Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Duffy Senate trial: The Missing Prime Minister “Shut Down” Email

Barrister Bayne, Duffy and Nigel Wright chronicleherald
Yesterday Donald Bayne, the bulldog barrister acting for senator Duffy in Duffy’s criminal trial, focused on an email that Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, had not disclosed as part of the 400 plus pages of email data dump.

Found here, in Macleans delightfully detailed analyses of every day of the trial, the email deals with PM Harper’s statement that he would have “shut down” an inquiry long before it reached the stage it did:

Consider the events in Courtroom 33, where Sen. Mike Duffy is on trial on 31 charges of breach of trust, fraud and bribery.

Our story begins with Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne.

Bayne was examining Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, and he wanted to know why fellow aide Ray Novak’s email to Wright relaying Stephen Harper’s edict on an aspect of the Senate expense scandal was one of very few emails on the matter that Wright had never given police.

That question made Wright look terribly uneasy.

The Novak email and another from Ben Perrin, the PM’s in-house counsel, were both redacted from Wright’s binder of Duffy-related emails.

“Privileged and not relevant,” he’d labelled them.

Wright explained that the Harper decision contained in the Novak communication—”Had I known we were going down this road I would have shut it down long before this memo,” the PM said of efforts by the Tory leadership in the Senate to nail down residence criteria for senators—was strictly part of a policy discussion, and not germane to an ethics commission inquiry for which Wright had prepared the materials.

Later, he said, after the RCMP launched a Duffy probe, investigators inherited the dossier as Wright had initially compiled it.

The explanation was barely plausible, and the room sniffed it.

As Bayne quickly pointed out, Wright had included just about every other email at his disposal touching on the expense scandal. Why did it appear he’d redacted only these?

Bayne’s suggestion was unmistakable: Wright remained Harper’s loyal disciple, and he’d failed to include the Novak email because he was protecting his former boss and the Conservative Party brand.

This Harper communication, after all, put the PM at the very centre of high-level discussions around how to contain the Duffy expense-claim crisis. In his ruling, Harper had cannily identified the main issue, and it wasn’t about what constitutes residency for a senator: “This issue is about $’s,” Harper wrote, “not this.”

Bayne seemed reluctant to believe Wright’s explanation, and he asked Justice Charles Vaillancourt whether this wasn’t a good time to take the morning break.

Another good example of just why controlling prime ministers should call early elections, before any major court trials start. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but inexorably: ask PM Harper how he feels about it right now.

Message control during a criminal trial of politicians in Canada, given our rule of law, is beyond the ability of even the most powerful person in the land.

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