Duffy trial audience is mostly media
OTTAWA – Fred and Nicole Trembinski found a lot to be shocked about Tuesday morning at an Ottawa courthouse after sitting through the Crown’s opening salvo in the sensational trial of Sen. Mike Duffy on expense fraud charges.
The Trembinskis, in town from Timmins, Ont., to see their grown children for Easter, stuck around for an extra day to take in the political inquisition of the year — a media extravaganza that was covered with the grim determination of the D-Day invasion.
“What I’m actually shocked by is they have an overflow (court) room for 140 people and there’s not 140 people in there,” Fred Trembinski said after emerging from the opening morning’s proceedings, which he had viewed on video in a half-empty room.
“What does that mean to the average Canadian? They don’t really care? Are we that complacent?”
Complacency wouldn’t have been the operative description of this day at first blush.
The first television producers were on the scene in the cold and dark before 5 a.m., more than six hours before Duffy, himself a former star TV journalist, would plead not guilty to 31 charges.
By 7:30 a.m., reporters were doing live televised hits from a raised platform that faced the locked courthouse doors, their backdrop an unkempt, growing line of humanity that — upon closer inspection — turned out to be almost uniformly media-employed.
“I kind of have an appreciation for how politicians must feel in the middle of a scrum,” lamented Kyle Morrow, a University of Ottawa law student who lined up and got gang interviewed for his effort.
David Cook, one of the handful of civilians amid the dawn media circus, likened the opening day of Duffy’s long-awaited trial to “the Grey Cup or the Stanley Cup. It’s exciting,” said the retiree.
Inside the courthouse, once the doors opened at 8 a.m., a half dozen uniformed Ottawa police fanned across the foyer, brusquely questioning all who entered and clearly unnerving a number of citizens who had showed up for their own court dates only to run the gauntlet of news cameras outside.
The star of the show, Michael Dennis Duffy, arrived to pandemonium just before 10 a.m. accompanied by his lawyer. The two covered the last short half-block to the front doors in a moving ball of humanity, utterly blanketed in cameras, sound booms and shouting reporters.
Danno Saunt, a political gadfly who shoots Ottawa videos which he loads to YouTube, called the scene “left-wing media spin for the Harper haters in an election year.”
“I kind of like Stevie-boy,” Saunt added, referring to the prime minister.
By midday, the partisan overtones of the Duffy charges were being openly exploited. New Democrats congregated outside the courthouse handing out small brown boxes of camembert cheese, crackers and grapes — a send-up of Conservative Sen. Nancy Ruth’s expense-related complaint about eating cold camembert last week.
Inside the court, Duffy had endured his first humiliation: a court clerk spent almost 15 minutes reading his long charge sheet into the record.
The toxic allegations began dripping out of the Crown’s case summary: Charging the Senate to travel on a puppy-shopping excursion; claiming Senate business for a trip to B.C. for the birth of a grandchild; charging a flight from P.E.I. to Ottawa, where he was paid $11,000 for a private sector speech.
Later in the day, defence lawyer Donald Bayne countered those allegations, describing the Senate’s rules for housing and travel expenses as lax, vague and confusing, and depicting an alleged conspiracy by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most senior staff to force Duffy to repay expenses he never believed were wrong in the first place.
“I was shocked, shocked,” Nicole Trembinski said during the trial’s first recess after listening to the allegations in the Crown’s opening statement.
Her husband was equally appalled.
“We’ve taken it quite personally,” said Fred.
“This is our government, our Senate. These are our rules, and they were (allegedly) abused by someone who had our complete trust and admiration as a reporter in seeking the truth.”
Bayne said Duffy was railroaded by PMO staffers who concocted a scheme that would see to it that the senator took the fall and make a political embarrassment for Harper go away in the bargain.
Trembinski just couldn’t comprehend that every seat in the public gallery wasn’t taken.
“We came down here for Easter, but we wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
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By Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press