Judge accused of buying cocaine should stay on bench, says judicial watchdog

The Canadian Judicial Council has ignored the advice of its own in-house inquiry and recommended that a judge investigated for a suspected drug offence not be removed from office.

Minister of justice will review recommendation and decide if judge will return to work

Michel Girouard was accused of buying cocaine two weeks before his nomination as a judge. While an inquiry committee of the Canadian Judicial Council recommended he be sacked, the council itself has recommended he remain on the bench. (Radio-Canada)

The Canadian Judicial Council has ignored the advice of its own in-house inquiry and recommended that a judge investigated for a suspected drug offence not be removed from office.

The recommendation from the council to Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould seems sure to end more than three years of uncertainty for Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Girouard.

The council, a federal body tasked with improving the work of Canada's superior courts as well as reviewing allegations made against judges, was asked to launch an inquiry into Girouard in November 2012.

The allegations stem from a 2009 Sûreté du Québec investigation into drug trafficking in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, in which several violent crimes were committed.

At the time, Girouard was a lawyer and two of his clients were arrested, charged, tried, found guilty and imprisoned. One of the men, Yvon Lamontagne, who owned a video store, became a police informant in 2012.

Lamontagne told police that he sold about a kilogram of cocaine to Girouard in small amounts between 1987 and 1991. Video from his store appears to show an incident in 2010, two weeks before Girouard became a superior court judge, in which Girouard gives money to Lamontagne in exchange for something small Lamontagne passes across the table.

In this video presented in court, Justice Michel Girouard hands over a wad of bills to a now-convicted drug dealer in exchange for a small packet. 0:24

When François Rolland, then chief justice of the Superior Court of Quebec, was informed about the allegations and accompanying video evidence, he asked the council to conduct a review. Girouard was suspended with pay in January 2013 until the review process could be completed.

The council chose two judges and a lawyer to conduct the review and deliver their recommendations to the council for consideration.

Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton, lawyer Ronald Leblanc and Manitoba Chief Justice Richard Chartier reviewed the allegations and decided that none of the drug-related allegations could be proved.

Crampton and Leblanc decided that the cocaine-related allegations "on the balance of probabilities" could not be proven. Both, however, decided that the testimony Girouard gave in his own defence was not credible and for that reason alone he should be removed from the bench.

"A compromising of a judge's integrity through the giving [of] false and deceitful evidence before a committee of his peers undermines the integrity of the judicial system itself and strikes at the heart of the public's confidence in the judiciary," the report read. "Such conduct is most incompatible with the due execution of the office of judge, and weakens and undermines public confidence."

"If Justice Girouard were to continue as a judge of the Superior Court of Quebec, this would, in our opinion, undermine public confidence in the entire judicial system."

Dissenting opinion

Chartier's dissenting opinion, however, stated that he could not recommend the dismissal of a judge when he was not found to have committed the primary acts that had been alleged.

"In my humble opinion, in the present case, we cannot impose a consequence for a misconduct that was not part of the notice of allegations," Cartier said. "In my view, procedural fairness requires, if there is sufficient evidence of misconduct, that Justice Girouard be given an opportunity to respond to the issues raised by my colleagues."

The council received the report in November and today issued its recommendation to the minister of justice, essentially siding with Cartier's dissenting opinion. Wilson-Raybould will now have to make her own decision on the case.

"The minister thanks the Canadian Judicial Council for their work and she will be reviewing their report," said Michael Davis, a spokesman for the minister.

About the Author

Peter Zimonjic

Senior Writer

Peter Zimonjic has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the Author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.