OTTAWA – Mike Duffy seemed a lot more interested in what the Internet thought of him than he was in the attitudes of the people he represented in the Senate, court heard Friday as the second week of the suspended senator’s trial came to a close.
Long before 2009, when he was appointed by the Conservatives to represent Prince Edward Island, Duffy was concerned about what people were saying about him online, his friend and communications historian Mark Bourrie testified.
Once he was appointed to the upper chamber, he grew more upset about his Internet critics — some of whom were targeting his weight and his abilities — and asked Bourrie for advice on what to do.
After reviewing content on various websites like Wikipedia and YouTube, Bourrie’s answer was simple: get a lawyer. So Duffy did the next best thing, it seems, when he sent Bourrie’s lawyer wife a cheque for $500.
The cheque was never cashed. Bourrie said he told Duffy his wife didn’t do any work on the file. Another cheque materialized, this time in the name of Bourrie himself, with a notation that it was for “web analysis.” He deposited it.
“Whose money did you think it was?” asked assistant Crown attorney Jason Neubauer.
“I didn’t know, the clearest thing I had in my mind is that it was a company he owned,” Bourrie replied. “I didn’t think of it as a government cheque in any kind of way. I thought it was Mike Duffy’s money.”
Both cheques were from Maple Ridge Media Inc., one of two companies owned by Gerald Donohue, a friend and former colleague of Duffy’s. Those companies received $65,000 worth of taxpayer money the Crown alleges was then used to circumvent Senate reimbursement rules.
Court has already heard how Duffy’s former intern, makeup artist and personal trainer all received cheques from the companies, Maple Ridge Media Inc. and Ottawa ICF, for services they provided to the senator.
Duffy’s lawyer has argued the services were all in keeping with Duffy’s job as a senator — as was getting research reports on the opinions of Atlantic Canadians, which was the focus of testimony earlier Friday.
Court heard Duffy didn’t even know about the reports, which he’d been signed up to receive by caucus colleague Sen. Percy Mockler, whose plan was to split the $5,000 subscription fee with four other senators.
When Elisabeth Brouse, a former vice president of the analysis firm MQO Research, sent a letter welcoming Duffy and the others to the service in 2012, she got a surprised reaction.
“What the heck is this?” Duffy asked in an email, Brouse testified. She phoned him and explained and he told her to make sure the Senate got the invoice for his share of the bill by the end of March 2012.
It was sent, but Duffy never paid. The company tried to follow up, but when it was found that Duffy had never logged in to access the reports, he was told he shouldn’t feel compelled to pay the bill.
But then he did, asking first that the company re-date the invoice to July because otherwise there was “no way” the Senate would pay. A cheque for $1,054.66 was issued by one of Donohue’s firms.
Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday with witnesses that are expected to include former Sun TV host Ezra Levant, a former Duffy speechwriter.