserved.
But I doubt very much that he’s going to jail.
You don’t just have to break the law, you have to knowingly break the law. And that’s the hard part.