And the Old Duff shall have his day

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s Atlantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

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.

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