The Crown is contesting the release of the former mayor of Chambly Denis Lavoie even before a trial has taken place, a new embarrassing setback for the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC).

It is rare to see charges come to the preliminary investigation stage, where a judge looks at the evidence to determine whether or not a trial is necessary.

Yet this is what happened on April 26 when Court of Quebec judge Magalie Lepage dropped the charges against Denis Lavoie. Arrested by UPAC in March 2023, the former police officer and lawyer was accused of obstructing justice and breach of trust for allegedly interfering in the affairs of the Chambly municipal court.

However, nothing in the evidence presented in court by the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) “allows us to conclude that a jury reasonably instructed in the law could convict the accused on either of the two counts,” ruled the court. Judge Lepage.

“A civil servant who misunderstands the scope of a law, who commits an error of judgment in the pursuit of a goal or a strategy imbued with legitimacy, in good faith, without corruption, without dishonesty, does not commit ‘criminal offense’, the magistrate recalls in passing in her judgment of nearly twenty pages which undermines the work of the prosecution.

A decision with which the DPCP is in total disagreement, according to a request filed a few days before the appeal deadline expired at the end of May, and obtained by La Presse. Considering that the judge “exceeds her jurisdiction,” the Crown is asking the Superior Court to take up the case.

“With respect for the justice of the peace, she confused her role with that which she would have had at the trial by acquitting the accused,” argue the prosecutors in the case, Me Francis Pilotte and Me Marie-Christine Godbout.

A date for the hearing of this motion is expected to be set later in June.

“We have received the prosecution’s appeal request which will be strongly contested because Judge Lepage’s judgment seems to us to be entirely consistent and within the rules,” briefly commented Denis Lavoie’s lawyer, Me Marc Labelle.

This issue is reminiscent of several other failures suffered by UPAC in recent years.

In October 2021, the court ordered a halt to the legal process in the criminal trial of former Terrebonne mayor Jean-Marc Robitaille.

A judge then severely criticized UPAC and the Crown prosecutors, who had hidden information from the accused that could harm the credibility of an important witness because of their “desire to win at all costs.”

Among the other high-profile defendants who benefited from a halt to the legal process, we note former deputy prime minister Nathalie Normandeau and former Liberal minister and vice-president of Roche Conseil Marc-Yvan Côté, released in September 2020.

Frank Zampino, former right-hand man of Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, was also released from the charges against him in 2019 before the Court of Appeal overturned this decision in October 2023.