Federal, Quebec justice ministers ask CJC for new hearing on Girouard

Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Girouard is not off the hook just yet despite the Canadian Judicial Council’s decision not to recommend his removal from the bench due lack of evidence that he purchased drugs while working as a lawyer.

In an unprecedented move, the federal and Quebec justice ministers have jointly asked the Canadian Judicial Council to open a new inquiry Girouard’s conduct. This time, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Stéphanie Vallée are asking that Girouard be investigated for his conduct before the committee that was tasked with investigating the drug allegations against him.

Despite finding there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Girouard purchased drugs while he was a lawyer, the inquiry committee recommended that the CJC remove him from the bench because the majority of the committee believed the judge lied to them during the inquiry.

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In a press release yesterday, the ministers said:

Given the important purpose of the judicial discipline process, the critical role of integrity in ensuring public confidence in the judiciary, and the need to ensure fairness to Justice Girouard, the Ministers agree that the best course of action is to jointly request, pursuant to s. 63(1) of the Judges Act, that an inquiry be held into the findings of the majority of the Inquiry Committee that prompted it to recommend his removal."

Meanwhile, Quebec’s Superior Court announced Girouard will be relieved of his regular responsibilities and administrative duties as co-ordinating judge for the judicial districts of Rouyn-Noranda and Témiscamingue while the new inquiry is underway.

The CJC decided in April not to recommend Girouard’s removal because the credibility and integrity issue was separate from the reasons for the inquiry, which were the allegations of drug purchase.

Despite the majority of the committee’s assurance that Girouard was given chances to respond to the inconsistencies in his testimony, the CJC said he 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.”

“Because the judge was entitled to this kind of notice and did not get it, the Council does not know whether the majority’s concerns would have been resolved had it received an informed response to them from the judge,” said the CJC.

Ethics and professionalism lawyer Gavin MacKenzie says he’s never seen anything like this request being made by the ministers. But although “it’s a very unusual case,” MaKenzie says the ministers’ request is understandable.

“It’s not a case of double jeopardy,” he says. “The reaction of some seeing what has occurred is that the judge has been vindicated by the recommendation of the Canadian Judicial Council, but I can see the sense and the fairness of the ministers’ actions in requesting a new hearing in these circumstances.

“There’s a potentially legitimate concern that’s expressed in the majority reasons of the inquiry panel,” adds MacKenzie. “And it’s equally valid to draw the conclusion that the judge has not had a fair opportunity to respond to those allegations.”

Due to the passage of time, the inquiry committee could not prove allegations that Girouard purchased drugs from a drug trafficker in the ’80s and early ’90s. A drug trafficker, who later became a police informant, told authorities he sold Girouard a total of one kilogram of cocaine with an approximate value of between $90,000 and $100,000.

Another former drug dealer, Yvon Lamontagne, also told police Girouard was his client as early as 2010, and he’s sold cocaine to him just days before Girouard’s appointment to the Superior Court bench in September of that year.

At Lamontagne’s movie rental store, police found surveillance video that showed an exchange between Girouard and Lamontagne. While the duo’s interaction seemed “suspicious,” the inquiry committee was not convinced the video, which had no sound, is conclusive evidence of a drug transaction.

But in its November 2015 report to the CJC, the majority of the inquiry committee, including Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton, expressed “deep and serious concerns” about Girouard’s credibility, and therefore integrity, throughout the process.

“In short, on the basis of all the evidence submitted to the Committee to date, and subject to our comments below about the possibility of bringing a further count, we cannot, with great regret, accept Justice Girouard’s version of the facts,” the majority of the inquiry committee wrote regarding what happened in the video between Girouard and Lamontagne.

“Although this implies nothing about the nature of the object that was exchanged, we wish to express our deep and serious concerns about Justice Girouard’s credibility during the inquiry and, consequently, about his integrity. In our opinion, Justice Girouard deliberately attempted to mislead the Committee by concealing the truth,” they said.

In recommending Girouard’s removal, the majority of the inquiry committee said his conduct fell below the standards expected from members of the judiciary.

“He did not set an example of integrity. Instead, he lacked integrity. By acting in this manner, he placed himself in a position incompatible with the due execution of the office of judge, which amounts to misconduct under paragraph 65(2)(d) of the Judges Act,” the two committee members said.

But the dissenting member of the committee, Justice Richard Chartier, said the inconsistencies in the judge’s statements didn’t rise to the level of concrete doubt about this credibility. He also found it would be inappropriate to recommend Girouard’s removal based on conduct that wasn’t the basis of the inquiry, a position the CJC, too, later accepted.

Update June 22: The Canadian Judicial Council announced on June 22 that at the request of the justice ministers it will convene an inquiry into the conduct of Justice Michel Girouard.  In a press release, the CJC noted, the Judges Act requires that it proceed with an inquiry when requested by the Minister of Justice of Canada or by the attorney general of a province.

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