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Neil Macdonald: Mounties defended status quo, not the law, in pursuing Duffy


Anyone who watched justice dispensed to Mike Duffy this week — and that is exactly what happened — should be thankful.

Ontario Court Justice Charles Vaillancourt proved that in Canada, the courts are there to protect citizens against the venal machinations of those in high office, and the terrifying power of the police and prosecutors who answer to them.

Vaillancourt fustigated them all, effectively characterizing the charges against Duffy as an abuse of power.

You’d think the RCMP would have a great deal to answer for. As a result of the Duffy case, the force’s motto, “Maintiens le Droit,” is that much more meaningless.

It did not defend the law. It defended the status quo, and genuflected to authority, using police discretion to toss a single newsworthy individual into the nightmare of the criminal system, essentially stealing two years of his life, while ignoring other senators who were doing just about exactly the same thing as Duffy.

And how in heaven’s name can you charge a person with accepting a bribe without charging the political enforcer in the Prime Minister’s Office who offered it?

The force today is behaving as though it is an impassive, disinterested public agency answerable to the law, and only to the law. It always does.

But when every single charge is thrown out by a judge who, from the bench, tears into the investigation the way Vaillancourt did, it takes considerable institutional arrogance to shrug and carry on as though nothing just happened.

That was a judge talking. Judges judge, and the Mounties have now been judged wanting, if not negligent.

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Justice Charles Vaillancourt cleared Senator Mike Duffy of all 31 criminal charges he faced including fraud, breach of trust and bribery. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Real justice

The Canadian citizen they singled out for criminal treatment faced prison time, effectively for doing the bidding of former prime minister Stephen Harper and the inner circle of the PMO.

David Scott, a respected Ottawa lawyer who defended another individual many years ago against what amounted to RCMP persecution, says the Duffy decision was a delightful example of real justice:

“I’m frankly proud,” he says, “of the way this turned out.”

“It is completely unprofessional to have such an active animus at work in an investigation. The RCMP was lusting to do this [charge Duffy] because of the high-profile nature of the case. There was a hue and cry to ‘get this creep.'”

And, of course, because Harper had decided Duffy was in the wrong.

“It’s the power of authority,” says Scott. “I have no doubt that this was a case of pleasing the masters.”

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Lawyer Donald Bayne defended Senator Mike Duffy. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

History repeats

Scott has seen the power of authority before.

In 1989, he defended Global News journalist Doug Small after the Mounties charged Small with possession of stolen goods. Small had obtained a copy of the federal budget and had broadcast its contents, robbing the finance minister of his big moment.

Senior ministers denounced it as theft, and the RCMP obediently swung into action. The fact that no other journalist had ever been charged for receiving a brown envelope mattered not at all.

When the case got to court, though, a Mountie named Staff Sgt. Richard Jordan took the stand and reminded Canadians what police integrity looks like.

He revealed that, as lead investigator, he’d defied the force’s management and refused to charge Small. First of all, Small had been doing his job. Second, he derived no financial benefit from the leak, and the paper upon which the budget was printed had no intrinsic value.

But Henry Jensen, then the force’s assistant commissioner, wanted Small punished. He yanked Jordan from the case and ordered a more junior officer to lay the charge.

And, just as happened this week, an independent-minded judge pronounced Small not guilty and said the story provided an “important public function.” 

The force’s response, and that of the prosecutors at the time, was a few lines of boilerplate about respecting the court, and unfortunately not being able to comment further.

Which is just what the Mounties are doing today, nearly two years after Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud issued a long news release, with his picture, detailing the charges against Duffy and all the complicated sleuthing his officers had put in exposing the wrongdoing.

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Senator Pamela Wallin has been ‘under investigation’ for three years without any charge. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

‘Inappropriate to comment’

Asked on Friday what Michaud has to say after the censure by Vaillancourt, a junior officer said: “The RCMP respects the decision of the court. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Asked why it would be inappropriate to comment now when it was deemed appropriate to advertise and flaunt the charges in 2014, she replied it would be inappropriate to comment.

Of course it would. The power of authority, and the refuge of the badge.

There is also the little matter of Senator Pamela Wallin, who has been “under investigation” for three years without any charge. Three years? What’s the saying about justice delayed?

I know this, though: If I ever offend those in power enough to merit the attentions of the Mounties and government prosecutors, I hope I am judged by Ontario Court Justice Charles Vaillancourt, and I hope someone like former Staff Sgt. Richard Jordan is assigned to the case.

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