Crown drops charge against Afghan vet accused of being near ex-wife's house fire
Decorated vet was charged with breaching bail conditions when house burned in apparent arson
A charge of breaching bail conditions involving one of Canada's most decorated veterans of the Afghanistan conflict has been withdrawn by the Crown, but the legal odyssey of former master corporal Collin Fitzgerald is not over.
Fitzgerald was arrested in a dramatic fashion by an Ontario Provincial Police tactical team almost two years ago.
He was accused of being near his former matrimonial home in Iroquois, Ont., on July 31, 2014, when it burned down in a fire that appeared to have been deliberately set.
Fitzgerald was not charged in connection with the fire, but in breaking bail conditions on a previous charge, which required him to remain at his parents' home in nearby Morrisburg, Ont., and have no contact with his ex-wife.
Crown had evidence of Fitzgerald's innocence
The charge, which prompted a judge to bar Fitzgerald from living in eastern Ontario, had remained on the books even though the Crown — through its own disclosure — had evidence of his innocence.
Prosecutors had cellphone records that showed the former soldier was at his parents' home and on the phone at the time OPP claimed he was at the fire.
Separately, his lawyer also presented the Crown with an affidavit from the woman, Kate MacEachern, who was talking with him at the time.
Fitzgerald was under bail conditions in 2014 because he had been charged with intimidating police officers and was separately accused of taking part in a motor vehicle theft.
Fitzgerald said Tuesday after the breaching bail charge was dropped that the charge was "malicious" and that he wants to see a full investigation into the Crown's office in Cornwall.
He said as a result of the charge he has been denied access to his daughter and was ordered to take a psychological evaluation.
"They've pounded me down in the ground financially, emotionally," he said.
Fitzgerald said he is consulting with his lawyer about the charge in relation to the motor vehicle theft, but that he intends to fight the charge of intimidating police at a later court date.
Awarded Medal of Military Valour
Fitzgerald was awarded the Medal of Military Valour for aiding wounded comrades in a burning vehicle under enemy fire in 2006. He has had several run-ins with the law and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Fitzgerald has had a tumultuous personal life since leaving the military, including stints in hospital. In March 2013, he was involved in a five-hour standoff with police, where he allegedly barricaded himself inside his home and threatened to blow it up.
He freely admits he hoped at the time to die at the hands of police.
The standoff took place at the beginning of a difficult divorce from his former spouse, but since then Fitzgerald said he has sought treatment for PTSD, is on medication and has started to turn his life around.
He said he has become a public speaker and advocate for troubled soldiers and first responders.
With files from Paul Jay