HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s environment minister said Thursday he didn’t show up for a court hearing for a woman accused of assaulting him because he was not asked to waive a legislative privilege that prevented him from testifying in a criminal matter.
Andrew Younger spent almost 50 minutes answering reporters’ questions about his failure to appear in provincial court Wednesday for the matter involving Tara Gault, who is reportedly a former Liberal staff member.
Younger said repeatedly that he simply followed a law that says sitting members of the legislature cannot be called to testify in civil and criminal matters without being asked to waive the exemption.
“I did not receive a request to waive that. Had I received such a request, I would have had to consider it,” he said at a news conference.
“I did not write the law. I followed it.”
A spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Service was not available for comment.
He insisted he was not trying to avoid testifying in the case, which the judge dismissed after denying the prosecution’s request for an adjournment to address the issue of the exemption.
“It’s just not factual to suggest that I was using some provision as a way to get out of this,” he said.
Younger said he was notified of the privilege by his lawyer on Monday. The following day, he said the prosecution indicated they would seek an adjournment and that his wife and lawyer should be in court.
A subpoena was issued for Younger to appear, but he said it was not considered valid because members of the legislature cannot be ordered to attend court.
Gault pleaded not guilty to the charge stemming from an alleged assault on or about Oct. 22, 2013, the day the Liberal government assumed power after the last provincial election.
Younger refused to discuss the nature of his relationship with Gault, saying only that he had a personal relationship with her that has ended and that he and his wife have moved on.
He would also not reveal anything about the alleged event that resulted in the assault charge.
Younger has always said he didn’t believe the matter should have gone to court, adding that he didn’t think there was “anything to hide.”
Both opposition parties said Younger should step down from cabinet, accusing him of abusing the privilege.
“The premier sets the tone for his government,” Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said in a statement. “It’s his job to hold his ministers accountable when they try to dodge accountability themselves.”
The NDP’s interim leader, Maureen MacDonald, said Premier Stephen McNeil should also remove Younger from both the cabinet and the Liberal caucus.
“Younger’s action sets a very dangerous precedent and sends a message that members of this Liberal government are above the law,” she said in a news release. “It’s clear from Mr. Younger’s comments … that he does not have respect for our judicial system. This is unacceptable and the premier needs to sanction him immediately.”
McNeil said he has instructed the justice minister to review the law to determine why there are two standards for people who are called before a court.