Final words in Duffy trial due in March


OTTAWA – The end may be in sight for Sen. Mike Duffy’s long-running legal and political saga.

Judge Charles Vaillancourt agreed Friday that closing arguments in the Duffy trial will be heard Feb. 22 to March 4.

Duffy, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in relation to his Senate expense accounts, a scandal that reached directly into the office of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

The trial at Ottawa’s downtown courthouse a few blocks from Parliament Hill opened last April 7 amid a media circus; it resumed with explosive testimony in August in the opening days of the long federal election campaign; and testimony wrapped up this week with Duffy himself on the stand during a curiously abbreviated Crown cross examination.

In all, the court heard 61 days of testimony.

Vaillancourt, in a three-minute scheduling hearing Friday morning, suggested he’s heard enough. The judge asked to see written submissions from the Crown and the defence in advance of February’s fortnight finale.

“I’m also hopeful that will focus the oral submissions and we won’t require two weeks,” he noted before adjourning.

Duffy, a nationally known former broadcaster, capped the hearings with eight days on the witness stand over the past two weeks.

His defence is that Senate rules were lax, vague or confusing and that Duffy followed the same expense practices as other senators. As for the secret $90,000 cheque he received from Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, Duffy testified he was coerced by the Prime Minister’s Office for reasons of partisan political optics into repaying housing expense claims he felt he did not owe

Duffy left the witness box on Thursday after just two days of Crown cross-examination without ever being asked about the $90,000 Wright payment. That cheque is the basis of three bribery charges Duffy faces — although Wright, who testified in early August, was not charged with offering a bribe.

Sen. Patrick Brazeau and retired senator Mac Harb are also awaiting trial on Senate expense-related charges. Brazeau has a trial date set for March while Harb’s trial is scheduled to get underway next August.