POLITICS

Obstruction case against civil servant based on speculation, defence says

03/13/2014 10:34 EDT | Updated 05/13/2014 05:59 EDT
FREDERICTON - The case against a civil servant accused of interfering in an aquaculture investigation involving the brother of New Brunswick's deputy premier is based purely on speculation, a defence lawyer said in closing arguments Thursday.

Patrick Hurley said Peter Andrews, the director of corporate services for the province's Aquaculture Department, did not try to get a charge against Donat Robichaud withdrawn.

Hurley said Wilbert Sabine, the head of aquaculture enforcement, misinterpreted a conversation he had with Andrews to believe that a charge against Robichaud — the brother of deputy premier Paul Robichaud — was being dropped simply because the fisheries minister and deputy premier had met.

"He jumped to conclusion," Hurley said. "Anyone who says anything that happened at that meeting is engaging in pure unadulterated speculation and nothing more."

During the judge-only trial, the court heard testimony from witnesses who said Donat Robichaud was repeatedly in and out of compliance with the lease for his oyster growing operation in northern New Brunswick because his equipment was often too close to shore.

Sabine testified that the Crown approved laying a charge against him on Nov. 16, 2011, but it was standard practice to notify the fisheries minister of any charges, so he told fisheries officer Gaetan Germain to hold off laying the charge until he gave the OK to proceed.

Andrews testified that senior department officials and Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp met on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011, to prepare for an upcoming legislative session. He said during the course of that meeting, those officials decided to explore different options, such as revoking Donat Robichaud's lease or licence, adding that Olscamp did not speak during that discussion.

Andrews said Olscamp informed Paul Robichaud of the status of Donat Robichaud's case during a meeting later that same day. Andrews did not attend that meeting, court heard.

Andrews said he then told Sabine the next day that he was to hold off on a charge while the department considered other options.

During the trial, Crown prosecutor Mona Briere quoted from an email Sabine sent to his fisheries officers that same day where he told them Olscamp met with Paul Robichaud and "it didn't go well for us."

"The charges are not to be pursued — i.e. dropped," Briere read from the email, which was entered as evidence.

Hurley said Thursday the email was based on conjecture by Sabine.

"Then all hell broke loose," quipped provincial court Judge Julian Dickson.

Despite the directive to hold off on a charge, fisheries officer Gaetan Germain proceeded laying it on Dec. 12, 2011.

Andrews said he then asked Sabine to call the Crown to see if the charge could be withdrawn because he needed the answer before informing the deputy minister of the charge.

"Mr. Andrews did not have the intent to obstruct justice," Hurley said. "It was a matter of seeking information."

Donat Robichaud eventually pleaded guilty to practising aquaculture outside the boundary of his lease and paid a fine of $576.

In her closing arguments, Briere asked why the department would suddenly try a different approach in Donat Robichaud's case if it weren't due to the fact he was related to the deputy premier.

Briere said the department was directed to promote development and avoid taking actions that would halt the work of an aquaculture producer, and therefore it would have made more sense to lay a charge instead of revoking Robichaud's licence or lease.

She said Sabine was notified of the decision to hold off on a charge after the meeting of Olscamp and Paul Robichaud.

"Isn't it more likely that decision was made because of that meeting?" she said.

"Why did they not allow Mr. Sabine to go ahead with charges if it wasn't because Donat Robichaud was Paul Robichaud's brother?"

Dickson asked if Briere knew what possible motive Andrews might have to interfere in the case, but Briere said she didn't know what that could be.

Hurley said if the Crown believes there was political interference in the case, then it should have summoned those who attended the meetings on Nov. 22, 2011, including Olscamp and Paul Robichaud, to testify.

"Speculation got us to this courtroom," he said. "I hope the decision doesn't rest on speculation."

A decision has been reserved until June 19.