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SCOC orders new trial for Quebec men on charges of drug and weapons trafficking

OTTAWA - Two Quebec men who received a stay of proceedings at their trial on charges of drug and weapons trafficking will be tried again.

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a 2012 Quebec Court of Appeal decision ordering a new trial for Antal Babos and Sergio Piccirilli.

They were arrested in a 2006 RCMP-Quebec provincial police sweep aimed at stopping a drug and weapons trafficking ring.

Their trial ended abruptly in November 2008 when the judge ordered a stay of proceedings after determining the Crown and police had abused their powers.

The Supreme Court looked at three complaints by the appellants that led to the trial judge's decision. In a 6-1 ruling Friday, the high court found the judge erred in ordering a stay and that none of the state misconduct was serious enough to warrant it.

"The three forms of state misconduct that are at issue fall squarely within the residual category," wrote Justice Michael Moldaver, writing on behalf of the majority.

"The trial judge erred in his assessment of the impugned misconduct and in concluding that a stay of proceedings was warranted."

Moldaver noted the appellants admitted they could eventually have a fair trial. In asking for the appeals court decision to be reversed, they said they wanted to protect the integrity of the justice system.

Moldaver outlined what the Supreme Court needed to consider in such a case.

"The question is whether the state has engaged in conduct that is offensive to societal notions of fair play and decency and whether proceeding with a trial in the face of that conduct would be harmful to the integrity of the justice system," he wrote.

One of the accused, Piccirilli, said a federal prosecutor initially on the file tried to intimidate him into pleading guilty by threatening to add more charges.

In an affidavit, the prosecutor was alleged to have told Piccirilli's lawyer that "if your client doesn’t settle, he’s gonna be hit by a train."

The Supreme Court found the Crown's behaviour to be alarming, but not to the extent that a stay was warranted.

The threats came a year before the trial and were made by a prosecutor no longer assigned to the case by the time it reached trial.

"These factors shed light on how seriously the accused took the threats," Moldaver wrote. "The Crown’s threatening conduct, while reprehensible, did not approximate the type of shocking conduct needed to justify a stay."

Babos, meanwhile, alleged that two police officers colluded to mislead the court about the circumstances surrounding a firearm seizure. But the Supreme Court said the issue could have been handled by excluding the weapon from the evidence.

And a third complaint involved the Crown gaining access to Piccirilli's medical files in an irregular manner from a prison doctor.

But the high court found that "the Crown's conduct in securing Mr. Piccirilli's medical records occasioned no prejudice to the integrity of the justice system."

Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella, the lone dissenter, wrote that the Crown's threats were enough to warrant the stay.

"A Crown who makes threats intended to bully an accused into foregoing his or her right to a trial, takes fatal aim at the heart of the public's confidence in that integrity," she wrote.

When the legal proceedings ended against them abruptly, Babos and Piccirilli were facing 22 charges.

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