A judge has granted a stay of proceedings in the corruption case of former Quebec deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau and her co-accused, bringing the lengthy legal saga to an end.
Quebec court Judge Andre Perreault ruled on Friday there had been unreasonable delays in getting the case to trial.
“The applicants’ right to be tried within a reasonable time has been violated,” Perreault said. “A stay of proceedings against them must be ordered.”
The former provincial Liberal politician and five others were arrested in March 2016 by the province’s anti-corruption unit on charges including fraud, corruption and breach of trust. Normandeau and her co-accused argued in July that delays in the case were unreasonable, citing a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that set strict timelines for trials.
In August 2019, after five of the original charges against Normandeau and her co-accused had been withdrawn, prosecutors wanted to proceed to trial on three counts, including breach of trust and fraud against the government.
Normandeau has always declared her innocence in the case, which involved public contracts allegedly awarded in exchange for political donations.
Outside the courthouse in Quebec City, an emotional Normandeau welcomed the ruling, saying she should never have been charged. She said she did everything should could to move the case to trial to clear her name, but said she was denied at every turn.
“I don’t wish this on my worst enemy,” she said. “I’ve had four-and-a-half years of my life stolen.”
Her lawyer, Maxime Roy, praised the 81-page ruling, calling it “precise, scholarly and thoughtful,” before adding that it is “unassailable.”
Friday’s ruling puts an end to the proceedings against Normandeau, her former chief of staff Bruno Lortie, former vice-president of Roche engineering firm Marc-Yvan Côté, former Roche executives Mario W. Martel and France Michaud, and former Gaspé mayor Francois Roussy.
Perreault appeared to address the public in his ruling, advising people against thinking the six had escaped justice.
“The consequences of the public judgment often weigh more heavily on the people prosecuted than on the judicial decisions rendered,” Perreault wrote. “The applicants are henceforth (…) free from any accusation relating to what they were accused of — they are therefore just as innocent as anyone you might meet in the street today.”
Prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the ruling. Crown attorney Richard Rougeau said they would study the judgment.
He told reporters he was disappointed with the judge’s decision. “To tell you it is difficult would be an understatement.”
In 2016, a ruling from the Supreme Court set a limit of 18 months for cases without preliminary inquiries before provincial courts, and of 30 months for cases with inquiries, or that are before superior courts.
Perreault dismissed a similar motion for a stay in March 2018, saying the case was “complicated,” but agreed to look at the matter again.
Normandeau was an influential minister who served as a Liberal member of the legislature from 1998 to 2011 and held key cabinet positions including municipal affairs, natural resources and intergovernmental affairs.
In an open letter to the media in January, Normandeau said her trial would likely not begin before the end of 2020, describing the delays as “cruel and inhuman.”
— With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise