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Ontario judge dismisses breach of trust charges against former Liberal MP Raj Grewal

OTTAWA — An Ontario judge has dismissed two breach of trust charges against a former Liberal MP who had been accused of using his political office for personal gain.
Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal makes his way to court on Monday, July 18, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — An Ontario judge has dismissed two breach of trust charges against a former Liberal MP who had been accused of using his political office for personal gain. 

Ontario Superior Court of Justice Judge Sylvia Corthorn revealed her decision in Raj Grewal's case on Friday morning, bringing an end to the criminal trial that has dragged on since last summer. 

"Today the courts ruled in my favour, putting to rest a particularly challenging chapter of my life," Grewal told reporters after the ruling.

"Though the system may be imperfect, though we have a lot of work to do as Canadians, we can take comfort in knowing we have a strong, independent and competent judiciary. There is a presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system," he said.

"But there is a resounding presumption of guilt in the court of public opinion. I have experienced this firsthand over the last 4 1/2 years."

Grewal left the federal Liberal caucus in 2018 after his gambling problem came to light and a public outcry ensued. He chose not to run for re-election in 2019.

In 2020, the RCMP charged him with four counts of breach of trust and one count of fraud over $5,000. Only the two breach of trust charges were still on the table by the end of the court proceedings.

In its case, the Crown alleged that Grewal offered access to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and help with immigration files in exchange for large loans that went toward his gambling debt.

The most salient evidence at issue had been that two Brampton-area businessmen who each provided a $200,000 loan to Grewal also attended events during Trudeau's storied trip to India in 2018. But neither stated during the trial that they expected such access in exchange for the loans.

"A conscientious judge saw the prosecution for what it was: ill-founded and unprovable. Unprovable because there was no criminal activity and no criminal intent," Grewal's lawyer, Nader Hasan, said outside the courthouse. 

He said that at the "fragile core" of the prosecution was a "grave cultural misunderstanding." Lenders to Grewal had testified that it was not unusual for members of their community in Brampton to help each other with large loans. They described themselves as friends or family friends of Grewal's. 

"The suggestion that people received favours in exchange for helping him out, helping out a fellow community member in need, there just wasn't evidence to support that," Hasan said. 

"The Crown didn't drop the ball. The facts speak for themselves. The evidence was poor."

In court, Corthorn said a reasonable jury given proper instruction would not have been able to render a guilty verdict. The inferences required to support the Crown's theory could "neither reasonably nor logically be drawn," she said. She found Grewal not guilty as a result.

Crown prosecutor Tim Wightman declined to comment on the judge's decision. 

In an application for a directed verdict — a request that the judge toss out the charges before the defence even made its case — Hasan argued that there is a difference between misusing one's official status for a corrupt purpose and making a mistake while serving in office.

"The moral failing, if you can call it that, was developing a gambling problem. But there was nothing remotely criminal involved in that," Hasan told reporters on Friday. 

"(Grewal) has made tremendous strides and worked extremely hard to regain control of his life. He is thriving as a lawyer, as a husband, as a father, as a member of the community."

Hasan criticized the "quick and irresponsible rush to judgment" that followed early reporting about Grewal's gambling, saying that the past five years have dealt a devastating blow to the former MP.

"It’s a blessing that Mr. Grewal had the means and the resources and the family and community support to fight these charges. For many ordinary people who come under the weight of the criminal justice system, they don't have those resources and they get crushed by the system," Hasan said.

"But even for someone of means, the toll is colossal. It's massive."

Grewal is a lawyer and a separate disciplinary matter with the Law Society of Ontario's adjudicative tribunal remains unresolved. Hasan said he expects a swift resolution now that the criminal proceedings have ended.

"In the nearly five years since this all began, I've remained optimistic, even though vindication has been incredibly delayed," Grewal said, adding that he has gratitude "beyond measure" to those who have stuck by his side. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2023.

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press