Opinion

EDITORIAL: The court of public opinion

It appears that Prime Minister Stephen Harper intends to avoid testifying in the trial of suspended-senator Mike Duffy, now facing 31 criminal charges connected with his disputed expense claims.

While legal experts claim it’s entirely likely that Harper will be called to testify by Duffy’s defense in response to bribery charges, a spokesman has made it clear this week that Harper feels he has no further information to add to what he has already supplied to the RCMP.

This is yet another instance of Harper’s increasing disconnect with the electorate. Whatever reasons he offers, it is obvious that the desire to avoid anything that might prove embarrassing – standard equipment for politicians – has yet again trumped any attempt at transparency or respect for due process.

We’ll leave it to the courts to rule whether Harper can invoke parliamentary privilege to avoid testifying, but he’s not likely to score any points with the ordinary citizen by doing so.

Do any of us imagine we could avoid a subpoena to appear as a witness in a trial by claiming we had nothing useful to add? Any judge in this land would tell us it’s not our place to conclude whether our testimony would or wouldn’t be useful. It would be highly presumptive for us to assume that we could anticipate any and all lines of questioning, and we’d likely get our knuckles rapped for it.

But then we’re not the prime minister – and not able to avail ourselves of his privileges, parliamentary or otherwise.

Harper has persistently sought to distance himself from the actions of the Prime Minister’s Office on the Duffy file – a situation that would be laughable if it did not reveal how tragically flawed our political system is.

Cloaked in his mantle of privilege, Harper has decried the kinds of actions his appointee to the senate is accused of perpetrating, stopping just short of accusing the man himself. Yet Duffy has alleged, just as persistently, that the prime minister is not as far removed from the affair as one would have us believe.

Whatever our presumptions with regard to Duffy, the accused deserves his day in court.

And Canadians deserve the kind of leader who is willing to endure some personal discomfiture to testify, openly and honestly, in a court of law.

Anything short of that is an insult – to our people, to our principles, and, ultimately, to our country.

 

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