Senate lawyers to ask court to remove upper chamber from Duffy lawsuit

Senate lawyers to ask court to remove upper chamber from Duffy lawsuit

OTTAWA — The Senate wants an Ottawa judge to remove it from a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by Sen. Mike Duffy, arguing that the upper chamber is protected by parliamentary privilege.

Duffy is seeking more than $7.8 million in damages from the Senate and the RCMP in the wake of the high-profile investigation and suspension surrounding his expense claims, which culminated in a dramatic trial that found him not guilty on 31 charges in April 2016.

The portion of the lawsuit against the Senate hinges on Duffy's arguments that senators acted unconstitutionally and violated his charter rights when they decided to suspend him without pay in 2013.

Senate lawyers plan to file a motion by the end of the week in an Ontario court to have the upper chamber removed from Duffy's lawsuit.

The Senate says the decision to suspend Duffy is protected by parliamentary privilege, a centuries-old right designed to shield legislators in the course of doing their jobs.

"The courts cannot consequently examine the exercise of a privilege and find the Senate liable for these actions," a Senate spokeswoman said.

If the court agrees, Duffy would only be able to sue the federal government for the RCMP's actions during its investigation.

The former newsman filed his claim in Ontario Superior Court in late August, claiming that the Senate's decision to suspend him before any criminal charges were filed was "an unprecedented abuse of power."

Duffy was charged in July 2014 with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery — all of which were later dismissed in a lengthy and dramatic ruling in April 2016.

At the time of the suspension debates, Conservative senators maintained the Senate had the exclusive power to govern its internal affairs and impose sanctions as part of any administrative penalties.

The House of Commons website says Parliament doesn't have the authority to set the limits of its own privileges, but instead must rely on the courts to determine the scope of the shield. Usually, judges defer to the idea of protecting the autonomy of parliamentarians from the courts.

Privilege protects parliamentarians when they are making laws, but the Senate wasn't considering legislation when it suspended Duffy — rather, it was punishing a fellow senator, said Lawrence Greenspon, Duffy's lawyer.

"The doctrine of privilege was not intended to deny Sen. Duffy or any Canadian due process or the protection of the charter."

The Senate's motion is to be heard in late June.

Duffy's lawsuit alleges RCMP investigators failed to give him a chance to respond to the allegations he faced and appeared to ignore evidence that would have proved his innocence.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press