Quebec Court abandons corruption case against Mascouche contractor

A Quebec Court judge in Joliette has thrown out fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy charges against a Mascouche contractor because of unreasonable court delays, opening the door for 15 others arrested in Project Gravier.

Christian Blanchet's lawyer cited unreasonable delays in wake of Supreme Court's 18-month deadline for trials

In all, 17 people were arrested in UPAC's Project Gravier investigation, which centred on an alleged collusion for municipal contracts in Mascouche, north of Laval. (Radio-Canada)

A Quebec Court judge in Joliette has thrown out a case against construction contractor Christian Blanchet because of unreasonable court delays.

Blanchet, the owner of a company specializing in sewer and water main construction, was arrested in April 2014 on charges of fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy in connection with a corruption scandal in Mascouche, 30 kilometres north of Laval.

Blanchet's case is the latest to be thrown out since the Supreme Court ruled in July that, in the absence of a preliminary inquiry, provincial court trials must be completed within 18 months of someone being charged with a crime.

"The judge in this case recognized that we gave it our best effort to proceed with the case quickly, but the Crown did not make a similar effort," said Blanchet's lawyer, Michel Massicotte. 

17 arrested in all

Blanchet was among 17 people arrested in Project Gravier, an investigation by Quebec's anti-corruption unit (UPAC) into allegations of municipal corruption in Mascouche under former mayor Richard Marcotte. 
Richard Marcotte, who died earlier this year, was mayor of Mascouche for 21 years until he resigned amid corruption charges in 2012. (Radio-Canada)

The arrests of at least 13 of those accused in the scandal, including entrepreneur Tony Accurso, date back to April 2012. Some of them, such as construction contractor Normand Trudel, are also petitioning to have the charges against them dropped because of unreasonable delays.

Marcotte, mayor for 21 years until his resignation in the wake of the scandal in November 2012, died of cancer in May 2016.

'Great cause for concern': PQ critic

In October, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée unveiled an action plan to reduce wait times in the courts, but she said those measures don't necessarily include hiring more judges or prosecutors.

However, Parti Québécois justice critic Véronique Hivon said Quebec courts have the longest delays in the country. She said that, with one case after another being dropped in the wake of the Supreme Court's July ruling, Vallée needs to do more. 
Parti Québécois justice critic Véronique Hivon said Quebec's court delays are the longest in the country, and Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée must do more to ensure courts have the resources they need to bring accused to trial quickly. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"There is great cause for concern," Hivon said, citing the risk that years of investigation into alleged fraud and conspiracy could all lead to naught. 

"Those accusations … are relating to corruption cases — everything we have dealt with with the Charbonneau commission. And once again, we see because of problems with our justice system, accused people are just being freed," said Hivon.

"This doesn't make any sense."

with files from Lauren Mccallum and Radio-Canada