Peter Andrews testified in his own defence Wednesday, in his trial on a charge of obstruction of justice.
The executive director of corporate services at the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, is accused of interfering with a case involving the brother of Deputy Premier and Natural Resources Minister Paul Robichaud.
Andrews, who is on leave with pay pending the outcome of the trial, gave the Fredericton courtroom his version of what happened in the fall of 2011 when staff discussed charging Donat Robichaud for violations of the Aquaculture Act at his oyster farm.
He said he told enforcement staff to hold off on charges so Minister Michael Olscamp could be briefed, in accordance with a 2009 policy requiring the minister to be briefed on all charges.
Andrews testified it was at a Nov. 22 meeting where senior officials briefed Olscamp on a range of issues that it was suggested he look at pulling Robichaud's licence instead of prosecuting. The deputy minister agreed with the suggestion and told him to proceed.
Taking a producer to court was a "last resort," he said, citing a policy clause about working with producers on compliance rather than prosecuting.
Andrews underscored the decision not to charge Robichaud was made at that meeting — not at a meeting later that day between Olscamp and the deputy premier.
He suggested the head of enforcement, Wilbert Sabine, had misunderstood when he emailed his enforcement officers to tell them the subsequent meeting between Olscamp and Paul Robichaud “didn’t go well for us.”
Then, on Dec. 12, Andrews was told by Sabine that officers had laid the charge, despite the directive, based on the advice of Crown prosecutor Paul (P.J.) Veniot.
Sabine previously testified that Andrews had directed him to ask the prosecutor if the charge could be withdrawn.
Andrews acknowledged that he did, saying it was because he assumed the deputy minister would ask him, based on the earlier meeting.
Once the Crown said he was proceeding, there was no more discussion, said Andrews.
Donat Robichaud was eventually charged and pleaded guilty in April 2012 to one charge. He was ordered to pay a $480 fine and a 20 per cent victim surcharge.
Brother's position played no role in decision
Andrews stuck to his story during an often pointed cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Mona Briere.
He agreed with her suggestion that it was “very rare” for any decision on charges to be discussed at a meeting of senior officials.
But he said Olscamp didn’t take part in that discussion and the idea to pull Robichaud’s licence instead of charging him didn’t come from the minister.
When Briere pressed Andrews on whether Robichaud’s brother’s role in the government was a factor in the decision, Andrews said, 'No.' When she asked whether the decision was because laying a charge in court would embarrass the government, Andrews again replied, 'No.'
Briere also showed Andrews a briefing note in which it was suggested that if the threat of pulling Robichaud’s licence didn’t work, he could be charged in the spring. She pointed out because of a six-month statute of limitations on laying aquaculture charges, the delay would effectively mean no charges.
Andrews said he hadn’t been aware of that. He also said he didn’t write the reference to the spring timeline in the briefing note and he didn’t know who did.
Briere is scheduled to complete her cross-examination of Andrews on Thursday, and then closing arguments are expected.