Mike Duffy trial: What to expect as verdict looms

Suspended Senator Mike Duffy arrives to the courthouse in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. The verdict in his trial is expected this week.
Suspended Senator Mike Duffy arrives to the courthouse in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. The verdict in his trial is expected this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Senator Mike Duffy is expected to learn his fate in an Ottawa courtroom on Thursday at 10 a.m., a little more than a year after his criminal trial began.

In the summer of 2014, Duffy emerged from a major scandal still holding his seat in the Senate, but facing a total of 31 charges including fraud, breach of trust and bribery. If he’s found guilty – depending on the charges he’s convicted of – he could face up to 14 years behind bars.

The Duffy saga has been a long and complex one, filled with both fascinating glimpses into the top offices on Parliament Hill, and mind-numbing minutiae surrounding Senate procedure and rules.

Here’s a look back at the events leading up to the trial, and a glimpse forward at what we might expect to hear Thursday morning.

READ MORE: Crown needed to prove intent to get a conviction in Duffy trial, says expert

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How did we get here?

The controversy surrounding Mike Duffy began back in late 2012 when initial questions were raised about some of the senator’s expense claims. Some expenses – mainly relating to Duffy’s living arrangements – were flagged as inappropriate. According to Duffy, then-prime minister Stephen Harper told him he needed to pay the Senate back, to the tune of $90,000.

He obliged, but the question quickly turned to who had actually paid the money. In the spring of 2013, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had written a cheque covering the payment.

READ MORE: Full coverage of the Duffy trial

Duffy quickly resigned from the Conservative Senate caucus, and Wright stepped down as well. But it wouldn’t be enough to snuff out the scandal.

WATCH: a look at how things unfolded on and off Parliament Hill in the lead-up to the Duffy charges:

Within the next few weeks, the cops showed up. The RCMP took over the investigation into Duffy’s expenses and, in the process, exposed an alleged ‘slush fund’ presided over by Duffy’s friend, Gerald Donohue, and the frantic Conservative damage-control that went on behind the scenes in the first half of 2013.

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The charges against Duffy were formally laid in July 2014, with the trial beginning the following April.

What can we expect?

Given that there are 31 charges, related to a variety of alleged incidents or actions, it could take a while for Ontario Court Justice Charles Vaillancourt to deliver his full verdict Thursday morning.

According to Dan Leger, a veteran political journalist and author of Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal, it’s impossible to predict the outcome, but the charges most likely to stick are those linked to Duffy’s alleged collusion with Donohue.

“Lawyers that I’ve spoken to, that’s the one that they point toward as being the one where Duffy is in the most jeopardy,” said Leger.

Simply put, police believe Donohue was awarded $65,000 in Senate contracts but did almost no work, instead using the money to cover expenses for Duffy (like makeup) that the Senate wouldn’t pay for.

WATCH: Attorney Michael Spratt predicts which Duffy charges might stick

Click to play video: 'Crown argument on common sense difficult: Spratt' Crown argument on common sense difficult: Spratt
Crown argument on common sense difficult: Spratt – Apr 17, 2016

When it comes to the fraud and breach of trust charges linked to Duffy’s claiming expenses to live in an Ottawa house he had lived in for years prior to being appointed to the Senate, Leger said the defence’s argument that the Senate’s rules were too vague to be enforceable could sway the judge.

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“While most Canadians would look at that and say ‘Ok that’s just wrong, and Duffy damn well knew better’ … is it a criminal offence?” he said. “Well, I don’t know.”

Duffy maintained during his own testimony that his expenses were above board, testifying that he is “a senator from P.E.I., I live in P.E.I., and I followed the rules … I did not break the rules, let alone the law.”

WATCH: Duffy’s lawyer says there’s no evidence to convict senator

In order for Duffy to be found guilty of fraud, it has to be proven that he acted with intent; that he know his actions were wrong and went ahead anyway. That, according to some experts, is where things got tricky for the Crown.

Meanwhile, the bribery charge, which is linked to the cheque written by Wright, is further complicated by the fact that Wright himself wasn’t charged with bribery. In strictly legal terms, the judge must also consider whether Duffy took the money in his “official capacity” as a senator.

WATCH: A primer on the Duffy trial

Click to play video: 'West Block primer: Senator Mike Duffy trial' West Block primer: Senator Mike Duffy trial
West Block primer: Senator Mike Duffy trial – Apr 17, 2016

The road ahead

If Duffy is found guilty of a criminal offence and is sentenced to anything other than a discharge, he would be automatically suspended from the Senate without pay and without office resources until all legal proceedings, including appeal, have concluded.

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If he’s acquitted, Duffy stays in the Senate for as long as he wishes or until he reaches the age of 75, which is exactly what Leger predicts he would do — mainly out of necessity.

“He’s got to be financially right up to his neck, because he took a $550,000 second mortgage out on his secondary residence in Kanata … and he went through two years of suspension (without pay),” Leger said.

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