Duffy in the witness box: Repeat it enough and it may come true

Courtroom 33's great drama: arguments about witness scheduling

Suspened Senator Mike Duffy arrives at court in Ottawa on Thursday, June 4, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Suspened Senator Mike Duffy arrives at court in Ottawa on Thursday, June 4, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Imagine a theatre production in which the play is pedestrian, plodding, meandering in narrative momentum, but in which the producer and director frequently take turns throwing each other on stage for bouts of fisticuffs.

In between punches, they deliver soliloquies that achieve heights of insight well beyond the scope of the playwright. It’s in those snippets of real speech, rather than dialogue, where you can steal a little glimpse of reality.

Welcome, folks, to the Duffy trial.

    Today began with a continuation of the esoteric legal interlude on parliamentary privilege embarked upon yesterday, then shifted to the grilling of a white-haired public servant whose sunny grin is delightful.

    Just one or two little ho-hum increments, then. Things didn’t really get interesting until 4:30 p.m., the hour upon which court normally breaks, but which today was the hour when Donald Bayne and Mark Holmes took on the issue of witness scheduling.

    Maybe only wedding planning, in the category of all human endeavour, gets more dicey.

    Bayne represents Mike Duffy here in Courtroom 33, where the suspended senator is facing 31 charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.

    Holmes is the lead Crown counsel. Holmes wants former Senate finance director Nicole Proulx, whose testimony started in April, to return next week. (Her cross-examination was put on hiatus pending Justice Charles Vaillancourt’s ruling on the admissibility of a certain Senate document—a ruling that has since come back, and favoured the defence.)

    Bayne, whose cross of Proulx began in explosive fashion and stayed heated, wants her back in August—after this court’s July break.

    Rather than Proulx, Bayne wants Gerald Donohue in the witness box. Donohue is an old pal of Duffy’s from his TV days, who got a number of Senate contracts through Duffy’s office.

    The Crown says Duffy used two Donohue-family companies to throw public money about outside Senate oversight. Holmes and his co-counsel Jason Neubauer wanted to call Donohue early on, but poor health prevented his appearance. Now that it looks as though he’s better, it’s no longer certain the Crown wants to see Donohue at all.

    Bayne still does, but perhaps only if he’s a Crown witness: Lawyers are given much broader latitude to question folks in cross-examination.

    The tension during this back and forth before Vaillancourt charged the room.

    Bayne, who, like all good performers, knows the value of a good prop, retrieved a massive binder, big as a Flintstone steak, from his briefcase, then kvetched he was in the middle of preparing for another Crown witness, a forensic accountant we expect to hear sometime next week.

    The binder contained 700 pages of documents, he said: “I’ll be working through the weekend on it.”

    Vaillancourt frequently adopts the expression of a put-upon parent, pulling the car over mid-roadtrip to turn around and yell at the kids. He said he was prepared to give Bayne the time he needed before Proulx returned, but added it was the Crown’s job to hammer out the timeline.

    We are entering the final stretch of the Crown’s case. (Holmes complained that, in Proulx’s absence, he was running out of witnesses.)

    What is left to deal with is Nigel Wright’s $90,000 cheque. Every once in a while, those of us here in court for the duration sometimes forget the goodies still in store for us.

    Once today, when Holmes objected to Bayne’s questions, Bayne responded in a tantalizing way:

    “Your honour,” he told us, “it will all be explained. By Sen. Duffy.”

    Duffy in the witness box. Duffy in the witness box. Repeat it enough times, it may still come true.

    Court reporter Nicholas Köhler on the Duffy trial

    Looking for more?

    Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.