Former prominent Crown prosecutor PJ Veniot mourned

PJ Veniot had a long and distinguished career as a Crown prosecutor in New Brunswick. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
PJ Veniot had a long and distinguished career as a Crown prosecutor in New Brunswick. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

A prominent former New Brunswick Crown prosecutor has died.

PJ Veniot died Monday at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst, according to his obituary. He was 67.

Veniot came out of retirement in 2015 to handle the high-profile murder trial of Dennis Oland.

Oland was charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 bludgeoning death of his father, multimillionaire Richard Oland.

A jury found him guilty, but Oland appealed and was found not guilty in 2019 on retrial by judge alone.

Oland's lead defence lawyer, Toronto-based Alan Gold, whose career dates back to the early 1970s and includes winning three cases in the Supreme Court in a single year, describes Veniot as "an excellent prosecutor" and "formidable opponent."

With PJ in court, the system of justice functioned fully and effectively. - Alan Gold, Toronto defence lawyer

"PJ knew exactly what he was doing at all times," Gold said. "He was able to do his job extremely professionally. And things just got done the way they were supposed to get done.

"With PJ in court, the system of justice functioned fully and effectively."

And while criminal trials are "always an adversarial situation," Veniot was "a real gentleman," "courteous and honourable," Gold said.

He was "very much an old-style prosecutor who very much respected his role as an officer of the court," he said. "His word was it. … If he gave you his word, it was as if it was written in stone."

"Professionally, it was a pleasure to deal with him. And I wish there were more prosecutors like him. And it's certainly very, very sad news. No doubt about it."

'Loved people'

In his obituary, Veniot, a husband of 28 years, stepfather of two, and recent grandfather, is remembered as "a kind, generous and a compassionate man. Truly loved."

"During his illness PJ knew everyone's name and background by the end of the day," the obituary says. "He so loved people. If you were lucky enough to meet PJ you were left with a lasting impression."

Elhatton Funeral Home
Elhatton Funeral Home

Veniot, the former senior regional Crown prosecutor for northeastern New Brunswick, handled many other notable cases during his distinguished career. Among them, the murder trial of Justin Bourque, who went on a shooting rampage in Moncton in June 2014, killing three Mounties and wounding two others.

Bourque pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. It was the longest sentence in Canadian history, and the harshest since the death penalty was abolished.

But a decision released by the Supreme Court of Canada in May means Bourque will be eligible for parole at the age of 49 rather than 99, which is what the sentencing judge had imposed.

Elhatton Funeral Home
Elhatton Funeral Home

The veteran prosecutor was also respected for recommending provincial fisheries officers lay charges in 2011 against the brother of then-deputy premier Paul Robichaud in defiance of a directive to drop the case and subsequent pressure to find a way to withdraw the charges against Donat Robichaud after they'd been laid.

Robichaud pleaded guilty in April 2012 to one charge of violating the Aquaculture Act and was ordered to pay a $480 fine and a 20 per cent victim surcharge.

Veniot, who received his law degree from the University of New Brunswick in 1980, was a member of the New Brunswick Law Society, the province's Child Death Review Committee and Indigenous Peoples Rights, according to his obituary.

During his undergraduate years at St. Thomas University, he was a member of the university orchestra, the Thomists. Over the years, he was a member of multiple local rock bands.

"What a voice he had and he was a superb instrumentalist," his obituary says.

A celebration of life will be held on Thursday in Bathurst.