The head of enforcement at the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries says he marked his emails on the Donat Robichaud case as “confidential” because he knew the affair would look bad to the public.
Wilbert Sabine was testifying about his role relaying a 2011 directive that Robichaud, the brother of Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud, not be charged with violating the Aquaculture Act.
“I didn’t want the general public knowing about this,” he said in Fredericton court on Friday. “It doesn’t make us look good.”
When Crown prosecutor Mona Briere pressed Sabine on what exactly would look bad, he said the department’s other option, revoking Robichaud’s licence, wouldn’t look good because that was something that had never been done to punish violations.
Sabine was testifying in the case of Peter Andrews, the executive director of corporate services at the department and Sabine’s immediate supervisor.
Andrews is charged with obstruction of justice for trying to stop the prosecution of Donat Robichaud.
Despite the directive to drop the case, Robichaud was charged, and 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.
Sabine provided more details for the court about a Nov. 22, 2011 meeting between Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Mike Olscamp, his deputy minister, and Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud.
A few days earlier, Sabine had asked the enforcement officer investigating Donat Robichaud to hold off on charges to give the deputy minister time to brief Olscamp. Olscamp would probably want to talk to Paul Robichaud, he said.
After the meeting took place, Sabine sent word to the officer to not go ahead.
But on Friday, Sabine testified that the meeting was actually set up to deal with an unrelated matter, and at the end of the discussion, Olscamp and the deputy minister had merely “informed” Robichaud of the decision not to charge his brother.
If true, that would corroborate Paul Robichaud’s public statements in 2012 that he “never interfered in any kind of way in the process.”
Sabine testified that while he didn’t tell Andrews, his boss, about “every little complaint” about aquaculture violations, he did tell him about any charges that were being laid. There were usually eight to 10 charges laid per year, the courtroom heard.
'I felt he should be charged'
He recounted the department’s long history of trying to get Donat Robichaud to keep his oyster farm equipment within the boundaries of his provincial lease.
In 2008, officers prepared charges, but were told by the senior management committee to give Robichaud “one more chance.”
"I didn't feel very good about it,” Sabine said. “This guy was given two or three chances to comply and he didn't. I felt he should be charged."
In 2009, Robichaud was still in violation, but officers couldn’t get the site surveyed by the end of the season, when the equipment was moved. In 2010, "for some reason we didn't get around to checking him," Sabine testified.
Finally, in 2011, Peter Andrews said it was “full speed ahead” on prosecuting Robichaud, said Sabine. Then, in mid-November, when Sabine told Andrews the case had gone to a Crown prosecutor, Andrews told him to order the enforcement officer to “hold off," he said.
Sabine testified that Andrews told him the senior management committee had again decided to give Robichaud yet one more chance.
Repeatedly, Sabine said Andrews was his link to the top officials in the department. He said he normally didn’t deal with the deputy minister, but with Andrews.
Sabine will be cross-examined on Monday by Patrick Hurley, Andrews’s defence lawyer.
The Crown is expected to call three more witnesses, including Paul Veniot, the senior prosecutor who urged enforcement officers to lay the charges despite the directive from Sabine.
Andrews will testify in his own defence later next week, according to Hurley.
If convicted, Andrews could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Seven days have been set aside for the trial, which started on March 5.
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