A trial for five Hells Angels on murder and conspiracy charges ended abruptly Friday after the judge ordered a halt to the proceedings because the Crown dragged its feet in the disclosure of evidence.
The five men — all members of the biker gang's Sherbrooke chapter — were ordered released mid-trial by Quebec Superior Court Justice James Brunton.
Claude Berger, Yvon Tanguay, Francois Vachon, Sylvain Vachon and Michel Vallieres were arrested in 2009 under a widespread police sweep against the biker gang dubbed Operation SharQc.
Brunton was severe in his ruling, granting a defence motion for a stay of proceedings because the Crown only disclosed key information in September, while the defence had been seeking the evidence since 2011.
That evidence, gathered during different police investigations, contradicts the testimony given by a key Crown informant earlier in the trial.
Brunton was critical of the Crown and police for failing to disclose it.
"The court doesn't hesitate to conclude that it has before it a serious abuse of process," Brunton wrote.
"This abuse goes beyond negligence or even vexatious actions. It constitutes a fundamental act on the principles of fairness which should benefit any criminal prosecution.
"The only inference is that (the Crown) and police forces have, until recently, favoured their desire to win at all costs at the expense of the fundamental principles that form the foundation of our criminal justice system."
Brunton noted the new evidence would have forced the defence to change a strategy developed over six-and-a-half years and that suspending the case was not an option.
Crown spokesman Jean-Pascal Boucher said his office will study the decision and decide whether to appeal.
Brunton is the same judge who ordered a stay of proceedings in 2011 for 31 Hells Angels members and sympathizers who faced various drug-related offences. They were arrested during the same 2009 sweep.
The Crown attempted to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed with Brunton that the defendants would face prejudice with the lengthy delays.
The high court said a trial would not occur within prescribed time limits as required by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In total, 156 people were arrested during the police sweep aimed at crippling criminal biker activity in the province.