The council has taken the relatively unusual step of referring the case of Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Girouard to a panel of three judges.
It follows a nine-month investigation, announced in January at the request of Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice François Rolland. The allegations stem from a police bust of a drug trafficking ring in Quebec’s rugged Abitibi region.
The complaint was considered by Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada Chief Justice Edmond Blanchard, vice chairman of the council’s Judicial Conduct Committee.
In a statement released yesterday afternoon, the council said: “After considering all the available information, including the judge’s response to the allegations, Chief Justice Blanchard has decided that this matter warrants further consideration.”
Judges cannot be suspended without a joint act of Parliament, but no cases have been assigned to Girouard since the investigation was launched.
The review panel will be chaired by Chief Justice of New Brunswick Ernest Drapeau, working alongside Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Arthur LeBlanc.
Of the approximately 180 complaints about the conduct of judges received by the CJC each year, only two or three are normally taken to the review stage, says communications director Johanna Laporte.
She adds: “It has taken some time to get to this. It’s a complex matter and one that has to be dealt with with some sensitivity.”
Since January, the complaint has been reviewed and comments have been sought from Girouard, who has also needed time to retain a lawyer and make his own inquiries, says LaPorte.
The review panel can decide for itself how long it needs to review the allegations, but Laporte says there is “an understanding and expectation” that it will move forward without too much delay.
“It’s never an ideal situation when a judge isn’t hearing cases because it creates a backlog,” she says, adding: “The Quebec court is essentially short of a judge.”
The review panel could decide to close the complaint, require Girouard to take remedial action such as counselling or coaching, or it could ask for a public inquiry to be launched.
Girouard became a superior court judge in September, 2010. He was previously a partner with Girouard Adam et Associates in Val-D’Or, Que., where his main areas of practice were business, banking and insurance law, and family law.
The alleged incident happened before he joined the bench, according to a Canadian Judicial Council statement issued in January.
A Quebec provincial court judge in Girouard’s region of Rouyn-Noranda, Justice Marc Grimard, was removed from cases at the same time as Girouard and investigated by the Court of Quebec. Both men were accused by a police informant inside the drug ring as regular customers for cocaine.
The Court of Quebec was unavailable for comment. The Conseil de la Magistrature du Quebec, which oversees the conduct of Quebec provincial court judges, said it would not comment on whether Grimard was still under investigation, or the nature of any complaint.
A Surêté du Québec spokeswoman said she could not comment on whether Grimard or Girouard faced criminal investigations because actions carried out as part of Operation Écrevisse are currently before the courts.
Operation Écrevisse began in 2010 and has led to dozens of arrests, including Hells Angels members, as part of an investigation into a drug trafficking ring.