A gothic novel plays out in Courtroom 33

Day 17: Donald Bayne airs grave concerns about Gerald Donohue's health

Mike Duffy

When the room hit the impasse, Courtroom 33 rose, crossed its collective arms and, like a crowd surrounding an auto accident to contemplate the oil and crushed glass on the road, talked over this unexpected moment, the wheels still spinning.

Nicole Proulx, the former head of Senate finance, had appeared just briefly on this, the morning of her sixth day in the witness box. Justice Charles Vaillancourt ordered a recess, halting proceedings that had hitherto been moving at speed and, now, Proulx won’t return till June.

On the afternoon prior, Sen. Mike Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, who is defending the former broadcast journalist against 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery, had entered into territory that Crown prosecutors have consistently maintained should be off limits.

Vaillancourt, with the look of a man trapped in an extended bout of déjà vu, broke for the night, deferring the Crown’s latest objection to this morning.

At issue—one pressed by Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer today—is something called the 11th report of the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, which, at any other time, would be little more than an effective cure for sleeplessness, but which here, in Courtroom 33, the Crown condemns as inadmissible hearsay, and which Bayne has attempted to probe through his combative cross-examinations of Senate functionaries.

    Bayne’s intention to go there with Proulx proved too much for prosecutors, and Neubauer demanded a voir dire—essentially, a hearing within the trial that would narrowly probe the admissibility of the document. Vaillancourt threw his hands up and said fine.

    The irony is that the report is otherwise public, available for anyone to view. Dating back to 2010, it deals with an Ernst & Young audit on internal Senate rules; Bayne, presumably, wants to use it to undermine Proulx’s contention that these rules were clear and easily followed.

    The arguments for and against are abstruse, and Courtroom 33 will get its fill when it reconvenes for this matter on Monday (Bayne is ready to present his view on the issue, but Vaillancourt gave prosecutors the rest of the week to prepare a response).

    Perhaps more interesting for the general public was Bayne’s allusion this morning to Gerald Donohue, that strange figure, old friend to Duffy, who is somehow at the centre of the alleged, so-called “slush fund” the Crown contends Duffy operated through Donohue’s companies, Maple Ridge Media Inc. and Ottawa ICF.

    Court heard from Donohue’s 30-year-old son Matthew just before Proulx’s appearance in the witness box a week ago, and that testimony proved tantalizing.

    Donohue père, whose recent hospitalization has so far kept him from court, is now slated to appear next week.

    Bayne warned the court of the potential impact of the voir dire delay on Donohue’s availability—in an existential sense.

    He has “grave concerns about the loss of time” because, as Bayne put it, “Mr. Donohue’s health is of grave concern . . . He may not be with us.” He added variously that “the interest of justice and truth require his evidence,” and that “the full story needs to be out about Mr. Donohue.”

    In the room this morning, the Duffy trial felt like a car accident—a plodding thing on the move stopped abruptly, with a jolt.

    But in retrospect, it’s a gothic novel, all of us waiting to hear from a sick man said to know all.

    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.