Justice minister, prosecutors on defensive for Operation SharQc fiasco
A day after a Superior Court judge released 31 suspects in a Hells Angels mega-trial, the Quebec Justice Minister and prosecutors office were each playing defence for their handling of the 2009 police sweep called Operation SharQc where 155 alleged biker gang members were arrested.
Justice James Brunton criticized both the ministry and prosecutors Tuesday in releasing 31 suspects in the mega-trial because he didn't feel they could be tried within a reasonable timeframe.
On Wednesday, Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier did his best to assure the public that the province did everything in its power to ensure the mega-trials could go forward.
"There were enough resources, let's start with that," Fournier told reporters in Quebec City. "I tabled a letter by the deputy minister establishing that."
Fournier expressed his confidence that Brunton's acquittals of the 31 suspects would be overturned on appeal, but the opposition in the National Assembly wasn't buying it.
"They were acquitted because of mediocre planning," PQ Leader Pauline Marois asserted.
Marois went on to blast the government for bungling the "biggest trial in Quebec history."
"Who should be blamed for this fiasco?" she asked.
Premier Jean Charest answered that he has "total confidence" in his justice minister.
"Quebec made major efforts in the investigations to bring criminal bikers to justice," he said.
"We are determined to do everything necessary to ensure that those who are accused will face justice -- and that's exactly what we're going to do."
Quebec's prosecutors called an impromptu press conference to aid in the defence of the government and the whole mega-trial process.
They said it is the only tool available to them to efficiently fight organized crime and claimed they do indeed have the resources they need to get the job done.
"With what we have, we can function," chief prosecutor Francois Briere said. "(But) I'm not saying we don't need more help."
However, other prosecutors have anonymously told CTV Montreal justice reporter Stephane Giroux that Quebec already has a shortage of judges, prosecutors and available court rooms to handle the regular case loads, let alone large-scale mega-trials.
Meanwhile, defence lawyers argued that the last of the 155 accused in Operation SharQc would not see a courtroom before 10 years had passed, and that kind of a wait time is unacceptable.
"It was like 160 people needing heart transplants, and we'll do them all tomorrow," said criminal law expert Jeffrey Boro. "Well, there's not 160 cardiac surgeons that are prepared to do this type of operation tomorrow, and it's he same with the justice system."
Pierre Morneau, one of the defence attorneys for the Operation SharQc defendants, said the whole thing was too ambitious to begin with.
"What is a mega trial?" he asked. "The number of accused, or the magnitude of the evidence? Here, we have both."
With the remaining 124 suspects from Operation SharQc set to begin their murder trials in the coming days, the prosecution is hoping nothing will derail those cases.
With files from The Canadian Press