Editorial – Senatorial Shenanigans

If you haven’t already heard or read about it, the RCMP has placed 31 charges against suspended Senator Mike Duffy revolving around his expense claims while he was on the senate, including one charge of accepting a bribe.

However, recently, they also announced that Mr. Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff who gave Mr. Duffy the $90,000 to repay his senate expenses, is not going to be charged.

This has left a lot of people confused. How is it that receiving $90,000 from someone as a bribe is illegal, but being the person giving that $90,000 is allowed to walk away without any charges? Some sites and people have claimed that the reason is that Mr. Wright wouldn’t have seen any personal benefit from giving it to Mr. Duffy, and so it wasn’t a bribe.

While I’m not a lawyer, this is obviously hogwash. The Prime Minister’s Office, Mr. Wright’s employer, expected to receive a direct benefit from this, that being the end of the story in the news that was continually embarrassing them. If you work for McDonalds’s and bribe health inspectors to falsify reports about the local Burger King, then even though you don’t receive any direct benefit from that, if you were anybody but Mr. Nigel Wright, you’d still be considered guilty of a crime.

But there remains two reasons why the RCMP may not have charged Mr. Wright. The first is that they see him simply as an intermediary, and are seeking to place the corresponding bribery charge to Mr. Duffy’s acceptance of a bribe charge at a higher level in the Prime Minister’s Office. Given the RCMP’s behavior in the past, however, especially when you consider their actions in 2006 when they released information about an investigation they were starting into Mr. Ralph Goodale?something even they say is not at all their normal protocol and wouldn’t be happening again?or how despite it being widely reported that at Ben Harper’s 18th birthday celebration an 18 year old woman had to be treated for “possible alchohol intoxication” by paramedics, even though the drinking age in Ontario is 19, and that the RCMP did not see any reason to investigate, suggests that thinking the RCMP would try to bring anything against Mr. Harper directly is probably unwarranted.

However, there is still one reason why Mr. Wright may not be charged. In section 121 of our criminal code, the section that deals with bribery of public officials, it says:
121. (1) Every one commits an offence who
– (b) having dealings of any kind with the government, directly or indirectly pays a commission or reward to or confers an advantage or benefit of any kind on an employee or official of the government with which the dealings take place, or to any member of the employee’s or official’s family, or to anyone for the benefit of the employee or official, with respect to those dealings, unless the person has the consent in writing of the head of the branch of government with which the dealings take place; (emphasis added)

Or in other words, so long as Mr. Wright had the permission of the PM, then this bribe was not illegally offered. Mr. Duffy, on the other hand, would similarly need permission of the PM to legally accept the bribe, something that it is unlikely Mr. Harper would have been willing to provide. But isn’t it fun to learn that government officers can effectively pay off each other to do absolutely anything?

Mr. Duffy’s lawyer claims he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and didn’t want to participate in the bribery scheme which was “concocted purely for political purposes.” It remains to be seen how that line of defense will work against the question of “Then why’d he take the cheque?”

There’s plenty of wrongdoing to go around here, but part of what angers me about the whole episode is that all of this is a distraction from the original problem?Mr. Harper appointing Mr. Duffy for a seat in the senate that he should not have had. If Mr. Duffy was honestly a resident of P.E.I., then there never would have been any reason for the cheque and the expense claims would have been legit. That it has been determined they were not suggests that Mr. Duffy could not have been representing P.E.I. from the seat he was appointed to do so in the senate. This means Mr. Harper acted directly against our constitution in appointing him, yet nobody seems to be acknowledging that fact.

It seems like a small issue, and maybe the rule requiring that senators be from specific regions isn’t a useful rule, but it exists. So when It’s knowingly broken, shouldn’t there be consequences? After all, if he can appoint someone from Ontario to represent PEI, then what’s to say he can’t simply appoint an Albertan to every vacant seat? Yet when our government attempts things that violate our Charter, there is no penalty other than, if they’re ever found out, being told, “no, you can’t do that, go figure out something else.” Personally, I’m terribly frustrated that we have a government which pays absolutely no heed to the rule of law, that hasn’t done so since they were first elected, and yet continues to get elected on promises that they’ve had very little success keeping?when they haven’t directly broken them that is (Hello, Mr. Fortier!)

My hope is that people were willing to allow this government considerable slack while they were an embattled minority government. As Canadians, we do seem to love the underdog. But since they received their majority in 2011, we’ve found that the behaviors which we didn’t like but grudgingly allowed during a minority haven’t gone away. If anything, looking at the various massive omnibus bills and increasing use of time-allocation to ram bills like the supposed “Fair Elections Act” through parliament, those behaviors have simply increased. So I am hopeful that people who were willing to give them a chance as the underdog before will have reached their limit as to the amount of slack they are willing to give.

So That’s my rant for this week on our government. Fortunately, this week’s The Voice Magazine has a number of things to help take your mind, and mine, off of this debacle, from the third part of Wanda’s interview with Jazz guitarist Michael Gauthier, to S.D. Livingston’s look at what can happen when we figure out how to use sand for energy. We also have the second part of “The Writer’s Toolbox” exploration of how to use numerals (or not) when writing out times and dates, Hazel Anaka’s frustration with how common sense doesn’t seem to be working out for her, and of course Dear Barb provides some people with an outside view of their situation to help them sort things out.

Plus, if You’re reading The Voice Magazine right now as a way of avoiding getting that essay done, our feature article looks at some strategies you can use that will help you get things started, and That’s often the hardest part.