Supreme Court dismisses Mike Duffy’s appeal — ending his Senate lawsuit

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed Mike Duffy’s appeal of a lower court decision that held the P.E.I. senator couldn’t sue the Senate for damages related to the 2013-15 expenses scandal.

The decision from the top court not to hear the case means Duffy’s multi-year legal fight has now come to an end, and his lawsuit seeking millions in damages from the Red Chamber has been tossed out.

The Supreme Court did not give a reason Thursday for declining to hear the case, as is its usual practice.

In a similar 2005 case, Canada (House of Commons) v. Vaid, the top court underlined the importance of parliamentary privilege to the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

After a judge cleared Duffy of any criminal wrongdoing in 2016 — Justice Charles Vaillancourt found all of his expenses to be reasonable — he launched his lawsuit against the Senate, claiming the body ran roughshod over his constitutional rights in its dogged pursuit of a scapegoat for the scandal over questionable expenses.

Duffy was seeking $7.8 million in reimbursement and damages from the Senate, the RCMP and the federal government in relation to his November 2013 suspension from the Red Chamber. Duffy’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, has previously said the RCMP lawsuit would proceed despite the challenges facing the Senate legal action.

Duffy acquitted

Duffy was suspended by his peers after the RCMP launched a criminal probe into his travel and living expenses. The senator maintains that the suspension violated his charter rights.

He claimed the disciplinary actions taken against him — he was denied pay and benefits while his criminal case was ongoing — were “an unprecedented abuse of power” and tantamount to expulsion.

After Duffy’s acquittal, the Senate clawed back another $17,000 in expenses — after they came to light during the trial — that were deemed inappropriate.

Duffy argued the Senate’s actions caused him irreversible “reputational damage” and cost him money when his public speaking gigs were cancelled.

In December 2018, an Ontario Superior Court judge dismissed Duffy’s lawsuit against the Senate, arguing the Senate and its members are protected by parliamentary privilege, making them immune from this sort of judicial scrutiny.

Ontario’s Court of Appeal later upheld the lower court’s decision. In a strongly worded August 2020 decision, that court ruled parliamentary privilege leaves little room for the courts to scrutinize a legislative chamber’s internal affairs and how it disciplines its members.

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