Although not unanimous, the Canadian Judicial Council has reviewed the recommendations of its inquiry panel on Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Déziel and recommends he remain on the bench.
In a release from the CJC Dec. 3, the CJC states it presented its report to the Minister of Justice with three of the 20-member council dissenting.
“This case was about Mr. Déziel’s participation, before he became a judge, in the unlawful financing of a municipal election. Council agreed with Justice Déziel that this past conduct was inappropriate,” the release states. “However, with three members dissenting, Council found that the judge’s past action, when considered against a number of factors, did not undermine public confidence in his abilities to discharge the duties of his judicial office.
“For this reason, Council’s recommendation to the Minister of Justice is that Justice Déziel not be removed from office,” the CJC states.
Eugene Meehan of Supreme Advocacy LLP in Ottawa called it “a classic case of trying to balance past bad conduct versus present good conduct.”
“Except this time it’s a judge in the crosshairs; Canada’s head judges say 17-3 it’s the latter, [that] present good conduct governs,” he says.
In its report to the justice minister, the majority of the council wrote:
“In our view, it is significant to note that a lawyer is bound by the same ethical principles as a judge, when it comes to the core attribute of integrity. There may be those that disagree and would suggest that judges are bound by an even higher standard than lawyers. The point is, that at the time of the impugned conduct Me De´ziel was bound by a code of conduct and a statute which he violated.
“His violation was dishonest and contrary to law. However, perfection is aspirational and ideal, not a condition precedent to maintaining one’s license as a lawyer or to maintaining the office of a judge.”
The council, chaired by Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Neil Wittmann, noted while Déziel’s actions were wrong, they “cannot be objectively characterized as being on the high end of the spectrum of misconduct.” And his actions were not criminal in nature with only minimal fines of about $100 under the Municipal Elections Act.
They added that he was not acting as a lawyer, nor did he use his lawyer’s office to facilitate a transfer of funds.
The dissenting ruling, written by Newfoundland & Labrador’s Chief Justice Derek Green with Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench of New Brunswick David Smith and Federal Court Justice Richard Bell concurring, concludes that the Marshall test had been satisfied and that “a conclusion that Justice Déziel has become incapacitated or disabled from the due execution of the office of judge within the meaning of s. 65(2) of the Judges Act should be reached, and a recommendation for removal from the Bench should be allowed.”
Allegations against the judge date back to the 1997 municipal election campaign in Blainville, Que., when Déziel was a lawyer and organizer for the sitting mayor. Charbonneau Commission witness Gilles Cloutier alleged Déziel gave him $30,000 with instructions to find people to pose as donors to the campaign, converting the money into contributions of $750 each.
Cloutier, who worked for an engineering firm, made the allegations in 2013 during testimony at the provincial inquiry into widespread municipal corruption in Quebec.
Déziel denied the allegations but said he acted as an intermediary in transferring the money to an engineering firm.
In June, an independent inquiry committee created in 2013 to investigate the judge’s conduct submitted a report to the CJC, also recommending he not be removed based on his displayed remorse, their opinion he would not reoffend, and because some of the events put forward in the allegations were found to be “incompatible with the facts and the credibility of certain witnesses in doubt.”
Meehan says despite the finding to keep the judge on the bench, he suspects “that for the rest of this judge’s career he’ll be under a certain juridical microscope wielded by the CJC.”