Judge shuts down SharQc Hells Angels trial, five accused go free
MONTREAL A Superior Court judge put an abrupt end to the first murder trial to go before a jury in Operation SharQc after ruling the Crown withheld evidence from the defence for years.
In a stunning decision delivered at the Gouin Courthouse on Friday, Superior Court Justice James Brunton ended the murder trial of five men who were alleged to have been members of the Sherbrooke chapter of the Hells Angels, between 1994 and 2002, while the biker gang was at war with its rivals across Quebec. The men — Claude Berger, 66; Yvon Tanguay, 65; François Vachon, 43; Sylvain Vachon, 48; and Michel Vallières, 48 — were all charged with conspiracy to commit murder over the eight-year period but also faced first-degree murder charges as well. As a result of Brunton’s ruling, they all walked away free men on Friday.
About 10 prosecutors who were in the room looked stunned by Brunton’s criticisms about how they had only disclosed key evidence to the defence a month ago.
Across the floor, four of the accused inside the prisoner’s dock were all smiles. As Brunton reached the end of his decision, Vallières pumped his arms upward and pointed both of his thumbs in the air.
Operation SharQc involved an unprecedented roundup of almost every member of the Hells Angels in Quebec in April 2009. Charges were filed against 156 people in all, including several of the gang’s associates. Since then more than 100 men have pleaded guilty to taking part in a general conspiracy to commit murder. But the trial of the five represented the first time a jury heard evidence in the case.
The judge also said the actions of the Crown made him conclude that there was no remedy available, for example a new trial, to correct the problem.
“I think it is an enormous relief,” said Mylène Lareau, a defence lawyer who, along with Debora de Thomasis, represented Tanguay during the trial. “Justice was served. It took time. We all fought for years to demonstrate what the judge concluded today.”
Brunton said the prosecutors adopted “a desire to win at all costs to the detriment to the fundamental principles that form the foundation of our penal justice system.”
“(SharQc) is a case without precedent. (The Crown) did things that have never been done. Sometimes there is a price to pay for that,” was all Lanctôt was willing to say about the stinging criticism of the Crown contained in Brunton’s 17-page decision.
The judge then called in the jury, which had been given a few weeks off while Brunton heard arguments on the defence motion that ultimately put an end to the trial, and thanked them for their service.
Brunton’s decision involved a development in the trial that occurred on Sept. 10, exactly one month after the jury had begun hearing evidence. The Crown told Brunton it was in possession of new evidence concerning two previous investigations into the Hells Angels — dubbed Projects Snack and Cadbury. Defence lawyers had been demanding the Crown disclose the evidence pertaining to those investigations since April 2011. In December 2011, the Crown responded to the request simply by stating “The documents requested are not in our possession.”