A retired Crown prosecutor says he was so concerned about interference in the Donat Robichaud case that he made copies of all documents and emails and took them home for safekeeping.
Paul (P.J.) Veniot was the one who recommended fisheries officers lay the charges against the brother of Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud in 2011, despite a directive that the case be dropped.
Veniot also refused a request from the head of enforcement that he find a way to withdraw the charges after they’d been laid.
“I was concerned that somebody somewhere might not like what I’d done” by giving the charges the go-ahead, he said, “but it was the right thing to do.”
Veniot testified Tuesday at the trial of Peter Andrews, the executive director of corporate services at the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries.
Andrews is charged with obstruction of justice in the case of Donat Robichaud, who was investigated in 2011 after repeated violations of the Aquaculture Act at his oyster farm.
Officers ended up laying charges based on Veniot’s recommendation. Robichaud eventually pleaded guilty in April 2012 to one charge, was ordered to pay a $480 fine and a 20 per cent victim surcharge.
'I knew that this was going to be like a boil on the skin and sooner or later it was going to pop.' - Paul (P.J.) Veniot, retired prosecutor
Earlier in the trial, the Fredericton courtroom heard that Andrews had directed Wilbert Sabine, the head of enforcement at the department, to tell his officers to drop the case, and then to try to have the charges withdrawn after they’d been laid.
Veniot said in both instances, he knew “this file could be problematic … There was going to be some heat to bear.”
While Sabine was “cordial” and not “insistent” in his Dec. 12, 2011 call, Veniot said he was still worried the case could become politically loaded.
Imagine, he said, if he went into court and told a judge that “that charge was laid by mistake against the brother of the deputy premier and we’d like to withdraw it.”
He told Sabine he would only withdraw the charge if he had a written directive from the attorney general at the time, Marie-Claude Blais.
Knowing the ultimate authority over Sabine was Fisheries Minister Mike Olscamp, who was a cabinet colleague of Paul Robichaud, the brother of the accused, Veniot made copies of the entire file because “I knew that this was going to be like a boil on the skin and sooner or later it was going to pop.”
Under cross-examination by Andrews’ lawyer Patrick Hurley, Veniot said it was entirely legitimate for the department to prefer to work “collaboratively” with growers rather than haul them into court.
He acknowledged as well that his interpretation of a meeting between Olscamp and Robichaud was one possible interpretation.
Veniot said it was “very difficult” to see the meeting as anything else but a sign that Robichaud was influencing the decisions about his brother’s case.
But when Hurley pointed to other testimony suggesting that Olscamp was merely informing Robichaud of a decision already taken to drop the case, Veniot said that would be another way of seeing it. “It may not have changed my opinion,” he added.
Tuesday was the fifth day of the politically sensitive trial. Seven days have been set aside.
Andrews is expected to testify in his own defence on Wednesday.