GATINEAU, Que. _ Sen. Patrick Brazeau pleaded guilty Tuesday to reduced charges of assault and possession of cocaine after a more serious charge of sexual assault was dropped because the Crown said it did not have sufficient evidence.
The former member of Stephen Harper's Conservative caucus drew a step closer to being able to resume his Senate seat career as both his lawyer and the Crown prosecutor recommended an unconditional discharge.
Brazeau entered the pleas Tuesday at a courthouse in this west Quebec city across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill.
Gerard Larocque, Brazeau's lawyer, told Quebec Court Judge Valmont Beaulieu that if his client receives an unconditional discharge, "his chances are excellent" of being able to return to the upper chamber as a senator.
According to the rules, serious criminal convictions accompanied by substantial jail time are usually a one-way ticket out of the Senate. But the reduced charges, combined with an unconditional discharge, could be a boon to Brazeau _ for now.
Beaulieu said he will rule on Brazeau's sentence Oct. 28.
Still, the senator's legal troubles are far from over. He is scheduled to stand trial for allegedly being behind the wheel of a vehicle while impaired. He also goes to trial in March on charges of breach of trust and fraud in connection to his Senate expenses.
The embattled senator, who wore a black pinstripe suit and baby blue tie, said outside the courthouse he was planning on taking a vacation and was relieved that the sexual assault charge was dropped.
"For two-and-a-half years I've been charged with sexual assault and that accusation is one of the worst that anyone can have," he said.
"And it's over. I've been found not guilty of that."
Brazeau had been charged with assault and sexual assault arising from an alleged incident in 2013, but Crown prosecutor Sylvain Petitclerc said Tuesday there was not enough evidence to go forward with the sexual assault count.
"What we told the court is that given the proof at this time on the sexual assault charge, getting a verdict beyond any reasonable doubt seemed to us not very probable," Petitclerc told reporters outside the courtroom.
Petitclerc suggested one reason Brazeau decided to plead guilty is because a video confession made by him was scheduled to be shown during the trial.
"Brazeau was also supposed to take the stand, testify and be counter-interrogated," Petitclerc said. "By pleading guilty, the video will not be shown and he wont' be counter-interrogated. So that's maybe a strategic decision."
Beaulieu said in court the alleged victim in this case _ whose name is protected under a publication ban _ provided "weak" testimony during the initial stages of the trial, regarding the sexual assault accusation.
Petitclerc added that the alleged victim was told in advance Brazeau was to plead guilty to assaulting her and that the judge would be asked to give him a full discharge.
"She declined to make any (victim impact) statement today," Petitclerc said.
Brazeau, the former head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, was named to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in December 2008.
He was kicked out of the Tory caucus after he was charged and was suspended from the upper chamber in November 2013.
That suspension without pay ended when Parliament was dissolved for the Oct. 19 election.
Before his legal troubles began, the burly senator was likely best known for losing a celebrity boxing match against Justin Trudeau in March 2012.
Larocque, in pleading with the judge to discharge his client, said Brazeau had to shoulder a heavy burden for the last two years because every time his name was mentioned in the media, it was followed by the fact he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman.
"He had to carry around a stigma of someone accused of sexual assault," Larocque said, adding his client had served two separate nights in jail after the arrests and deserved to move on.
Larocque said Brazeau has signed up for university courses and intends to retake his seat in the Senate.
Brazeau didn't have much to say to reporters after the court proceedings, but when asked if he planned on returning to the upper chamber, replied: "That's the plan."
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