Crown accused of sitting on evidence that would clear decorated Afghan vet

Collin Fitzgerald acknowledges a standing ovation from MPs following Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, on Feb 19, 2007.
Collin Fitzgerald acknowledges a standing ovation from MPs following Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, on Feb 19, 2007. Collin Fitzgerald acknowledges a standing ovation from MPs following Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, on Feb 19, 2007. Fitzgerald, a decorated Canadian soldier who was released from the military for severe post-traumatic stress disorder, has since been assessed by Veterans Affairs as having simple anxiety, making access to benefits and services more difficult. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

OTTAWA – One of the most decorated veterans of Canada’s war in Afghanistan will face trial later this year on a charge of breaching bail conditions, even though he alleges Crown prosecutors have proof of his innocence.

Former master corporal Collin Fitzgerald, of Morrisburg, Ont., was arrested by a police tactical team in summer 2014 and accused of being in the vicinity of his former home in nearby Iroquois when it burned down in a fire that appeared to have been deliberately set.

Fitzgerald was not charged in connection with the fire, only for breaking bail conditions on a previous charge, which required him to remain at his parents’ home in Morrisburg and have no contact with his ex-wife.

As part of its pre-trial investigation and disclosure, Fitzgerald said the Crown presented his lawyer with cellphone records that showed he was at his parents’ home and on the phone at the time police allege he was at the fire.

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Separately, his lawyer also has a statement from the person who was on the phone with Fitzgerald, as well as video surveillance records of the family home, which show he didn’t leave the house on the night in question.

“It’s complete malicious prosecution,” Fitzgerald said in an interview.

“The Crown has a target on my back because of my interaction with them, my cries for help, which were not made in the most socially acceptable fashion.”

Fitzgerald, 36, who was awarded the Medal of Military Valour for aiding wounded comrades in a burning vehicle under enemy fire in 2006, has had several run-ins with the law and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“Between my self-medication, abundant prescribed medications and my inability to cope with everything that was going on, the Crown basically wrote me off as a nut job,” he said.

Prosecutors have had the cellphone evidence since last November, Fitzgerald said. As a result of that charge, a judge ordered him to leave the Cornwall area and live with a family west of Brockville, Ont., until the case was resolved.

He was under bail restrictions as the result of charges stemming from an incident in the spring of 2014, where he was accused of criminal harassment and intimidation of a police officer. He has yet to stand trial on those charges.

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The Crown’s office in Cornwall has not responded to several messages left by The Canadian Press during the last week. A spokesman for Ontario’s attorney general declined to discuss specifics.

“As this matter is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment,” Brendan Crawley said in an email, noting the case was scheduled to return to court Dec. 1.

Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, who has handled civil cases for veterans but not criminal ones, called on Ontario justice officials to conduct a review of Fitzgerald’s case.

“It doesn’t appear as if he was treated with fair play,” said Drapeau.

“The prosecutor’s office is there for the public interest…. There are no allowances being made for the fact that this individual was injured in the line of service … it’s worthy of review by some senior staff within the attorney general’s office.”

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That call was supported by veterans groups.

“Clearly there is a serious problem and there should be an investigation,” said Mike Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

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.

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He freely admits he hoped at the time to die at the hands of police.

The incident 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.

Lately, he has become a sought-after public speaker, including an invitation next month to talk with police investigators at a two-day symposium in Windsor, Ont.

“My hope is to put my painful experiences to purpose by sharing my truths about job trauma, PTSD, self-medicating, conflicts with the law,” he said.

“What worked, and what didn’t work, in order to affect change in how veterans and soldiers are treated by police.”