Credibility problems, not drug allegations, reasons for recommending Quebec judge’s removal

A committee looking into the conduct of Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Girouard has recommended he be removed from the bench.

The Canadian Judicial Council released the committee’s report this morning of public hearings held in May. The three-person committee gathered relevant information and heard from a number of witnesses, including Girouard. It included chairman Richard Chartier, chief justice of Manitoba, Chief Justice of the Federal Court Paul Crampton and lawyer Ronald LeBlanc of LeBlanc Maillet in Moncton, N.B.

The allegations of a convicted drug dealer turned police agent and a confidential police informant were at the heart of the hearings into Girouard’s conduct of Quebec.

The judge was alleged to have purchased and consumed illegal narcotics while he was a lawyer in northwestern Quebec, according to documents filed with the council.

Girouard was appointed to the Superior Court of Quebec on Sept. 30, 2010. He had been practising law in the Abitibi region of Quebec since 1985. In November 2012, Francois Rolland, then chief justice of the Quebec Superior Court wrote to the CJC to request a review of Girouard’s conduct in the wake of being notified of allegations against the judge by Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions.

“On the basis of the evidence introduced at the Inquiry, the committee could not conclude that the judge had participated in a transaction involving an illicit substance,” the CJC said in a press release. “The evidence presented to the committee was insufficient for it to draw any conclusions about the judge’s use or purchase of cocaine.”

However, the press release noted, the inquiry panel did find it disturbing that, in their final submissions, counsel for Girouard “suggested, in veiled terms, that police forces may have interfered in the case, as is to retaliate against Justice Girouard.”

While the inquiry panel didn’t find enough evidence on the drug allegations, Crampton and LeBlanc found Girourad’s testimony contained several contradictions, inconsistencies, and implausibilities.

They felt these raised questions about the judge’s credibility and integrity, and concluded Girourad was deliberately trying to mislead the committee.

“[W]e are of the opinion that the constellation of contradictions, inconsistencies and implausibilities in Justice Girouard’s testimony raises serious questions about his credibility,” Crampton and LeBlanc wrote in the report. “In our opinion, Justice Girouard deliberately attempted to mislead the Committee by concealing the truth.”

As a result, they recommended Girourard be removed because with “the integrity of a judge, there can be no half-measure: either the judge has integrity, or he does not. Through his lack of candour before the Committee, Justice Girouard raised some serious doubts about his integrity, which inevitably undermines public confidence.”

Chartier disagreed saying the inconsistencies weren’t sufficient to warrant Girourad’s removal.

“In my opinion, in order to conclude that Justice Girouard deliberately attempted to mislead the Committee or that he lied during a disciplinary process, there needs to be more evidence than simply the Committee’s credibility assessment of Justice Girouard.”

The CJC says it will now consider the inquiry committee’s report.

Girourard and independent counsel Marie Cossette will also be able to provide further written submissions.

The press release also notes because this matter was commenced before the coming into force of the July 2015 Bylaws, the previous bylaws apply.

After considering all the issues, the CJC will decide on whether to recommend to the minister of Justice whether Girouard should or shouldn’t be removed from the bench.

Since it was created in 1971, the CJC has only three times recommended a judge be removed from office. In reality, however, as the CJC’s web site points out, “Parliament has never had to face such a situation, but sometimes a judge will retire or resign before that step is taken.”

The full CJC inquiry panel report is available here.

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