Supreme Court Dismisses Mike Duffy’s Appeal

February 11, 2021 Updated: February 11, 2021

OTTAWA—The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear Sen. Mike Duffy’s challenge of a ruling that prevents him from suing the Senate for suspending him.

The decision could be a fatal blow to Duffy’s efforts to wrest $7.8 million in damages from the Senate, RCMP and federal government.

Duffy filed a lawsuit following a high-profile investigation of his expense claims, which culminated in the Prince Edward Island senator’s acquittal on 31 criminal charges in 2016.

In late 2018, an Ontario court ruled the Senate’s decision to suspend Duffy was protected by parliamentary privilege, a ruling upheld on appeal, effectively blocking his bid to sue.

In their submission to the Supreme Court, Duffy’s lawyers said he was the victim of arbitrary abuse of power by public officials, which is anathema to the rule of law.

Lawyers for the Senate argued parliamentary privilege plays a vital role in maintaining the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches considered crucial to Canadian democracy.

As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons Thursday for refusing to grant Duffy leave to appeal.

Duffy was named to the Senate on the advice of then-prime minister Stephen Harper in 2008, but he left the Conservative caucus in May 2013 and now sits with the Independent Senators Group.

He was suspended in late 2013 without pay, a move that Duffy’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon argues was politically motivated.

Greenspon says Harper’s office threatened Duffy that he would be kicked out of the Senate unless he admitted to inadvertently abusing his expense account and repaid $90,172 in housing expenses.

The Senate maintains it was exercising legitimate authority to discipline one of its own.

Following Duffy’s acquittal, the Senate refused to reimburse his lost salary or cover his legal fees and demanded that he repay almost $17,000 in disputed expenses.

Duffy’s submission to the top court said three key questions remain unanswered:

  • To what extent do the fundamental Canadian constitutional principles of the rule of law limit the scope of the Senate’s immunity in a case such as this?
  • Does the Senate have statutory authority to remove a senator’s salary, housing and per diem allowances for days residing away from his home province?
  • Does the unelected Senate have exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate charter claims against it?

“No privilege exists or is of sufficient scope to oust the jurisdiction of the courts or to immunize the Senate’s misconduct in this case,” Duffy’s lawyers argued.

The Senate, on the other hand, said these questions are settled, given that privilege shields parliamentary decisions about the use of resources by, and discipline of, members.

Duffy’s argument amounts to an assertion that matters otherwise clearly protected by parliamentary privilege will lose that protection, and invite judicial review, if the actions are alleged to be sufficiently wrongful, the Senate submission said.

“This argument has been repeatedly considered and uniformly rejected by this Court and across other Commonwealth jurisdictions.”

By Jim Bronskill