The province’s head of fisheries and aquaculture enforcement has admitted he didn’t understand his department’s laws and policies in 2011, when he was dealing with a case involving the brother of Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud.
Wilbert Sabine testified in court that despite a policy giving him and his enforcement authorities exclusive authority in a case after charges were laid, he assumed that could be overruled.
“A policy is just that, a policy,” he said, describing his belief in 2011. “It can be changed by a higher authority.”
Sabine was testifying in the trial of Peter Andrews, the executive director of corporate services at the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries. He is charged with obstruction of justice in the handling of aquaculture violations by Donat Robichaud at his oyster farm.
The trial has heard that in November 2011, Andrews directed Sabine to tell his officers to hold off on laying charges until Minister Mike Olscamp could be briefed. Sabine testified that Andrews, who was his immediate supervisor, told him the minister might want to meet with Paul Robichaud, the brother of the accused.
'This situation stinks'
After that meeting took place, Andrews told Sabine to not proceed with the charges. And, Sabine says, once the enforcement officer laid the charge anyway — on the advice of a Crown prosecutor — Andrews ordered Sabine to try to have it withdrawn.
Sabine testified he called senior Crown prosecutor Paul Veniot, who told him the charge could not be withdrawn.
Veniot “said, `This situation stinks,’ and he wasn’t going to have any stink sticking to him," Sabine told the courtroom.
Sabine said he presumed the policy giving his enforcement branch independence after charges were laid was subject to change.
“If an order comes from above, what do you do?” he testified. He said he presumed in 2011 that the policy would become “null and void.”
Sabine said he now realizes he didn’t understand what obstruction of justice was.
Briefing notes in other cases only after charges
Earlier in the day, the Crown introduced as evidence four examples of aquaculture charges that were the subject of ministerial briefing notes written by Sabine.
Last week, the trial heard Sabine wrote a ministerial briefing note to advise senior staff, including the deputy minister, that charges were coming against Paul Robichaud’s brother.
Crown prosecutor Mona Briere spent part of Friday questioning Sabine on whether Robichaud's case was treated any differently than others.
Sabine was asked to search his office over the weekend to see if he wrote other ministerial briefing notes on routine prosecutions, and if so, to bring examples to court this morning.
In the four examples presented on Monday, the ministerial briefing notes were written after the charges were laid.
Andrews’s defence lawyer, Patrick Hurley, introduced as evidence another ministerial briefing note, one Sabine wrote in 2008 when the department was preparing to charge Donat Robichaud. Like the 2011 note about Robichaud, it was written before the charges were laid.
In addition, the so-called tracking sheet, which is normally attached to a government document, indicating where it has been and who has seen it, was missing, the courtroom heard.
Hurley pointed out that Andrews, the accused in the case, wasn’t working for the department in 2008.
In 2008, the department decided not to lay the charge and to give Robichaud what’s been described as “one more chance.”
Also on Monday, Sabine repeated his understanding that at the meeting between ministers Olscamp and Robichaud, Olscamp informed Robichaud that his brother wouldn’t be charged. It wasn’t a case of Robichaud influencing the decision, he said.
Donat Robichaud was eventually 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 surcharge.
As the trial continues this week, it is expected to hear from the Crown prosecutor who convinced enforcement officers to lay charges against Robichaud despite the directive.
Andrews is expected to testify in his own defence.