Deputy premier linked to obstruction charge by Crown witness

A former fisheries officer says he was instructed to drop charges against Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud's brother after being told by his supervisor that a meeting between Robichaud and the fisheries minister "did not go well."

Former fisheries officer testifies he was told to drop charges against Paul Robichaud's brother

A former fisheries officer says he was instructed to drop charges against Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud's brother after being told by his supervisor that a meeting between Robichaud and the Fisheries minister "did not go well."

Gaetan Germain was testifying Wednesday at the trial of Peter Andrews, the executive director of the corporate services division of the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, who is charged with obstruction of justice in the 2011 probe of Robichaud's brother.

The charge against Andrews followed an anonymous letter to the Opposition Liberals that accused Robichaud of pressuring Fisheries department staff not to prosecute his brother under the Aquaculture Act. The Liberals turned the letter over to the RCMP.

Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud has denied the allegation he interfered in the prosecution of his brother on fisheries charges. (CBC)
Robichaud declined to comment on Wednesday, saying the case is currently before the courts.

He has previously denied the allegations. "I never interfered in any kind of way in the process, before and after," Robichaud told reporters in April 2012. "If I interfered, I didn't have a lot of success because he went to court," he added.

Donat Robichaud pleaded guilty in April 2012 to a charge under the Aquaculture Act involving his oyster farm. He was ordered to pay a $480 fine and a 20 per cent victim fine surcharge.

Andrews has argued he was just following orders when he committed the alleged acts that led to his prosecution.

“At all relevant times I acted in obedience to my employer’s orders,” he stated in an affidavit previously filed with the court in a failed bid to have the province pay his legal bills.

No one else has been charged in connection with the case.

Germain, a retired RCMP officer who works on contract for the department, has not yet been cross-examined on his testimony and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

In fact, the trial will have to start over on Thursday due to court interpreter problems on Wednesday.

Fredericton provincial court Judge Julian Dickson dismissed the French-English interpreter and ruled none of the evidence heard would be considered in his decision.

A new interpreter will be brought in and the trial will begin from square one, he said.

The dismissed interpreter apologized to the court. She said she was sick; that it was not her best day.

Licensing issues date back to 2004

Germain testified there was a complaint in 2004 about Donat Robichaud's aquaculture structure being outside his licensed area. That complaint was resolved by sending him a letter, Germain said.

More complaints in 2008 led to the investigation that was then submitted to the Crown prosecutor, he said.

Again, no charges were laid. Instead, Robichaud was sent a letter warning him that any further complaints would result in charges, the courtroom heard.

In 2009, officers surveyed Robichaud's aquaculture site and showed him what equipment was too close to the coast and warned him again, said Germain.

Robichaud complied, but one line remained outside what was permitted by his licence, Germain said.

An inspection of all sites in the area on Sept. 22, 2010 found Robichaud's equipment was still outside his site. That same day, Germain emailed a report to his supervisor, Wilbert Sabine, who responded the following day, telling him to pursue an investigation and lay charges.

As Germain tried to find a surveyor to survey the site for evidence, Robichuad removed structures for the winter, making it impossible to gather evidence, he testified.

As a result, the investigation ended with plans to resume in 2011, he said.

On Aug. 17, 2011, two officers and a surveyor found Robichaud's equipment outside his permitted area once again, said Germain.

Subsequent inspections on Aug. 30 and Sept. 14 found the same, he said, noting measurements and photographs were taken.

On Sept. 20, they questioned Robichaud and took a statement, Germain said.

He testified that on Oct. 11, Robichaud asked him over the phone whether there was "another way" to resolve the case. Germain said he replied that they had already tried and now they were taking the case to the Crown.

Robichaud asked for the name of the prosecutor, Germain said.

Germain's supervisor, Wilbert Sabine, told him to go ahead with laying the charge, he said. The following day, Sabine suggested a wording change for the charge and a steeper fine.

On Oct. 13, Germain sent the file to prosecutor Pierre Gionet in Tracadie-Sheila and followed up by meeting with him on Nov. 16 to give a full evidence brief, he said.

Supervisor wanted to discuss charge with deputy minister, minister

The next day, Germain said he got an email from his supervisor telling him not to lay the charge. Sabine said he wanted to discuss the charge with the deputy minister and minister first, Germain said.

On Nov. 18, Sabine emailed again, saying the deputy minister couldn't meet with the minister until Nov. 22 and that the minister might want to talk to other ministers, Germain said.

Sabine said the deputy minister also told him the minister might want to talk to "the brother of the accused," the deputy premier.

On Nov. 23, Sabine told Germain in an email that the meeting between Minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Michael Olscamp and Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud "did not go well" and the charges should be dropped, the courtroom heard.

Germain testified that Sabine told him he was disappointed; that the next time the prosecutor might not take officers seriously.

Sabine is also expected to testify and Andrews is expected to take the stand in his own defence.

If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Seven days have been set aside for the trial.

Quebec Crown prosecutor Mona Briere has been brought in to handle the case to ensure it's independent from the provincial government.