Charges of breach of trust and obstruction of justice against Thunder Bay Police Chief J.P. Levesque have been dismissed, and Levesque says he's ready to return to work.
Justice Bonnie Warkentin handed down her decision Thursday morning in Ontario Superior Court in Thunder Bay, Ont. Levesque's family and many police officers were in the courtroom, which erupted into applause after the judge's ruling.
Levesque was charged in May, 2017 by Ontario Provincial Police over what police alleged was the disclosure of confidential information about Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs. In court, the Crown and defence agreed that Levesque told Hobbs in December, 2016 that he was being investigated for extortion.
Warkentin noted that the Levesque case is tied to two high-profile cases in Thunder Bay that are still before the courts, namely extortion charges against Hobbs, his wife Marisa and another woman, Mary Voss, as well as charges against lawyer Alexander (Sandy) Zaitzeff.
The Hobbses and Voss are accused of inducing Zaitzeff "to purchase a house, by threats, accusations or menaces of disclosing criminal allegations to the police," according to court documents.
In the roughly hour-long reading of her decision, Warkentin summarized the Crown's and defence's arguments, including testimony given during the six-day trial, held in Thunder Bay in December, 2017.
She also detailed the criteria for a conviction on each charge, specifically that obstructing justice in this case would require the Crown to prove Levesque spoke to Hobbs "with the intent to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice," and that breach of trust would mean Levesque "breached the standards of responsibility and conduct" of a police chief and that he used his position for a purpose other than the public good.
Levesque testified during the trial that the relationship between the police force and Hobbs, who is a retired police officer, was "professional," but that Hobbs was "unpredictable." He also told court he informed Hobbs of the extortion allegations because he was worried Hobbs would find out, and that newly appointed Deputy Police Chief Sylvie Hauth would be "blindsided."
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The Crown argued there were three reasons why Levesque would tell Hobbs about the allegations: to cover them up, that Levesque didn't want to betray Hobbs and make him angry, or to stop the alleged extortion matter himself.
The defence said there was no "illicit scheme" as suggested by the Crown, and that what Levesque did was not a marked departure from the standard of a police chief.
On both charges, the judge ruled the Crown failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
She said that Levesque acted "in good faith" when he spoke with Hobbs and that exercising his discretion to do so "was not improper."
Warkentin said she believed Levesque's reasons for telling Hobbs about the extortion investigation and that Levesque intended it to "be for the good of the City of Thunder Bay and for the public."
'Relief like I've never felt'
After the ruling, Levesque, flanked by his lawyers and members of his family, briefly spoke to reporters outside the Thunder Bay courthouse.
"It's been a difficult year on myself and my entire family and a whole bunch of friends who are excellent supporters," he said. "The support I received from within this community has just been incredible."
Levesque added: "I look forward to going back to work."
He was placed on administrative suspension in May when he was charged, after a review by the police services board. At the time, Levesque was also on medical leave.
Police board chair Jackie Dojack told reporters the board will provide an update Friday.
After the judge handed down her decision, Levesque said he felt "relief like I've never felt." He also applauded the work of Sylvie Hauth and Don Lewis, who have been acting as the police service's chief and deputy chief respectively.
"Mr. Gover mentioned to me the other day this might make me a better chief of police, having seen the other side of things," Levesque said, referring to a conversation he said he had with one of his lawyers, Brian Gover.
"It certainly opens your eyes."