MONTREAL – The last 11 people accused in a massive Quebec Mob bust dubbed Project Clemenza saw the charges against them stayed Monday at the request of the prosecution.
A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said a stay of proceedings was a discretionary decision by the Crown and was the only possible move.
“The request for disclosure from the defence raised very complex issues and, despite all the efforts, the prosecution was not in a position to meet its disclosure obligations,” the agency said in an email.
The accused were among those charged in a major police operation targeting organized crime between 2014 and 2016 that led to dozens of arrests.
Prosecutor Andre Albert Morin told reporters the Crown asked for the stay after speaking to investigators in the RCMP-led case and concluding it wouldn’t be able to provide answers to pointed technical questions from the defence.
At the time of the first wave of arrests, the RCMP proudly boasted about an investigative tactic that saw more than one million private PIN to PIN BlackBerry messages intercepted between 2010 and 2012 and analyzed.
Morin said the accused are now free without any further court-ordered conditions.
Technically, the prosecution has 12 months to refile charges according to the Criminal Code, but Morin wouldn’t say what he planned to do.
In March, the federal Crown used its discretion in a similar fashion to have charges stayed against 36 people arrested in Clemenza.
In that instance, a prosecutor told reporters that numerous factors played a part in the decision, including a recent Supreme Court ruling that set strict time limits for cases to get to trial.
But Montreal La Presse reported the Crown’s decision was based on the quality of the evidence and the techniques used to gather it.
One criminal attorney not connected to the current case says it could cause problems down the road.
“If they want to use this investigative technique in the future to gather evidence to charge someone, the accused will still be allowed to obtain all the evidence against them,” said Walid Hijazi, a defence lawyer.
“So it’s a delicate problem that the authorities will have to solve.”
Clemenza was the biggest anti-Mafia police sweep by federal authorities since its takedown of the Rizzuto crime family during Operation Colisee in 2006.
The suspects in question faced an array of charges, including trafficking, importation and production of drugs, and others related to weapons, arson and kidnapping.
“Project Clemenza is now finished,” said Morin.
— with files from Cogeco Nouvelles