Mike Duffy Acquitted – Sort of

Once again in Canada we have a high-profile trial where an obviously guilty person has received a complete acquittal. So what’s going on?

Just as in the Gian Gomeshi case, we have a crown prosecutor who is strapped by the fact that he has to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the defendant is guilty by the letter of the law. In both cases, we have an intelligent, manipulative defendant who gamed the system to indulge in his proclivities and escape the legal consequences. But maybe these guys weren’t quite smart enough. What did they really win?

Fortunately, both of them held their post due to their social position, and being found not guilty in the legal sense does nothing to persuade society that they have acted in a moral or honorable manner. So even by winning, they lose.

No one believes that Gomeshi was innocent of the actions he was charged with; no one believes that Mike Duffy did not spend the government money for his own purposes. So what if their misdeeds have not been provable by the letter of the law? Both these men indulged in immoral and dishonourable, but not necessarily illegal, activities. Both were declared legally innocent.

But in neither case did the court conclude that the activities the men were charged with did not occur. The conclusion we draw from this is that the systems that are put in place to control immoral and dishonourable activities of this sort are faulty, and need to be changed.

The remarkable point of the Gomeshi case was the care the judge took to make sure that the public believed that the verdict did not result from old prejudices against rape complainants. The remarkable part of the Duffy verdict was the exceptional detour the judge took to indict the Harper government and the Prime Minister’s Office for their behaviour in the case. The judge accused Nigel Wright and the PMO of ordering senior senators around like pawns on a chessboard. “Unacceptable in a democratic society,” the judge says.

In each case, the lamentable acquittal of an obvious offender has actually had its positive effect. Once again, a bad actor has succeeded in escaping the legal results of his abominable activities, but it hasn’t done him much good. Gomeshi’s stellar broadcasting career is sewered. Stephen Harper’s autocratic government has gone down to ignominious defeat. Mike Duffy has been forever discredited. While the acquittal allows him to resume his Senate sinecure without penalty, it is doubtful that he will ever recover from the shame of the trial. I’m sure he is considering his legal options for redress, but whether he sues the government or not, the public knows.

Other Effects

The Senate of Canada has been revealed as a lingering vestige of an autocratic system, a position above the law and Parliament, where a select few write their own ticket as to what they will do and how they will be paid. Historically, the Duffy trial will be seen as a turning point. No matter what happens to the Senate in the future, from this point on the Upper Chamber will never be the same. Duffy may have been the worst of the lot, but he is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The general public has had their faces rubbed in the fact that the Senators are out of the public’s control. Those pushing for change have been handed their strongest argument for their complaints.

Both these recent cases highlight a problem in our society. A new senate and a new way of dealing with sexual abuse complaints must happen.

But I’m a suspicious type. Both these men were successful at gaming the system. The question that occurs to me is whether the Crown Prosecutors were playing their own game. They knew they couldn’t win their cases, but they also knew that the publicity of the trials would have a deleterious effect on the careers of the defendants, and also would turn a spotlight on an abusive situation in our society. So even if the Crown loses, society wins. Is the Crown that smart?

The proof of the pudding…


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