03/12/2014 12:29 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Bureaucrat charged in New Brunswick obstruction case testifies in own defence

FREDERICTON - A civil servant accused of interfering in an aquaculture investigation involving the brother of New Brunswick's deputy premier says it was unusual for a charge to be discussed by senior management.

But Peter Andrews, the executive director of corporate services for the province's Aquaculture Department, told the provincial court he doesn't think it was elevated to that level because of Donat Robichaud's relationship to deputy premier Paul Robichaud.

Andrews, who has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice, testified in his defence Wednesday.

He said he knew of no such instances in the past where senior managers would discuss charges but that changed when they met on Nov. 22, 2011, and discussed the possibility of laying an aquaculture infraction charge against Donat Robichaud.

He said going into that meeting, there was a plan to proceed charging him with operating outside the area of his lease. But he said senior managers, including the deputy minister at the time, decided instead to explore the idea of cancelling Robichaud's license or lease.

"Does this have anything to do with the fact that Donat Robichaud was Paul Robichaud's brother?" Crown prosecutor Mona Briere asked Andrews.

"Not in my mind," Andrews replied. "I was never told that."

Briere then asked if it was discussed during that meeting whether it would be better for the government to keep the case out of the media.

"I don't recall such a discussion," Andrews told his judge-only trial in Fredericton.

Andrews said a decision by senior management to hold off on charging Donat Robichaud came before a meeting that same day where Fisheries Minister Michael Olscamp told Paul Robichaud what was happening with the case.

Andrews said the next day, he told Wilbert Sabine, the head of aquaculture enforcement, not to lay the charge while the department considered other options.

Briere then quoted from an email Sabine sent to his enforcement officers 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 has been entered as evidence at the trial.

She asked Andrews why Sabine sent that email. He said he was unaware of its existence until the Opposition Liberals announced a year ago they had received a letter from an anonymous source alleging that Paul Robichaud interfered with the investigation. Paul Robichaud has denied that allegation.

Despite the directive to hold off on a charge, an enforcement officer proceeded laying it on Dec. 12, 2011.

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

"It was just for information," he told the court.

He said only a letter from the attorney general could stop the charge, and he doesn't believe that was pursued.

The court has heard that Donat Robichaud had been investigated numerous times since 2004 and would be repeatedly in and out of compliance with his lease for growing oysters.

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

The case continues Thursday.