POLITICS

Andrew Younger, Fired N.S. Cabinet Minister, 'Surprised' By Decision

11/06/2015 04:35 EST | Updated 11/06/2016 05:12 EST
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HALIFAX — A former Nova Scotia cabinet minister says he unintentionally misstated when he was made aware of a parliamentary privilege that he contends prevented him from appearing in court for the trial of a woman accused of assaulting him.

Andrew Younger's failure to appear at the trial led a provincial court judge in Halifax to drop the charge in the case earlier this week.

Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday night that Younger was relieved of his cabinet duties and was also kicked out of the Liberal caucus because he did not provide accurate information on when he knew about the parliamentary privilege that affected the trial.

Younger expressed his shock at the decision in a statement.

"Given that I have followed the direction of the premier's office throughout on this matter, I am disappointed and surprised by the premier's decision,'' he says.

Younger told a news conference on Thursday that his lawyer informed him on Monday of the parliamentary privilege that allows members of the legislature to decline appearing in court when the house is in session.

Younger says he was, in fact, informed of the privilege three days earlier on Oct. 30 and was ready to correct his misstatement with the media.

"That error was mine and unintentional,'' he says in the statement.

"When I was made aware of the possible error, I checked my records and confirmed the date with the premier's office.''

Younger also says the statement he read at Thursday's news conference was written by the premier's office.

In Charlottetown, where he was meeting with the Maritime premiers on Friday, McNeil said Younger spoke for himself.

"My staff would have been there but those were his words,'' he said in an interview.

"I was given information by Mr. Younger that was inaccurate. I take great pride in the fact that I am very direct and upfront with the information I provide to the media and I expect those who are providing it to me to do so with the best of their ability. I believe it has been inaccurate and we responded.''

The premier's office also released copies of emails Friday that it says were provided by Younger after he was asked about the timeline of events.

In them, Younger asks Neil Ferguson, the chief clerk of the legislature, to clarify the exemption.

"I personally believe the whole charge and trial is ridiculous and a waste of judicial resources, and frankly as I have government committee meetings and such I don't want to be sitting around a court house with the media waiting on a case that (1) I don't wish to testify at; and (2) just to see it dropped,'' it says.

The reply says legislature members are covered by the exemption.

"However, this exemption is often waived, particularly in criminal prosecutions,'' it says.

Younger said the email exchange confirms the dates he found out about the law and that he sought clarification based on the advice of his lawyer, adding that the difference between the actual timeline and the incorrect date he released isn't that large.

"Really, we're talking about the difference between half a business day,'' he said in a telephone interview on Friday.

At Thursday's news conference about his failure to appear in court for the matter involving Tara Gault, Younger said he was not trying to avoid testifying in the case. He said he simply followed the law that says sitting members of the legislature cannot be called to testify in civil and criminal matters while the house is in session without being asked to waive the exemption, and he was not asked by the Crown to waive it.

Gault, who was a Liberal staff member, pleaded not guilty to the charge stemming from an alleged assault on or about Oct. 22, 2013, the day the Liberal government assumed power after the last provincial election.

Younger has refused to discuss the nature of his relationship with Gault, saying only that he had a personal relationship with her that has ended.

He would also not reveal anything about the alleged event that resulted in the assault charge.

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