Wright broke ethics rules dur­ing Duffy af­fair: re­port

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOAN BRY­DEN

OT­TAWA — Former prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper’s one-time chief of staff was never pros­e­cuted for his role in Mike Duffy’s Se­nate ex­penses fi­asco, but now Nigel Wright is get­ting a be­lated slap on the wrist from the fed­eral ethics watch­dog.

In a long-awaited re­port re­leased Thurs­day, ethics com­mis­sioner Mary Daw­son says Wright broke both the Par­lia­ment of Canada Act and the Con­flict of In­ter­est Act when he per­son­ally gave Duffy $90,000 to re­pay the Se­nate for ques­tion­able liv­ing ex­pense claims.

By giv­ing Duffy the money as part of an agree­ment in which the se­na­tor was to re­im­burse the Se­nate and ac­knowl­edge the er­ror of his ways, Daw­son says, “Mr. Wright was im­prop­erly fur­ther­ing Sen. Duffy’s pri­vate in­ter­ests,” spar­ing him the need to use his own funds. That’s a vi­o­la­tion of con­flict of in­ter­est rules.

More­over, she says Wright broke an­other sec­tion of the act when he used his po­si­tion as Harper’s right-hand man to try to in­flu­ence Con­ser­va­tive bag­man Sen. Irv­ing Ger­stein and the Con­ser­va­tive Fund Canada to dip into party cof­fers to re­im­burse Duffy’s ex­penses.

Wright never faced any crim­i­nal charges for his role in the af­fair, al­though Duffy was charged with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Wright was a pros­e­cu­tion wit­ness dur­ing the sub­se­quent trial, which ended last spring with Duffy be­ing found not guilty of all charges.

Ques­tions have long per­sisted about how Duffy could have been charged with ac­cept­ing a bribe when Wright was not charged with of­fer­ing one.

And the RCMP has faced crit­i­cism for fail­ing to charge Wright un­der the Par­lia­ment of Canada Act, which some par­lia­men­tary law ex­perts be­lieved would have been more likely to se­cure a con­vic­tion. A never-used pro­vi­sion of the act stip­u­lates that it’s an in­dictable of­fence to of­fer com­pen­sa­tion to a sit­ting se­na­tor in re­gard to “any claim, con­tro­versy, ar­rest or other mat­ter be­fore the Se­nate.”

In her re­port, Daw­son notes that Wright’s pay­ment to Duffy “was se­ri­ous enough” to prompt the RCMP to at least con­sider lay­ing charges un­der the Par­lia­ment of Canada Act.

“Al­though the is­sue of il­le­gal­ity was not pur­sued, I would con­sider such an act to be un­doubt­edly im­proper,” she says.

New Demo­crat MP Char­lie An­gus, who has pres­sured the RCMP to ex­plain why it did not charge Wright un­der the act, was pleased that Daw­son ad­dressed the mat­ter.

“The ques­tion is go­ing to be asked, when­ever we talk about this case in decades to come, they’re go­ing to say, ‘Why did the RCMP ig­nore the most ob­vi­ous piece of leg­is­la­tion that per­fectly ex­plained the crime that had been com­mit­ted in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice?’” he said.

Other than pub­licly sham­ing pub­lic of­fice hold­ers who breach the Con­flict of In­ter­est Act, Daw­son has no power to im­pose sanc­tions or penal­ties.

While he praised Daw­son’s “ex­cel­lent re­port, An­gus doubted it will give peo­ple much com­fort. “In fact, I think it’s just go­ing make Cana­di­ans more cyn­i­cal about the po­lit­i­cal process,” he said. “Cana­di­ans know what hap­pened was wrong and there’s no con­se­quences.”

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democ­racy Watch, said the re­port is “too lit­tle, too late.” His ad­vo­cacy group in­tends to ini­ti­ate a pri­vate crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of Wright for “cor­ruptly” mak­ing the pay­ment to Duffy.

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