Looking relieved and at times a bit shaken, Patrick Brazeau returned to work in his Senate office overlooking Parliament Hill one day after the Crown withdrew charges of expense fraud and breach of trust against him.
Reporters crammed into his fifth-floor office on Thursday as he sat at his desk for about 25 minutes, reflecting on what he views as his politically motivated suspension from the Senate, which was also lifted this week.
The accusations he faced led to the personal mistakes he has made in recent years, he said, without commenting on those issues directly. "I take responsibility for my bad decisions," he said, "but it's been very difficult."
Last year, Mr. Brazeau pleaded guilty to simple assault and cocaine possession, while earlier this month he pleaded not guilty to refusing to take a breath test.
The senator said he is enrolled in therapy for personal reasons, but he declined to explain the nature of the therapy. He also told reporters that he has made more than one attempt to take his own life.
"That was more a consequence of the last three years. The suspension, the false accusations," he said. "I'm just glad I'm still here."
Mr. Brazeau's return to the Senate marks the end of several suspensions related to criminal investigations that have now all been dropped.
The Senate voted in November, 2013, to suspend Mr. Brazeau – along with Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin – after a series of audits questioned their expenses. Mac Harb, who was also facing questions over his expenses, resigned from the Senate in August of that year.
In 2014, the RCMP laid a series of charges against Mr. Brazeau, Mr. Harb and Mr. Duffy in connection with their expenses. The RCMP said they were investigating Ms. Wallin's expenses but did not lay charges.
Mr. Duffy's acquittal in April of fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges – after a long and high-profile trial – clearly sent a message to Crown prosecutors that similar charges related to the expenses of other senators were unlikely to be successful.
Ontario Court Justice Charles Vaillancourt's ruling in the Duffy case strongly condemned the political machinations of the Prime Minister's Office under Stephen Harper as "mind-boggling and shocking."
In the months since, the RCMP have announced that they would not be laying charges against Ms. Wallin and charges against Mr. Brazeau and Mr. Harb were dropped.
When Mr. Brazeau was appointed to the Senate by Mr. Harper in January, 2009, he was the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, an advocacy group for aboriginal people who live off-reserve. He was 34 at the time, making him the third-youngest person ever appointed to the Senate.
Mr. Brazeau said on Thursday that while he pledged to support reform of Senate term limits – a plan that failed to win parliamentary support – he has no intention of stepping down before the mandatory retirement age of 75, which he will reach in November, 2049.
Mr. Brazeau said he plans to focus his work on aboriginal issues. "I'm a proud First Nations independent senator now," he said.
The senator said he and his lawyer are looking at options for obtaining compensation for the income he lost while he was suspended without pay. He maintains that he was thrown "under the bus" by his fellow members of the Conservative caucus led by Mr. Harper because of the political controversy related to Senate expenses.
"It wasn't administrative. It was politics," he said. "What happened in the Senate with me … I believe was unjust and somebody needs to be held accountable and I'm going to work darn hard to make sure that place gets cleaned up."
Mr. Brazeau joked that a photograph hanging on the wall of him and Mr. Harper was proof that he has not been in his Senate office for some time. He said he has been in touch with several other senators and is looking forward to getting back to work.
Mr. Brazeau, who lost a 2012 charity boxing match to Justin Trudeau before Mr. Trudeau became Prime Minister, also plans on using the Senate gym to improve his fitness.