Sharon Carstairs asks Senate to reimburse legal fees after expenses scandal

Sharon Carstairs loses appeal to have $80K legal fees covered by Senate

Retired Manitoba Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs is asking the Senate's internal economy committee to reimburse over $80,000 in legal fees she incurred after being caught up in the Senate expense scandal.

Carstairs made her appeal to committee members at a meeting Thursday morning.

"My legal fees are 11 times the amount I supposedly owed. There is no fairness in this," Carstairs read in a statement to the committee.

She wants to have $82,023.10 reimbursed.

In June 2015, Auditor General Michael Ferguson reported Carstairs made $7,528 in ineligible expense claims for her secondary residence and travel she took after she retired in 2011.

In his audit, Ferguson said that Carstairs didn't spend enough time in Manitoba to make secondary residence expense claims.

Carstairs has always disputed Ferguson's findings.  

She said there were no rules for the number of days a senator needed to spend in their home province in order to make expense claims.  She also maintained that her post-retirement claims were legitimate in order to finish up Senate business and close her Winnipeg office.

'I was devastated'

Carstairs refused to pay the money back or take part in binding arbitration with former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie.

In June 2015, Carstairs' file, as well as eight other senators' cases, were referred to the RCMP by the Senate.

"I was devastated," Carstairs told the committee. "If you Google me today, Wikipedia still states that I am under an RCMP investigation. I was until very recently on the Senate website as owing money, which quite frankly I do not and never have."

Last May, Carstairs requested assistance with her legal fees but the three-member steering committee — Conservative senators Housakos and David Wells and Liberal Senator Jane Cordy — rejected her request because she hadn't sought payment before engaging in legal services.

The RCMP announced it would not pursue criminal charges against Carstairs last August.

In December, on the advice of a lawyer, the Senate decided against trying to recoup the money from Carstairs and six other senators who refused to repay.  

The lawyer suggested that the Senate's legal costs would end up being more than any potential settlement.

Carstairs told the committee members on Thursday, "As a result of actions taken by this institution my reputation for honesty and integrity have been questioned and tarnished. In addition, it has been a costly process."

"I believe the payment of my legal bills would be just," Carstairs said.

Duffy also asked for reimbursement

The Senate committee has put off its decision to a later time.

Last August, Senator Mike Duffy tried to be reimbursed for some of his legal costs.

The steering committee denied his request because they said his legal fees resulted from a criminal case.

Duffy's legal assistant told the CBC via email that the Senate's legal assistance and indemnification policy says that the Upper Chamber will not pay costs "arising out of a criminal conviction." Duffy was cleared on all 31 charges.