Ontario Justice Charles Vaillancourt blasted the conduct of the Prime Minister’s Office under Stephen Harper calling it “mind-boggling and shocking” in his ruling Thursday that dismissed all 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery against Senator Mike Duffy.
READ MORE: Judge dismisses all charges against Duffy
In his 308-page decision the judge excoriated the actions of Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and other senior members of the PMO. The judge said the Crown failed to make its case on the bribery charges related to the $90,000 cheque Duffy received from Wright.
“I find based on all of the evidence that Senator Duffy was forced into accepting Nigel Wright’s funds so that the government could rid itself of an embarrassing political fiasco that just was not going away,” Justice Vaillancourt told the court.
In a section he called “peering through the looking glass” the judge said a series of emails released during the trial revealed the inner workings of the “ruthless” staffers in the former prime minister’s office.
He said Wright treated the Senate leadership as “mere pawns on a chessboard … meekly acquiescing” to his orders, including an attempt by the PMO to influence a Senate expense report critical of Duffy’s living expenses.
“Was Nigel Wright actually ordering senior members of the Senate around as if they were mere pawns on a chessboard?” the judge asked. “Were those same senior members of the Senate robotically marching forth to recite their provided scripted lines?”
“The answers to the aforementioned questions are: YES; YES; YES; YES; YES; and YES!!!!!”
Vaillancourt said the extent that “Mr. Wright and his crew” went to cover up and develop a communications strategy to put an end to the “Duffy Problem” was unprecedented.
“The political, covert, relentless, unfolding of events is mindboggling and shocking,” he continued. “The precision and planning of the exercise would make any military commander proud.
“However, in the context of a democratic society, the plotting as revealed in the emails can only be described as unacceptable. Putting aside the legalities with respect to some of the maneuvers undertaken and the intensity of the operations, a simple question comes to mind. Why is the PMO engaged in all of this activity when they believed that Senator Duffy’s living expense claims might very well have been appropriate?”
WATCH: Duffy’s lawyer on judge dismissing all charges against senator
After being acquitted Duffy left the courthouse Thursday without speaking to the media. His lawyer, Donald Bayne, called the verdict a “resounding acquittal.”
“I would say Senator Duffy has been subjected in the last two and a half to three years to more public humiliation than probably any other Canadian in history,” Bayne told reporters. “We can’t rush to judgment. Political figures, public figures are also entitled to due process.”
Global News spoke with several of Duffy’s fellow senators who reacted with mixed emotions.
“Look, it’s been a difficult time for the Senate for the last three years,” said Senator John Wallace. “All this has been, it’s obviously affected the senators who have been suspended, those that have been charged, it affects all of us
Global News attempted to reach both MP Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party for comment but did not receive a response.
*With a file from Leslie Young