Quebecer’s confidence in their institutions is being tested by the abandonment of charges in a highly publicized fraud case admitted Justice Minister Sonia Lebel on Friday.
Lebel was responding to the withdrawal of 989 charges of tax evasion against Paolo Catania, and other leaders in his family’s construction firm because the length of their trial exceeded the limits established by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016.
The Revenue Ministry accused the defendants of evading $1.2 million in taxes and asked for a fine of $25 million.
The stay of proceedings was ordered by a judge on Thursday.
Catania’s name surfaced repeatedly during the inquiry into corruption in the construction industry known as the Charbonneau Commission. His company was heavily involved in contracts related to Montreal’s roads and sewers.
Catania and Frank Zampino, a former senior leader of the City of Montreal, were both acquitted in May in the case of the Faubourg Contrecoeur, a separate fraud case related to a real estate project in the East End.
“Our government is aware of the impact of court delays on Quebecers’ confidence in the justice system,” said Lebel in a statement.
The minister added she recently introduced a bill she believes will improve the efficiency of the justice system and speed up court proceedings.
“We are determined to take action to ensure that citizens and especially victims can maintain their trust in our system,” she said.
Catania’s lawyer, Paul Ryan, said the trial was scheduled to end next May, seven years after charges were filed filed.
“My clients are relieved,” he said. “They had lived with this weight for six years already.”
In 2016 the Supreme Court set a 30-month limit between the laying of charges and the anticipated termination of a trial in provincial courts following a preliminary inquiry.