Ex-PMO counsel Benjamin Perrin may face B.C. Law Society investigation
The Law Society of British Columbia is considering an investigation of Benjamin Perrin, former special counsel to the prime minister, for his alleged role in the deal to repay Mike Duffy’s expenses, CTV News has learned.
Meanwhile, independent auditors tasked with probing Duffy’s expense claims have been recalled to answer to allegations of interference by the Conservative Senate leadership.
A sworn RCMP affidavit includes correspondence between staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office and Conservative senators about the Deloitte audit. An email trail suggests Perrin and Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton were involved in the deal that would see Duffy’s expenses eventually covered by Harper’s then-chief of staff Nigel Wright.
In a statement to CTV News, B.C.’s Law Society said it is “aware of the information that has been reported in the news media. Anytime we learn of information that might be relevant to a lawyer’s behaviour, we will consider it.”
Perrin is currently an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Law.
The RCMP affidavit said Perrin’s emails from his time in the PMO have been deleted. In the affidavit, RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton alleges Wright broke the law by giving Duffy the $90,000 to cover his ineligible expenses.
Both Perrin and Hamilton had a legal obligation to inform the prime minister of any potential criminal wrongdoing, says criminal lawyer Michael Spratt.
Either they kept Harper in the dark, or “the lawyers acted appropriately and ethically, which means the prime minister must know more than he has been saying he knew,” Spratt told CTV.
None of the allegations contained in the affidavit have been tested or proven in court.
CTV News has also learned that the Senate’s internal economy committee met in secret Thursday and voted to recall the Deloitte auditors after the RCMP affidavit revealed that Sen. Irving Gerstein, chair of the Conservative Fund, allegedly used contacts at the firm, which also does work for the Conservative Party, to determine if the Duffy audit could be squashed.
On Mar. 21, according the affidavit, Gerstein contacted PMO staffer Patrick Rogers to say Deloitte refused his request to stop its audit into Duffy’s expenses.
“If we commission an independent firm to do work on our behalf, we expect it to be done independently,” Sen. Gerald Comeau told CTV.
To a question about Gerstein’s alleged role, Comeau replied: “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
In a statement to CTV, a spokesperson for Deloitte said that “the Senate audit team established an ethical wall to prevent leakage of information and at no time was the ethical wall breached.”
Harper sticks to story
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued to insist that the only plan he knew of to repay Duffy’s ineligible expenses was that the senator would be doing so with his own money, despite the new court document that suggests he at least knew of an initial plan to cover Duffy’s expenses with a cheque from the Conservative party.
The affidavit suggests Wright checked with the prime minister before finalizing a deal to pay Duffy’s ineligible expense claims from the Conservative Fund when they were believed to total about $32,000.
In a Feb. 22 email, Wright said: “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final.” An hour later, Wright wrote: “We are good to go from the PM.”
When questioned about that email in the House of Commons Wednesday, Harper said “good to go” meant “good to go with Mr. Duffy repaying his own expenses.”
On Thursday, Harper stuck with that line when questioned by reporters during a press conference in Lac-Megantic, Que., where he was announcing funding for clean-up efforts following the deadly train crash earlier this year.
A reporter asked Harper when he knew that the Conservative Party was planning to cover Duffy’s expenses, and he replied that he believed Duffy “should repay his own expenses.
“I was told that that was what he had agreed to do, I was told that is what he had done, and when I learned that was not the case I took the appropriate action. Mr. Wright as you know who made the secret payment to Mr. Duffy has not been in my employment for six months. Mr. Duffy has been sanctioned severely, removed from the payroll by the Senate of Canada.”
The opposition picked up the point in question period Thursday, although it was the prime minister’s Parliamentary Secretary Paul Calandra who was tasked with providing the answers.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair noted that on May 28, he asked Harper in the House about what instructions he gave his staff regarding the Duffy affair.
“You know what he said? I’ll quote him word for word: ‘I did not give any such instructions,’’’ Mulcair said.
“Yesterday’s court documents prove that those words are the opposite of the truth. Not only did Nigel Wright get instruction from the prime minster, he even got approval: ‘We’re good to go.’”
Mulcair accused the prime minister of a cover-up, and asked: “Why the cover-up if he didn’t do anything wrong?”
“The documentation says no such thing,” Calandra replied.
“What it says is the prime minister, at the moment he found out about this, he went into his office and instructed his office to co-operate fully with the RCMP. As I have said on a number of occasions in this House, on Feb. 13 Sen. Duffy approached the prime minister to justify his inappropriate expenses. The prime minister told him he had to repay those expenses…The documentation also shows that the prime minister did not know about this, and as the prime minister said had he known about this scheme he would have in no way endorsed such a scheme.”
In Quebec, Harper was asked a follow-up question about why he is keeping Gerstein and Chris Woodcock, a former PMO staffer who now works for the Natural Resources minister, who documents suggest both knew of the original plan, “on your team?”
Harper did not reply directly to the question about Gerstein and Woodcock, saying only that “the inappropriate actions here were taken by Mr. Wright at his own initiative, and obviously Mr. Duffy deliberately lied to the public about those things.
“It is Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy who are under investigation and who are being held responsible for their actions, and that is what is appropriate in this case. And as I say, we will continue to assist to ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to deal with this particular incident, which should not have occurred, and make sure those who are responsible are held responsible and that it will not be repeated.”
In question period, Mulcair asked why Wright is the only PMO staffer to have lost his job, and Calandra replied that the court documents “clearly show that it’s Sen. Duffy and Nigel Wright who are the subject of this investigation.”