The Verdict – II

I was right. In a decision that took 4 ½ hours for the judge to summarize (it is 308 pages after all), Mike Duffy was found not guilty on all counts.

No misuse of funds, no accepting a bribe, no breach of trust. Thirty-one charges, 31 charges dismissed. As I said yesterday, I fully expected that.

I don’t think there will be as much outcry over this verdict as there was in the Jian Ghomeshi case last month. The judge explained his reasoning at great length – and he did find some villains, those who used to work in the Prime Minister’s Office who insisted Duffy do things their way. I suspect the public will feel that justice has been done, in that the Conservatives lost the 2015 election, in part because of the publicity and scandal surrounding the Duffy trial.

There is still the matter of the rules involving the use of Senate funds. Or lack thereof. Hopefully the institution has learned its lesson and tightened up both definitions and accounting procedures. Duffy did nothing wrong, had no criminal intent – and the judge stressed that. But there are some things that just didn’t look good to the public, too much commingling of the private and public business.

I wonder how they will manage to sort that out. Is it reasonable for someone who holds public office to mix personal and public business? For example, if you as part of your official duties have to travel to a warm country in the middle of a Canadian winter, is it right for you to stay a couple of extra weeks for a vacation when your flight has been paid for by the taxpayers? I imagine opinions may be mixed on that.

One real benefit of the Duffy and Ghomeshi cases, two very high-profile criminal proceedings, is that it has reminded Canadians of the foundations of our legal system. There is the presumption of innocence, something that I think many people had forgotten. Both men were convicted in the court of public opinion long before the conclusion of their trials. The not-guilty verdict keeps them out of jail, but is probably not enough to salvage their reputations (though in Duffy’s case the judge’s remarks may go a long way toward doing that).

There is also the reminder that in criminal cases it is not enough to just look like you committed the crime. The judge (or jury) needs to be sure “beyond reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime. That’s a high standard, higher than that required in civil proceedings. It is not good enough to think that the accused probably did something wrong. Justice requires more than that.

In both cases Duffy and Ghomeshi, there is the possibility of appeal, though that is unlikely in my opinion. Much more likely is the likelihood of civil proceedings. In Ghomeshi’s case his accusers may seek damages for his behavior towards them, behavior that did not pass the stringent criminal court standards for a conviction, but may be seen more favourably in a civil trial where “reasonable doubt” is not the deciding factor.

Duffy may decide to seek a civil remedy for damages suffered as a result of his prosecution. The man was suspended without pay for three years, and I would imagine during that time he wasn’t doing many paid speeches, something that was quite lucrative for him before he was charged. He may look for someone to blame.

All of which means, we probably haven’t heard the last of these cases.

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