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Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne
Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne

Angry neighbour's letter led to probe on Senator Add to ...

Geoffrey Neil Faulkner is a former federal mandarin in his late 60s living a retirement dream with his wife on a large property along the Gatineau River in Wakefield, Que.

But to Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne, the former associate deputy minister was "Mr. Fucker," a court heard yesterday.

The tensions between the two flowed from the work Mr. Lavigne undertook to build a house on the lot next to Mr. Faulkner's house. The major hostilities broke out on July 20, 2005, when one of Mr. Lavigne's Senate staffers, Daniel Côté, started cutting trees on Mr. Faulkner's property.

Testifying at Mr. Lavigne's trial on charges of fraud and obstruction of justice yesterday, Mr. Faulkner said he was curious when he started hearing "chainsawing going on quite close to my property."

"I investigated the noise with my wife, and found a gentleman who ... was cutting down trees on my land."

That's when he saw Mr. Côté for the first time.

"I told him to stop immediately. I asked, 'What on earth are you doing on my land?' " Mr. Faulkner recalled.

Mr. Côté's explanation about the tree cutting - saying Hydro-Québec had approved the heavy work to install electric lines - did not satisfy him.

"I decided to write to the Prime Minister and the Senate with regards to the unusual events, in particular to ask whether a staff member of Senator Lavigne was working on his land, cutting down my trees, on a working day?" Mr. Faulkner said.

The letter led to a probe by the Senate, and another by the RCMP, which decided in 2007 to lay charges against Mr. Lavigne.

Two days ago, Mr. Côté testified he was on the Senate payroll as he did the work in Wakefield, half an hour north of Ottawa in the Gatineau Hills.

"For me, it was part of my work for the senator," the 38-year-old said.

The answer contradicted statements issued in 2005 by Mr. Lavigne's office that Mr. Côté was doing unpaid work during his days off. Mr. Côté said that false statement was part of a "scheme" cooked up with Mr. Lavigne to "deflect the blame away from the senator's shoulders." Mr. Côté said the relations were frosty at the time with Mr. Faulkner, who denounced the tree cutting in the media and created a public-relations nightmare for Mr. Lavigne.

In his cross-examination yesterday, Mr. Lavigne's lawyer asked questions designed to raise doubts about Mr. Côté's credibility, asking about inaccuracies in his curriculum vitae. Lawyer Dominic St-Laurent did not provide an explanation, but he also asked Mr. Côté to confirm the name of ex-girlfriends, and raised the fact that he once went to Wakefield with a woman who was not his steady girlfriend.

The last witness of the day, a former assistant in Mr. Lavigne's office, said Mr. Côté once exhibited a moment of "extreme anger" in the office, and kept a police baton in his briefcase.

Louise Martin added that when Mr. Côté got fired a few weeks after the tree-cutting incident, he said he would "build up quite the case" against Mr. Lavigne.

She added she thought that Mr. Côté would seek revenge, but said he did not use that word.

The trial continues today.

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