One day after the Canadian Judicial Council issued its recommendation to not remove Justice Michel Girouard from the bench — despite a suspicious video of an alleged drug deal — a legal academic is pointing to a glaring lack of independence for judicial misconduct and a possible double standard.
In May 2015, former Manitoba judge Lori Douglas was forced to resign after sexually explicit photos of her came to the court’s attention. Though Douglas did nothing illegal, the council suggested an inquiry would be required because the photos could undermine public confidence in the judicial system.
Yesterday, in the case of Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Girouard — who admitted to meeting regularly with a man later convicted of trafficking — the CJC rejected the majority opinion of its own inquiry committee to remove the judge from the bench.
“What is he doing dealing with these people anyway? Whether he bought the cocaine or not?” says Allan Hutchinson, the Osgoode Hall law professor and member of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics.
“She did nothing illegal, but she ended up getting suspended and then retiring. So there's a bit of a double standard going on there. She ends up off the bench because this whole thing about the woman's sexual activity — well they don't deal well with that well, to put it mildly.”
The Girouard scandal, meanwhile, first surfaced in 2012, when as part of a drug-trafficking investigation, an informant told police he had sold Girouard nearly $100,000 of cocaine in the years leading up to his judicial nomination in September 2010, and that Girouard would sometimes exchange legal services for cocaine.
The investigation produced a closed-circuit video of one alleged transaction, in which Girouard is seen in the backroom of a video store with former client Yvon Lamontagne. The video has no sound, but Girouard is seen handing money to Lamontagne for what appears to be a small packet.
Both Girouard and Lamontagne (who was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years) deny that the transaction involved drugs. Lamontagne testified that he handed him a receipt for a debt repaid; Girouard testified that it was a document related to a tax settlement, and that he regularly met with Lamontagne to get new video releases.
An inquiry committee, comprising two chief justices and a Quebec barrister, was struck to investigate the allegations. The committee reviewed the police evidence and heard testimony from 13 witnesses, including Girouard’s cardiologist and law partner, both of whom stated that they observed no evidence that Girouard had ever exhibited evidence of drug abuse.
In November 2015, the majority of the committee found that, despite a lack of evidence on the balance of probabilities, Girouard should be removed from the bench because his implausible testimony suggested a deception.
The third panelist, Manitoba Chief Justice Richard Chartier, offered a dissenting opinion. He argued that any perceived ambiguities in Girourd’s testimony could be attributed to the passage of time.
Yesterday, the CJC sided with Chartier’s interpretation. In its final report, the council explained its decision to disregard arguments around implausibility, given that they were separate from allegations of drug trafficking and that Girouard had not been given the opportunity to respond to them:
“The Council takes this approach because the judge was not informed that the specific concerns of the majority were a distinct allegation of misconduct to which he must reply in order to avoid a recommendation for removal.
“Not only had a great deal of time (about 25 years) passed since the events, thereby weakening the quality of the evidence available, but there was also no evidence confirming the drug trafficker’s allegations. There was, however, evidence to the contrary in the Judge’s denial and the evidence of family, friends and professional colleague.”
Hutchinson, for his part, has no opinion on the evidence against Girouard or the implausibility of his testimony, but he suggests that the process for dealing with judicial misconduct is broken.
“The whole thing doesn’t look good,” he says. “Judges judging judges, right? I understand the need for independence and all that kind of stuff, but it’s not good enough. People will be suspicious that the judges are closing ranks, so they need a better process.”