Andrew Younger says he never refused to testify in assault case
NDP calls decision not to testify an abuse of power and says Younger should be removed from Liberal caucus
Environment Minister Andrew Younger says he never refused to testify at the trial of a woman accused of assaulting him two years ago and claims he was prevented from doing so by MLA privilege.
His comments come a day after a Halifax provincial court judge dismissed an assault charge against former Liberal staffer Tara Gault after Younger did not appear to testify. Younger's lawyer told the court he had chosen not to attend.
"I have never actually refused to testify," Younger told reporters Thursday.
But the decision not to show up in court is being criticized by the NDP, which says Younger should be stripped of his ministerial duties and booted from the Liberal caucus by Premier Stephen McNeil.
Younger, however, says MLA privilege is automatic and keeps him from being compelled to testify while the legislature is in session, even if the House is not sitting. He said the prosecution needed to ask him to waive that privilege before he could testify.
"If a valid subpoena had been issued I would have been there, so that would not have been an issue."
When pressed by reporters about whether he would have shown up if that request to waive privilege was submitted, Younger was less definite.
"It's likely I would have shown up," he said.
The case against Gault, 29, was thrown out because Younger did not testify. Judge Greg Lenehan told the court he could issue an arrest warrant for anyone else, but not an MLA while the legislature is in session.
Younger had 'personal relationship' with Gault
The Crown tried to enter Younger's statement to police as a substitute for testimony, but the judge refused to accept it. Younger was the Crown's only witness.
Younger said Thursday he was confused by that decision.
"Both my wife and other people were there who could have been called to testify even in my absence," he said. "In fact, the trial could have proceeded and adjourned and continued at another time."
Younger says his personal life is private, and that's why he and his wife have never answered questions about his relationship with Gault.
"I did have a personal relationship with Ms. Gault, but that relationship ended and my wife and I have dealt with that issue, long since dealt with that issue, and moved on with our lives."
Gault's lawyer, Joel Pink, said Gault had a four-year relationship with Younger before being charged with what police characterized as a domestic assault. He would not elaborate on the nature of the relationship.
Gault will be admitted to the Nova Scotia bar this week.
Younger's lawyer, Brian Casey, said Wednesday the minister would have preferred not to distract from the government's agenda.
Premier Stephen McNeil says he's asked the justice minister to review the law that establishes the privilege Younger invoked. In the meantime, he says Younger still has his confidence.
"My role is to make sure there isn't a double standard," McNeil told reporters Thursday.
"Are you asking if I'm disappointed? Of course … I don't believe quite frankly that there should be two sets of laws in the province."
McNeil calls privilege an "obscure law that he [Younger] and his lawyer determined to use."
Both provincial NDP and Conservative parties are calling on the premier to remove Younger from the Liberal caucus because they say he abused his MLA privileges by refusing to appear in court.
Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald said in a news release that Younger's actions send a message the Liberal government is above the law.
MacDonald says that if a law maker doesn't respect the law, there should be consequences.
Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie calls the premier's requests to the justice minister "empty words."
"I'm really sickened by it to be honest. Here we have a public official abusing his public office to avoid a justice issue. And a premier who's prepared to turn a blind eye to it. It's a dark day," said Baillie.
"It's just not good enough. They've allowed it to reach a point, really, where there's a miscarriage of justice where a serious assault will go unaddressed by the courts."