An Ontario man accused of throwing gravel at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pleaded guilty Tuesday to a lesser charge of common assault.
Shane Marshall, 26, of St. Thomas, Ontario, stood trial on a charge of assault with a weapon from an incident during Trudeau's 2021 federal election campaign on September 6 of that year. The Labour Day stop in 2021 attracted perturbed protesters concerned about the COVID mandates, with many yelling slurs and insults at Trudeau.
Upon review of the events that day, assistant Crown attorney Jeremy Carnegie relayed in court that as Trudeau boarded his campaign bus, a protester, later identified as Marshall, picked up a small handful of gravel and struck the prime minister, including members of his security team, and other protesters.
London police began investigating the incident on September 8, said Carnegie, who said the investigating officer reviewed "numerous videos" placing Marshall at the event. The defendant is seen pacing around a crowd of protesters toward the driveway of a neighbouring building.
"The accused was captured reaching down to the unfinished driveway, where he picked up a handful of gravel. The gravel was thrown at the prime minister over the crowd," said Carnegie.
He ascertained that several citizens standing close to Marshall observed him throwing gravel at Trudeau at the time of the incident, who confirmed no reported injuries.
"At the time, the accused was walking with a hockey stick and a flag attached to it in his possession. The accused was identified as the perpetrator through social media, and his identity was confirmed using a St. Thomas Police Service mugshot."
Marshall served as association president of the People's Party of Canada in Elgin-Middlesex-London and received the boot from the central party upon hearing the news of his initial charge.
In January, the defendant's lawyers served Trudeau with a subpoena to testify in court owing to his comments on the alleged incident.
"There were little bits of gravel, and I may have been hit," said the prime minister then. "I had someone throw pumpkin seeds at me a few years ago."
Court documents obtained by the CBC said he provided two accounts of whether the gravel struck him.
In one version, the documents said, "Immediately while aboard the bus, the PM told reporters that he 'might have' been struck, but seemed unsure if any pebbles had hit him. When challenged on whether anything had hit him, the PM replied, 'Does it matter?'"
However, the subpoena conveyed that "in subsequent recordings, the PM states with certainty that he had been struck by gravel."
Marshall's legal counsel, Phillip Millar, who intended to cross-examine the prime minister, expressed grave disappointment after a Superior Court justice quashed the subpoena on what appeared to be grounds of parliamentary privilege for Trudeau.
"The prime minister won't be compelled to attend the trial [on Tuesday]. In the criminal system, there's no appealing an order that the judge has made," said Millar.
He contends that it's "unbelievably rare" for someone who has been allegedly assaulted not to have already received the call to testify, especially in a criminal case.
"In any situation with any other person who is not a political figure, that person would be a witness."
During Tuesday's proceedings, Marshall's lawyers filed a notice of application to adjourn the trial, claiming the ruling on the subpoena "created a significant number of issues for [his] case."
"We now need to consider bringing a Section 7 and a Section 11D application. We're requesting an adjournment for that purpose. The other purpose of requesting the adjournment is outstanding disclosure," said lawyer Luke Reidy of Millars Law, the firm representing Marshall.
Carnegie requested that he and Reidy have a "brief discussion" before a ruling on the application. After an extended recess, the defendant's lawyers withdrew the application to adjourn, and they entered a guilty plea.
"Your counsel…is telling me that you wish to plead guilty to the lesser and included offence of common assault. Is that correct?" Justice Kevin G. McHugh asked Marshall during the hearing.
"Yes, sir," Marshall replied.
"Are you feeling any pressure to enter this plea today?" McHugh asked later.
"You're entering this plea voluntarily, are you?"
According to Millar, his team exercised all their options to get Marshall the best deal but admitted that not cross-examining the complainant put them in a "weird legal position."
"It's a serious compromise because assault with a weapon is quite a different charge than assault in terms of seriousness. They just came to a resolution that brought the matter to an end. Sometimes clients must make decisions that protect them from more serious consequences to get on with their life, and that's what he did."
"We're going to ask for something that is the least serious possible to allow justice to be served. I think your benchmark is that case…where the guy put the pie in Chretien's face," said Millar, referring to an incident dating back to the 2000 federal election.
Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien attended a pre-election campaign event in Charlottetown on August 16, 2000, when a protester hit him in the face with a pie. Evan Brown, 24, served 30 days in jail after receiving an assault conviction.
"It's common knowledge that we're going to ask for the best results so that he can get on with his life and everybody be satisfied," continued Millar. "Obviously, we think it's less serious than the Brown case."
Marshall will be sentenced on May 1 concerning the incident.