More to Duffy case than bribery charge

Did Conservative Party of Canada benefit from the proceeds of crime?

Published on July 24, 2014

Mike Duffy’s cottage at 10 Friendly Lane is shown in Cavendish on Thursday, July 17.

©Guardian photo

Well, he’s always liked being the centre of attention. The Duffster, the Duffinator — Senator Mike Duffy is surely right in the middle of it now, being hit with 31 fraud-related charges as a result of his Senate expenses.

But while Duffy is at the centre, there’s plenty of material on the fringes of the case that deserves much, much more attention.

The media has been focusing on just one aspect of the multitude of charges. Why it is that Duffy’s been charged with accepting a $90,000 cheque from the then-chief of staff to the prime minister, Nigel Wright, but Wright has not been charged for offering the cheque? The general consensus is that it’s a result of the bigger-fish-to-fry approach — if Wright was charged, he could argue he can’t be a witness against Duffy without incriminating himself.

Another argument is that it would be hard to demonstrate that Wright stood to gain directly from handing over the cheque — an easier argument to make in Duffy’s case.

But while that might be the sexiest of the charges, there are others that are potentially more significant.

Take these charges — “the filing of Senate expense claims for travel for personal and partisan reasons, unrelated to Senate business” — as outlined in a statement by RCMP assistant commissioner Gilles Michaud.

“Mr. Duffy has been charged with five counts of fraud under $5,000, four counts of fraud over $5,000 and nine counts of breach of trust. The total amount of the frauds exceeds $50,000,” Michaud said.

Focus for a moment on two words in Michaud’s statement — “partisan reasons.”

Duffy, you see, was a star Tory fundraiser — a big enough star that the media asked, long before police investigations, who was picking up the tab for his travel and expenses. The Canadian Press, in particular, asked Duffy how many party fundraisers he had attended in one year, and questioned whether his full-time home was in Ottawa.

His emailed response? “You are beneath contempt.  I follow all the rules.”

So here’s another interesting question: if it’s proven that Duffy did provide the equivalent of $50,000 in donations to the Tories, do we have to examine whether accepting in-kind donations was legal for the federal Tories? Are they even allowed to accept $50,000 worth of services from an individual? And while they were using him as a fundraiser, did they ever even question just why it was he wasn’t submitting expenses for travel on their behalf? Did the party potentially benefit from the proceeds of crime?

You would have to think that someone in the Conservative Party of Canada would ask the question: “Why are we getting so many services from Mike Duffy for free?” Wilful blindness is not an acceptable excuse.

It’s nice to have a fall guy. But as the charges make their way through the court, it will be interesting to see just where the tendrils reach.

The courts will decide if the Duffster is also a fraudster.

But that doesn’t mean the questions should end there.

An editorial from the St. John’s Telegram/The Canadian Press Member Editorial Exchange