Friday, 22 April 2016

Mike Duffy Verdict

My last several posts were dedicated to excoriating Judge William Horkins for this ruing in the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault case. It was a terrible ruling full of misogynist nonsense that put the burden of proof onto the victim of the crime instead of the prosecutor.

Today I'm here to talk about another court ruling, but this time I'm filled with glee. I wouldn't have told you even the day before yesterday that watching the Mike Duffy verdict come in could make me so excited. If I had been honest I think I would have had a preference for seeing him found guilty.

But watching that ruling be paraphrased on twitter feeds and live blogs, I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next bit of reasoning from Justice Charles Vaillancourt.

I love seeing powerful people get comeuppance, but what I love even more is when it is recognized that the system of rules itself is broken.

The charges against Duffy were dismissed for a few broad reasons. In some cases the prosecutor argued that Duffy had used senate travel opportunistically for personal gain. In some cases the argument was that Duffy had violated Senate rules and therefore had violated the public trust. In some cases the argument was that Duffy had lied about the reason for his trip.

Justice Vaillancourt found Mike Duffy to be a very credible witness, which negates the chance of being convicted on the lying counts. Where Mike Duffy was accused of violating the rules, the judge often pointed out that there simply were no rules to violate, and that Mike Duffy's admittedly questionable conduct was standard operation for senators and parliamentarians. As far as opportunism goes, the judge just said flatly it isn't criminal. Sure, deciding to take a business trip to coincide with the birth of your grandchild is clearly using the travel to your advantage, but if the business trip is legitimate, there's no wrongdoing.

One was left wondering how these charges ever made it to court. The argument that Duffy lied is one thing, but for many of them, it sounds like the case was that expense claims that were filed through the appropriate process and that never raised any flags somehow constituted fraud. The idea that a person would think they were committing a crime by filing papers that are never questioned is absurd.

When I first started looking at the Ghomeshi ruling I highlighted a particularly egregious section as the "crown jewel" of the ruling but later found out I had gotten wrong and there were even worse things to come. Despite not having read the entire Duffy ruling, I feel very confident that this is the single greatest paragraph:
[1035] The answers to the aforementioned questions are: YES; YES; YES; YES; YES; and YES!!!!!
That is a lot of exclamation points for a court ruling. I'm sure you are wondering, so here are the questions:

  • The email traffic that has been produced at this trial causes me to pause and ask myself, “Did I actually have the opportunity to see the inner workings of the PMO?”
  • Was Nigel Wright actually ordering senior members of the Senate around as if they were mere pawns on a chessboard?
  • Were those same senior members of the Senate meekly acquiescing to Mr. Wright’s orders?
  • Were those same senior members of the Senate robotically marching forth to recite their provided scripted lines?
  • Did Nigel Wright really direct a Senator to approach a senior member of an accounting firm that was conducting an independent audit of the Senate with the intention to either get a peek at the report or part of the report prior to its release to the appropriate Senate authorities or to influence that report in anyway?
  • Does the reading of these emails give the impression that Senator Duffy was going to do as he was told or face the consequences? 
The ruling comes as close as is safely allowable to saying that Nigel Wright, other staff of the Prime Minister's Office, senator David Tkachuk, and maybe even Stephen Harper ought to be charged instead of Mike Duffy. I consider it a defect in our legal system that the judge can't recommend charges be brought against these people, or even order that the trial continue against those people, giving them a chance to mount their own defense.

Normally pressing charges against a former chief of staff of a former prime minister might look like petty politics and would be blocked by the sitting government. But given the outcome of this ruling, I hope the idea of charging Nigel Wright or others from Harper's office is at least being considered. It sounds like the evidence from Duffy's trial is enough to convict them on influencing senators by bribery or threat.

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