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Justice system under scrutiny after the Crown drops conspiracy charges against two of the Coutts Four

Ray McGinnisTwo of the four men at the Coutts blockade arrested in February 2022, accused of conspiracy to commit murder and mischief – Chris Lysak and Jerry Morin – are free men. They were released on Feb. 6. They remained in custody in remand centres for 723 days. Morin was held in solitary confinement for 74 days.

Lysak first relied on legal aid lawyers but with little result, so in November 2023, he crowdfunded for better counsel. His new lawyer, Daniel Song, brought a section 8 charter application to examine the Crown’s case against his client.

Out of the blue, the Crown dismissed conspiracy to commit murder of police officers and mischief charges against both men. Instead, the Crown reached a plea deal with them on minor firearms charges. Interestingly, these charges, to which the two pleaded guilty, were never part of the original indictment that led to their arrests.

Lysak and Morin are now reunited with their families and will begin the long journey to rebuild their lives. Both are fathers. Morin is a lineman and Chris Lysak is an electrician.

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Lysak admitted guilt to improper firearm storage despite the firearm being registered under his name and purchased legally. The Crown also dropped charges against him for uttering threats.

Despite the RCMP releasing a shocking photo of a stash of weapons around a table with an RCMP cruiser in the background, most of the weapons displayed were found to have no link to any of the Coutts Four. The RCMP photo was captured before Morin’s arrest on Feb. 14, 2022, by a SWAT team on Highway 22A while he was en route to work on a barn for a rancher.

Although Lysak and Chris Carbert were classmates during elementary school, the Coutts Four – Tony Olienick, Carbert, Lysak, and Morin – had never crossed paths prior to Feb. 9, 2022. None of them had previous criminal records.

Lysak and Morin were free men once they pled guilty to the minor charges.

The Crown dropping conspiracy to commit murder of police officer charges is significant. The Rouleau Report pointed to the arrests in Coutts as key to its justification of the Trudeau government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, 2022. Now that these charges are dropped, it appears the Crown and the RCMP never had evidence to convict the accused of conspiracy to commit murder.

Instead, they subjected them to gruelling custody in remand centres, hoping to break them. The choice to withhold bail for almost two years was politically driven. They were considered too risky for bail one day, only to be released the next after suddenly deemed harmless to the public.

Initially, Lysak and Morin had declined offers to admit guilt. But after two years, the strain of the whole ordeal led them to agree to a coerced confession to the new charges in order to survive.

The plea deal was negotiated in a courtroom separate from where pretrial motions were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Feb. 6. The dismissal of the serious charges, the admission to new minor firearms charges, and their subsequent release came as a surprise.

A friend of Lysak’s, Fort Macleod councillor Marco Van Huigenbos, said, “723 days pretrial is a travesty of justice in Canada, and it has to be treated as such. There has to be a full inquiry into these prosecutions.”

Is all that is required to deny bail for those accused of serious crimes to argue that their release will undermine confidence in the justice system? The justice system is not immune from corruption or politicization. What assurance can citizens have in its integrity? It appears lawfare is alive and well in Canada.

The Coutts Four case highlights how the Crown can levy grave charges against individuals and leave them to linger in custody for years without bail or trial. Is this enough for the Crown to now retract charges of conspiracy to commit murder? Perhaps a skilled lawyer who understands how to file a Section 8 Charter application can make a difference.

On Jan. 15, Chris Carbert was denied bail for the second time. Daniel Song, who successfully represented Chris Lysak, is now being considered to represent Carbert (along with his existing lawyer) at the upcoming Feb. 20 court hearing. Olienick – who will also be at that hearing – has just hired a new lawyer who needs to get up to speed on the details of the case.

Is the Crown now proceeding with a charge of conspiracy to commit murder against Carbert and Olienick despite admitting that Lysak and Morin were not involved in any conspiracy?

Carbert and Olienick are scheduled to stand trial in June.

Ray McGinnis is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. His forthcoming book is Unjustified: The Emergencies Act and the Inquiry That Got It Wrong.

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