Crown case against Afghan war hero collapses
Former master corporal Collin Fitzgerald calls for a review of Crown's actions
The Crown has withdrawn the last criminal charge facing one of Canada's most decorated veterans of the Afghan war, ending a two-year legal odyssey that former master corporal Collin Fitzgerald claims has left him $200,000 in debt.
The former soldier faced three separate charges, including motor vehicle theft, harassment and intimidation of a police officer and breaching bail conditions, in relation to alleged incidents in 2012 and 2014.
Each of the charges was dropped by the Crown at various points over the last few months.
The final count —intimidation of an Ontario Provincial Police officer — was withdrawn Monday in Cornwall, Ont., court, as long as Fitzgerald agreed to a peace bond.
"I don't think it's really hit me yet," Fitzgerald told CBC News, shortly after leaving court. "I'm sure that whenever I sit down, and am able breathe, it'll probably hit me a little harder. It's been a two-year legal battle with these charges."
A spokesman for Ontario's attorney general was not immediately available for comment on why the charges were dropped and what sort of followup review might take place, given that all three cases against Fitzgerald collapsed.
The former soldier said he's innocent and that the Crown at one point early in the process turned a blind eye to information that exonerated him.
Awarded bravery medal in 2006
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.
He's had a tumultuous personal life since leaving the military, including stints in hospital.
Fitzgerald was beaten up at a bar in his hometown of Morrisburg, Ont., south of Ottawa, in March 2007, just months after receiving the military's third-highest decoration for bravery.
Six years later — in March 2013 — he was involved in a five-hour standoff with police.
Fitzgerald allegedly barricaded himself inside his home and threatened to blow it up.
He said in an interview with The Canadian Press last year that he had 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 was charged in relation to the incident and pleaded guilty.
Threat to public safety?
The last series of charges, however, were part of a campaign by the OPP to run him out of town because they considered him to be a threat to public safety, Fitzgerald said.
"It's like living in bizarre world," he said. "It has been one of the most expensive education processes I've ever been involved in. The legal system is a machine, and I feel so so bad for anybody who gets involved in it."
In the late spring of 2014, Fitzgerald was waiting outside a motor vehicle branch office in Morrisburg, waiting for a friend, when he was approached by an OPP officer, who was not in uniform. The two exchanged words, and Fitzgerald was later charged with harassment and intimidation.
He was released into the custody of his parents,
But police were back at the end of July, alleging Fitzgerald was present, in violation of bail conditions, when the house he owned with his ex-wife in nearby Iroquois, Ont., burned to the ground.
He was arrested in a dramatic fashion by an OPP tactical team.
Fitzgerald was never charged with arson, but only breaking his bail conditions, which required him to remain at his parents' home.
The charge, which prompted a judge to bar Fitzgerald from living in eastern Ontario, remained on the books until last June, even though the Crown — through its own disclosure — had evidence of his innocence.
Prosecutors had cellphone records that showed the former soldier had never left his parents home on the night of the fire.
Around the same time, police also charged him separately with an unsolved 2012 motor vehicle theft.
Calls for review
Fitzgerald renewed his call on Monday for what he describes as his "malicious" prosecution and said there should be a full investigation into the Crown's office in Cornwall.
"I don't believe we have a justice system," he said. "You are guilty until proven guilty."
His legal defence has been mostly financed through the generosity of friends and by draining his personal accounts.
Fitzgerald said he has to figure out a way to pay back everyone.