'Speculation' led to Peter Andrews obstruction charge, defence says

A judge has reserved decision in the politically sensitive obstruction of justice trial of civil servant Peter Andrews until June 19.

Civil servant accused of interfering in fisheries case involving Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud's brother

The closing arguments at the Peter Andrews obstruction of justice trial featured two starkly different versions of the bureaucrat’s role in the handling of charges against the brother of Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud.

Crown prosecutor Mona Briere raised several questions about why the case was discussed at the senior levels of the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries. She suggested there had been political interference in the case.

Peter Andrews is on leave with pay pending the outcome of his obstruction of justice trial. A verdict is expected on June 19. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
“What really happened on November 22nd?” she asked, referring to two meetings that day in 2011, one where Aquaculture Minister Mike Olscamp talked to Paul Robichaud about the case against his brother Donat.

But defence lawyer Patrick Hurley said Briere had entered no evidence and called no witnesses to prove her case.

“Anyone who suggests anything that took place at that meeting is engaging in pure, unadulterated speculation and nothing more,” said Hurley.

Instead, he portrayed the entire affair as a comedy of errors, a routine policy decision that spun out of control when a bureaucrat reporting to Andrews wrongly assumed political interference that wasn’t there.

“It’s speculation that got us into this courtroom,” he said. “I would hope the decision’s not going to rest on speculation as well.”

Andrews, the executive director of corporate services at the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, was charged with obstruction of justice last year. He’s accused of interfering in the 2011 investigation of Donat Robichaud, an oyster farmer in the Acadian Peninsula with a long history of violating the terms of his licence.

Judge Julian Dickson will deliver his decision in the case on June 19.

Directives misinterpreted, lawyer argues

The week-long trial focused on two phones calls made by head of enforcement Wilbert Sabine, both at Andrews’s request: one in November 2011, asking officers to hold off on laying charges until Olscamp could be briefed, and another in December, after the charges were laid despite the directive, asking Crown prosecutor Paul (P.J.) Veniot if they could be withdrawn.

Hurley said it was normal for Andrews to want to avoid court charges because the department’s philosophy was to work with producers to solve problems, rather than haul them into court.

These are some of the key people involved in the Peter Andrews obstruction of justice trial. (CBC)
He pointed out there was a policy to brief the minister on any charges against any producer, which explained Andrews’s wish to hold off until after a ministerial briefing.

Then, at the Nov. 22 meeting convened to brief Olscamp on a range of issues for the upcoming session of the legislature, it was suggested the department look at pulling Donat Robichaud’s licence instead of charging him.

Olscamp told the deputy premier of that decision “as a courtesy” at their meeting later that day, Hurley said.

The problem, Hurley said, was when Sabine misinterpreted directives from Andrews, his supervisor.

Sabine admitted he had no basis for having wrongly told his officer, Gaetan Germain, that the Olscamp-Robichaud meeting “didn’t go well for us.” That comment prompted Germain to worry that there had been political interference by Donat Robichaud’s brother.

When Germain passed on Sabine’s mistaken assertion to Bathurst Crown prosecutor Paul (P.J.) Veniot, Veniot also feared political interference — and it was that fear, Hurley said, that made Germain and Veniot determined to take the case to court to avoid perceptions of impropriety.

When Andrews later asked Sabine to call Veniot to see if the charges could be withdrawn, he was merely anticipating what his boss, the deputy minister, would ask him, Hurley said.

“He was doing his job … Mr. Andrews did it to get the information he needed to report to his deputy minister, and there's nothing wrong with that."

'Who is really on trial here?'

In fact, Hurley suggested, Paul Robichaud’s name was mentioned more throughout the court proceedings than that of the accused. “Who is really on trial here?” he said. “Mr. Andrews's name was rarely mentioned throughout this entire trial."

In her closing argument, Briere argued that even if Andrews was following the directives of the deputy minister, he still obstructed justice.

He was part of the decision to try to avoid charges and agreed with that decision, she said.

But Briere’s argument was dominated mostly by questions she posed, including:

  • Why was this case involving the deputy premier’s brother discussed by senior managers when others are not?
  • Why wasn’t it discussed at the senior managers’s regular weekly meeting but rather at a meeting that the minister would attend?
  • Why did the department propose a brand-new approach  pulling the licence, a tactic never used before  in this particular case?
  • If the department wants to encourage development of the aquaculture sector, why was the preferred option pulling the licence, which would force Robichaud to shut down, rather than charge him in court and fine him, which would let him keep operating?

In his rebuttal to Briere, Hurley pointed out that she had called no witnesses or evidence to support any of her questions.

He said she could have called the two ministers and the senior officials at the key Nov. 22 meeting if she felt they could support her assertions.

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.

Andrews is on leave with pay pending the outcome of the trial.

If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.