OTTAWA — Do you think the Senate should publish details about how its members spend public money?
So do we.
The Upper Chamber, however, seems to think otherwise — despite promises to be more open and transparent in the wake of an ongoing spending scandal that has so far resulted in criminal charges against three of its own.
The RCMP’s list of charges against Senator Mike Duffy, filed in court Monday, cited 13 specific expense claims resulting in 16 of the 31 charges the disgraced senator is facing.
The RCMP says these claims, which allegedly include charges for personal trips to funerals and related ceremonies, a makeup artist and personal trainer, constitute fraud and breach of trust.
READ MORE: Mike Duffy billed taxpayers for funerals and ceremonies, RCMP says
Duffy, who maintains his innocence, told Global News earlier he looks forward to making his case in court.
Global News asked the Senate for those 13 claims — forms that would include dates and locations, as well as the amounts Duffy charged taxpayers.
“The information you are requesting is not publicly available,” Francine Pressault, the Senate’s chief of public information, wrote in an email.
Global News responded that the public has a right to know specifically how, when and where those funds were spent – especially in light of allegations the funds were criminally misappropriated.
READ MORE: RCMP lay 31 charges including bribery against Mike Duffy
“The information you are requesting is not published information,” Pressault wrote back.
Wondering whether the request could pose a privacy issue, Global News then asked whether the Senate was willing to redact names from the documents, but leave dates, locations and amounts intact.
“To answer your question,” Pressault wrote, “the information you are requesting is not published and currently is a matter before the courts. The Senate does not comment on matters before the courts.”
We never asked for comment.
ABOVE: Mike Duffy tells Global News he’s looking forward to his day in court.
The convention of the Senate, Pressault explained, is a self-imposed restraint “to protect the parties in a case awaiting or undergoing trial … in the interest of justice and fair play.”
This isn’t the first time in the ongoing Senate expenses scandal that journalists have had trouble getting information on the use of public funds.
In May 2013, Global News requested information about Duffy’s per diem claims referenced in an open-door internal economy committee meeting. That request was denied.
READ MORE: Senate refuses more information on Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses
Conservative senator David Tkachuk, who headed the committee at the time, said they were being careful with what they released since the matter had been referred to police. Senate communications, meanwhile, would only refer to an independent audit of Duffy’s expenses, but that Deloitte report didn’t contain any of the specific information.
Following a story about the lack of transparency, however the Senate released the information.
In January, Global News asked the Senate whether any of the three suspended senators had recently filed for disability benefits.
The Senate wouldn’t say, arguing the matter was personal, even though Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella had discussed the matter publicly a few weeks earlier.
Four days later, however, a spokesperson said none had filed for disability.