A former fisheries enforcement officer testified Thursday that he was “surprised” when he was told by email to drop aquaculture charges against the brother of Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” Gaetan Germain said during the provincial Court trial of civil servant Peter Andrews.
Andrews, the executive director of corporate services at the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, is charged with obstruction of justice.
The allegation is that in 2011 he tried to block Germain from laying the charges against Donat Robichaud for two violations of the Aquaculture Act at his oyster farm. Robichaud eventually was charged, pleaded guilty and paid a fine.
Germain gave more details Thursday of an email exchange between him and his supervisor, Wilbert Sabine, the head of enforcement.
Germain was also cross-examined by Andrews’ defence lawyer, Patrick Hurley, who pointed out that Andrews is not mentioned by Sabine in his email exchange.
Germain first described the email exchange on Wednesday. In October 2011, Sabine encouraged him to lay charges against Donat Robichaud, who had been violating aquaculture regulations for several years, Germain testified.
But in November 2011, Sabine told him to hold off because he wanted to notify the deputy minister. Sabine wrote that the minister, Mike Olscamp, would want to talk to “the brother of the client,” a reference to Paul Robichaud.
After the meeting of the two ministers, Sabine wrote that the meeting “didn’t go well for us,” meaning the department and its enforcement officers. Sabine told Germain that we “couldn’t go ahead with the charges.”
“I feel rotten,” Sabine wrote, that the case would end that way.
In 2012, Paul Robichaud denied any role in the investigation of his brother. "I never interfered in any kind of way in the process, before and after. If I interfered, I didn't have a lot of success because he went to court.”
Germain told Pierre Gionet, the Crown prosecutor in Tracadie-Sheila who had been reviewing the file, that the case was dead. But, Germain said, Gionet passed the file on to Paul Veniot, the senior prosecutor based in Bathurst.
Veniot told Germain “the public interest” required him to lay the charge despite his supervisor’s directive.
Germain said both Gionet and Veniot agreed that Sabine’s directive, and whatever discussions led to it, amounted to obstruction of justice.
'If someone’s meddling, you don’t call the person doing the meddling.'- Gaetan Germain, former fisheries officer
He defended his decision to not confront Sabine himself with his views. “If someone’s meddling, you don’t call the person doing the meddling,” he said.
Germain testified he and his fellow officers discussed going to the RCMP to lay a complaint of obstruction against Sabine and other senior officials, but they decided to wait until the Donat Robichaud case was through the courts.
Instead, the affair became public in early 2012 when an anonymous letter was sent to the Liberal Opposition at the legislature. The Liberals gave the letter to the RCMP, who launched the investigation.
Later in 2012, the six part-time enforcement officers in the province working for the department on contract learned they were not being renewed.
The department explained at the time that it was converting the six part-time positions to two full-time ones.
Germain said he couldn’t say that the change was due to the Robichaud investigation.
Tried to 'collaborate' with brother for 7 years
During the cross-examination, Hurley asked Germain if he knew who Sabine’s supervisor was at the time of the email exchange. Germain said he didn’t. He only learned it was Peter Andrews during a provincial meeting of enforcement officers in Fredericton on Dec. 13, 2011.
He said he never asked his supervisor, Sabine, who had been directing him to have the charges dropped.
Hurley revealed that a 2009 policy in the department, instituted under the previous Liberal government, required the minister to be notified of any charges being laid — a policy that would partially explain Olscamp being told about the case in November 2011.
Hurley suggested repeatedly that Olscamp may have been notified of other investigations, but Germain was adamant that if that had happened, he would have heard about it, either from his fellow officers or from being copied on emails by Sabine.
Hurley also pointed out the department’s philosophy was to be “pro-development,” encouraging officers to deal with violations by growers in a “collaborative” way without necessarily going to court.
Germain responded that officers had been trying that for seven years with Donat Robichaud and they could only do it “to a certain point” before laying charges.
Sabine is expected to testify in the case on Friday.
Veniot, the Bathurst-based prosecutor, will be called as a witness next week.
Hurley told the court earlier in the week that Andrews will testify in his own defence.
In an earlier court motion to have the province pay his legal costs, Andrews argued that he was doing the job expected of him by the department.
“At all relevant times I acted in obedience to my employer’s orders,” he said in an affidavit.