Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On instructing clients

Let's once again take a slightly closer look at what's been reported about the Cons' senate scandal - as yesterday's revelations about the involvement of Stephen Harper's special counsel and legal adviser Benjamin Perrin may offer a few more indications as to who was actually pulling the strings.

To start with, here's CTV's reporting on the drafting of the agreement between Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former special counsel and legal adviser worked on the legal deal between Nigel Wright and Sen. Mike Duffy’s lawyer that called for Wright to help Duffy pay off $90,000 in invalid expense claims, CTV News has learned.

Sources told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that back in February, Benjamin Perrin helped draft the letter of understanding that called for Duffy to publicly declare that he would repay the money. In return, sources say, Wright would give a personal cheque to Duffy to cover the $90,000. Sources say the agreement also stipulated that a Senate investigation into expense claims would go easy on Duffy.
Perrin left the Prime Minister’s Office in April and has returned to his position as an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Law.
As I noted earlier, it seemed dubious that any lawyers at all would be involved in drafting trust conditions or agreements around a merely personal gift. But Perrin's involvement raises some additional questions - no matter how one interprets the chain of events.

On one hand, it's possible that Wright was treated as being the "client" giving instructions to Perrin. That possibility raises its own set of questions: is it normal practice for publicly-funded counsel at the PMO to deliver personal legal services to staffers? Did Wright pay the PMO for receiving those services from the office's counsel? Would Wright have the authority to release the relevant documents as the client of record - and indeed, might he have waived any solicitor-client privilege by allowing the PMO to take control of them?
The PMO also declined to release the letter of agreement, saying it is now in the hands of Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, who is investigating Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Duffy.
On the other hand, it's possible that the story is one of Stephen Harper's legal advisor acting in his official capacity, taking instructions from Stephen Harper's Prime Minister's Office to draft an agreement in which Stephen Harper's chief of staff paid a Stephen Harper Senate appointee to keep quiet.

That might give the PMO a slightly better claim to try to withhold access to the relevant documents from its end (though Duffy and his lawyer would presumably have copies as well which would be relevant to any RCMP or Senate investigation). But the second scenario also includes a rather obvious common denominator - and no matter how determined he is to flee the country, it's hard to see Stephen Harper avoiding full responsibility if every aspect of the Duffy payout was carried out in his name.


  1. Anonymous9:33 a.m.

    Excellent points, Greg. This continues to reek of ethical doom for Harper. A personal gift (albeit from an experienced individual who one would expect to know better) is one thing. Bad idea, he resigns. Why would Harper's advisor be involved? Places a new and even more unflattering light "on one of the most accountable and transparent governments in the world".

  2. Okay, Greg, you're PMO Special Counsel and Steve Harper's personal legal adviser. You're approached to draft a 'letter of understanding' that might well violate provisions of the Rules of the Senate, the Parliament of Canada Act and the Criminal Code. This is serious stuff that could have huge repercussions for your client, the prime minister. Now, as counsel to the prime minister of Canada, do you really go ahead and facilitate this dodgy deal without at least disclosing it to the prime minister, warning him of the potential consequences and securing his instructions?

    This is about you, Greg. Would you do that? Would you put your career, potentially your legal ticket on the line, for Mike Duffy or even Stephen Harper?

  3. This query also has to do with what Perrin may or may not have done.

    As a lawyer, would he be responsible to the relevant professional association (Law Society of Upper Canada?) for his conduct in this matter?

    Could such a body investigate his conduct and issue sanctions if anything wrong had been done?

  4. I think any provincial law society that Perrin belongs to could call a hearing into this and, in particular, investigate whether he was party to any criminal or quasi-criminal acts. I've wondered whether that realization had anything to do with Perrin's departure from the PMO in April.

  5. Anonymous3:40 p.m.

    Do not trust either the Liberal Party of the Conservatives actually. They conspired against immigrants in Mulroney's era shady deals even as far back as 1984. Peterson was done for fraud and so was mulroney, and it continued from there, the thing that strikes me as suspicious is that they sure paid down the National debt, by cutting off civil and human rights for immigrants, even employment which would have given them benefits. so Please Canada you really have to wake up and smell the roses here, wondering why doctors, teachers, mla's, realtors Ministers and senators are being investigated... well I know all about the corruption however, the government and judicial system are obstructing justice in Canada