Assault charge against woman dismissed as N.S. cabinet minister a no-show
Published Wednesday, November 4, 2015 1:45PM AST Last Updated Thursday, November 5, 2015 7:24AM AST
HALIFAX -- A judge has dismissed a charge against a woman accused of assaulting Nova Scotia Environment Minister Andrew Younger after he didn't show up in court Wednesday, citing his privilege as a member of the legislature.
Tara Gault had pleaded not guilty to the charge stemming from an assault that was alleged to have happened on or about Oct. 22, 2013, the day the Liberal government assumed power after the last provincial election.
Younger was subpoenaed to attend provincial court Wednesday but did not appear. Younger's lawyer Brian Casey said he was busy with house business and preparations for an upcoming conference.
"He's indicated to the Crown that he does not wish to appear and that it would be a distraction from what he's doing," Casey said outside court.
Casey cited a provision in the House of Assembly Act under which members of the legislature do not have to appear in court while the house is in session.
The Crown asked for an adjournment until August so that Younger could testify, but Judge Greg Lenehan denied the motion, noting the unique circumstances of the case.
"In this case the witness, the complainant in this matter, is choosing to exercise a privilege that very few people in this country have the ability to exercise," he said.
"If he was any other citizen, a warrant would have been issued for his arrest."
Casey said the privilege is "routinely exercised," noting another cabinet minister invoked the same privilege in February.
In dismissing the charge, Lenehan said that allowing a trial to proceed while allowing the complainant to use his privilege has some significant consequences.
"Every politician could make an allegation against somebody and then that person ... could then hide behind their privilege and not be subject to cross-examination."
Defence lawyer Joel Pink also argued that delaying the trial would have been unfair to Gault, who has been waiting for the case to be resolved before looking for a job.
"She's very relieved that the matter is now over and done with," said Pink. "I question whether or not it should have got that far."
Gault is scheduled to become a member of the bar and Pink said the charge, despite the dismissal, could have ramifications on her career.
"I take the position that a discharge, whether conditional or absolute, doesn't take away the criminal record," he said.
In court, Lenehan said the Crown's decision to prosecute was in keeping with what the government intended in cases that involve allegations of domestic violence.
"The Crown here is trying to do what the government's policy dictates that the Crown do when there's an alleged domestic violence, which is to prosecute it to the fullest extent," he added.
"This is a situation where the witness is available but using his privilege not to testify."
Younger could not be reached for comment.
Media reports have said Gault worked as a staff member with the province's Liberal party.
Outside court, Gault's lawyer said he was prepared to discuss his client's relationship with Younger if the case had gone to trial, but he wouldn't describe the nature of their relationship.
"You've got to take into account the whole four years of the relationship and that I take Mr. Younger did not want to take into the public, and I can understand why," said Pink. "We didn't want to get into it, but if we had to we would have in order to show what happened."
Younger resigned as energy minister in March, three months after he took a leave of absence following Gault's arrest. He was named environment minister in July.
Before the case was dismissed, Premier Stephen McNeil was asked whether Younger informed him that he was going to cite parliamentary privilege.
"No, I haven't talked to minister Younger about this trial at all. That is a decision that Mr. Younger would have had to make," said McNeil.