On June 20, 2007, Claude Provost, a Court of Quebec judge, was presiding over a preliminary inquiry in a case involving assault charges against a police officer. During the hearing, Provost said he didn’t believe the testimony he had previously heard from the complainants. One of the complainants, Roland Plante, stood up and addressed the judge without being asked and thanked him in what the judge considered a sarcastic tone.
Provost had Plante taken into custody but did not cite him for contempt and released him at the end of the hearing. Plante filed a complaint with the Conseil de la magistrature du Québec and an inquiry committee was established. The committee found that the judicial code of ethics had been violated and therefore allowed Plante’s application.
The Conseil reprimanded the judge based on the committee’s findings. Provost filed a motion for judicial review at the Quebec Superior Court alleging his judicial independence had been breached. The Superior Court dismissed the motion for judicial review and on Oct. 21, 2009, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld that decision.
François Grondin, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, represented Provost. He says the case questioned the boundaries of power that judges have in the courtroom. “I will readily admit that sometimes the boundaries are difficult to identify clearly, but we felt that this was a case where [Provost] was acting in accordance with recognized legal powers and which powers are designed exactly to deal with those exceptional situations,” he tells Legal Feeds.
“I thought it would have been a good occasion for the Supreme Court to sort of clarify . . . which boundaries are not clear and not agreed by all the provincial judicial councils,” he adds.
According to Grondin, several judges he spoke to about the issue asked: “If we cannot discipline our courts, who will?”
He proposes a happy medium. “I’m certainly not suggesting that judicial independence can protect judges from doing anything [or] from saying whatever they feel like.”
However, “there’s not one model judge for all judges,” he says. “You also have to respect their individuality and differences in personality and respect their discretion and judgment.”