Nfld. & Labrador

Poaching charges dismissed against Corner Brook doctor

Dr. Justin French and another man had been accused of dragging a net in a salmon river. French pleaded not guilty, and the Crown eventually dismissed the charge.

Dr. Justin French and another man had been accused of dragging a net in a salmon river

Gord Clarke, right, is captured on hidden DFO surveillance cameras near Corner Brook. Clarke pleaded guilty to salmon poaching. (Submitted)

A high-profile ophthalmologist from Corner Brook has had salmon poaching charges against him dismissed after problems arose with witnesses in the case.

Dr. Justin French and Gord Clarke — a Corner Brook construction worker — were both charged on the basis of surveillance photographs and video.

DFO officers had hidden motion-detecting camera equipment along the banks of a salmon pool on a river just outside Corner Brook.

On the afternoon of Aug. 23 last year, the cameras recorded two men lowering a net into the salmon pool.

The cameras also captured several still photos of the pair, including one in which both men are facing the camera.

DFO officers found witnesses to identify the men in the photos, and charged both French and Clarke in December.

In March, Clarke pleaded guilty, was fined $2,200, and was banned from owning a salmon angling licence for two years.

French, accused of the same offence, pleaded not guilty and chose to go to trial.

WATCH | DFO surveillance video recorded two men lowering a net into a salmon pool: 

DFO surveillance video captures salmon poaching incident

1 year ago
Duration 0:31
DFO hidden cameras captured video of two men poaching salmon on a river near Corner Brook in August 2020.

The ophthalmologist is one of the highest paid medical specialists in the province. He gained prominence in 2018 during a dispute with the provincial government in which he stated he might leave Newfoundland and Labrador if his proposal for a new eye surgery clinic was rejected. The province eventually signed off on it, and the multi-million dollar clinic on Grenfell Drive is now all but complete.

French was in court for the start of his trial on April 9.

Prosecutor Andrew May called three witnesses — two DFO river guardians and DFO enforcement officer Kim Sheehan.

Sheehan laid the charges, but refused an interview with CBC for this story.

Much of the testimony was highly technical, and focused on camera technology and how the original photos and video were transferred to memory sticks during the investigation.

During cross-examination, French's lawyer Robby Ash asked questions which revealed that the original SD cards that contained the footage and pictures had been destroyed.

Three weeks later the Crown withdrew the charge against French.

Pictures of Justin French bookend a picture of a man captured by DFO surveillance cameras. French was charged with poaching salmon. He pleaded not guilty, and the charge was eventually dismissed. (From left to right: Twitter/@charlespendercb/Submitted/LinkedIn)

In a statement to CBC News, Mark Stares, team leader of regulatory prosecutions, said, "Considering the state of evidence as of April 9, 2021, and given our expectations from our recognition witnesses, we have no reasonable prospect of conviction."

French declined to be interviewed for this story, but a written statement from Ash said, "It was immediately apparent to me when I reviewed the disclosure, that a charge should not have been laid against Dr. French."

CBC News has been unable to determine whether Clarke has ever been asked to identify his poaching accomplice.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Anthony Germain hosts Here & Now in Newfoundland and Labrador. He is a former host of the St. John's Morning Show and CBC Radio's The House, and is CBC's former correspondent in China.