Obstruction of justice charges against three RCMP officers are "troubling" says the chair of a board overseeing Codiac Regional RCMP.
"Everyone is innocent until proven guilty," Charles Léger told reporters after a Codiac Regional Policing Authority Board meeting Thursday night.
"It's not something we like to hear, but there's a need to make sure that justice is upheld … Things like this are troubling, but they're being handled in the best and most appropriate way."
The board oversees the force that polices Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview. Léger was answering questions after its first meeting following the announcement of the charges last week.
Cpl. Mathieu Potvin, 32, Const. Eric Pichette, 39, and Const. Graham Bourque, 32, each face a single count of obstructing justice by destroying evidence during a criminal investigation. The alleged destruction happened May 15, 2019.
An RCMP news release issued Jan. 5 says the alleged crimes happened during a "police operation," but offered no further specifics about what that operation entailed.
The news release about the charges against the officers says they were suspended with pay on Dec. 15 and charges were laid in court Dec. 28.
Court documents show the investigation of the officers was carried out by another RCMP officer in Montreal.
Why charges were laid a year and seven months after the evidence was allegedly destroyed isn't clear. It's also unclear when the allegations surfaced and began to be investigated, or how long the three officers continued working on other investigations.
Potvin is listed as a media contact in a Feb. 20, 2020 news release about a drug seizure during a traffic stop.
The case against the officers is being handled by Crown prosecutor Claude Haché in Fredericton, Coreen Enos, a spokesperson for the justice department, said in an email.
CBC News asked the department several questions about the charges, including when Crown prosecutors became aware of the case, when the decision was made to lay charges, at what level of the department that decision was made, and whether the alleged destruction of evidence affected prosecution of a case.
Enos didn't answer, writing that the "questions are intertwined with the investigation and legal issues and, since the matter is now in front of the courts, we are unable to comment any further."
Carley Parish, a Hampton-based criminal defence lawyer, isn't involved in the case and only knows what police have said publicly so far.
While noting they are presumed innocent until proven guilty, she called the charges disheartening.
She said police officers, like lawyers, are held to a higher standard.
"At the end of the day, obstruction of justice, this is a difficult charge. It's not used lightly, but at the same time, it's not a charge that you see regularly," Parish said.
Parish said given they haven't been convicted, it's too soon to say whether the charges could affect any other cases the officers have been involved with.
Supt. Tom Critchlow, the commanding officer of Codiac Regional RCMP, offered little new information about the case when asked by a reporter Thursday following the policing authority board meeting.
"RCMP members are expected to hold themselves to a high moral and professional standard," Critchlow said.
"Any allegation that a member has not done so is troubling and is taken very seriously."
Critchlow said the suspension adds to staffing challenges for Codiac.
One quarter of Codiac Regional RCMP shifts did not meet a minimum staff threshold in 2019, resulting in other Mounties being called in to work overtime or shifted to frontline roles from other police units like street crime and the general investigations section.
In response, the 2021 budget authorized adding 13 more officers to counteract staff shortages caused by long-term or injury leaves.
Critchlow told the policing authority that Codiac has filled eight of the 13 positions so far. He said the force has several strategies it will use to fill the holes created by the three officers on leave.
The officers are scheduled to appear in court on March 15.