Harper says feeling ‘let down’ by ‘appalling’ charges against Senator Brazeau

OTTAWA – A brash, swaggering senator known for Twitter taunts, contrarian views of Canada’s First Nations and a flashy charity boxing match with Justin Trudeau maintained a stony – and uncharacteristic – silence Friday after he was charged with assault and sexual assault.

A crowd of cameras swarmed Sen. Patrick Brazeau as he filed out of a Quebec courtroom after being freed on bail, capping a remarkable 24 hours in Ottawa that Prime Minister Stephen Harper described as “extremely appalling.”

But Harper stopped short of calling on Brazeau to be removed from the Senate and appeared instead to defend his original decision to appoint the controversial former aboriginal leader in the first place.

Brazeau, 38, was released on bail Friday morning after spending the night in jail in Gatineau, Que. He was arrested at his home the previous morning after police were summoned to his home by a call to 911.

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Standing stock-still in the courtroom, his hands clasped in front of him, Brazeau managed an occasional smirk when asked questions about his living situation and whether he understood his bail conditions.

He’s prohibited from possessing a firearm and is required to stay away from the victim, whose identity is protected by a court order.

Brazeau, who was appointed to the Senate in 2008, was expelled from the Conservative caucus immediately after his arrest – a situation Harper described Friday as “extremely appalling and disappointing.”

“We all feel very let down,” Harper told a news conference in Vancouver.

“But that should obviously not obscure the fact that most people in the Senate work very hard and take their responsibilities very seriously.”

For now, Brazeau will remain in the Senate as an independent. When it resumes sitting on Tuesday, however, he will be on a forced leave of absence, which preserves his $132,000-a-year salary but restricts his access to benefits.

He’ll remain on leave pending the outcome of his case.

Brazeau’s appointment to the Senate at the age of 34 was seen as a nod to his role in helping Harper become prime minister in 2006 by securing an endorsement from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

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The prime minister found himself defending that decision Friday.

“When Mr. Brazeau was appointed to the Senate, he was the national chief of one of the country’s largest and most respected aboriginal organizations,” Harper said.

“The events that we’re speaking of here are very recent in nature. Obviously over a recent period, something has been going very wrong, and that is the reason for the situation that has developed.”

Other members of the Conservative caucus were not as circumspect.

“The charges against a member of the Senate are very serious,” said Conservative MP Eve Adams.

“Violence against women is never acceptable. It’s criminal. It’s offensive to women. It’s offensive to men who respect women. And if the allegations are true, I’d call on Senator Brazeau to resign.”

Brazeau courted controversy from the moment of his appointment.

He was linked to allegations of CAP misspending of federal funds that were supposed to pay for aboriginal health programs.

Conservatives argued, at the time, that the misspending happened before Brazeau took over as congress chief.

Brazeau went on to become an outspoken advocate from the Senate for greater transparency from First Nations on how they spend federal dollars.

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He was highly critical of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who went on a hunger protest to force renewed talks between the federal government and aboriginal leaders. He also criticized the wave of protests under the Idle No More banner, saying aboriginal activists weren’t setting a good example. His views prompted some of his own band members to accuse him of going rogue.

Brazeau’s rise beyond the world of aboriginal politics came last year, when he took part in one of the most surreal moments in federal politics in recent memory: a charity boxing match against Liberal MP Justin Trudeau.

Brazeau, a former Canadian Forces member and a black belt in karate, climbed into the ring a clear favourite. He climbed out in defeat.

On Friday, the Senate Board of Internal Economy said it has asked an auditor to look at Brazeau’s residency claims and related expenses amid reports he was using his former father-in-law’s address in Maniwaki, Que., to claim a Senate housing allowance, while actually living across the river from Parliament Hill.

Brazeau told the court Friday he will return to Maniwaki to live pending his court case.

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