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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Sitting In Judgement

"I don't know if it's the same in the big cities. I would often go to a client's office."
Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Girouard
Francis Vachon for National Post
Francis Vachon for National Post   Michel Girouard leaves the court house in Quebec City Monday May 4, 2015. Two weeks before Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Girouard was named to the bench in 2010, a security camera recorded him allegedly buying illicit drugs in the back office of a video store.
"The review concerns his conduct prior to his appointment to the Bench and includes an allegation that the judge would have participated in a transaction to purchase an illicit substance from a police informant. This is only an allegation: no facts have been established in this matter."
Norman Sabourin, executive director, senior general counsel, Canadian Judicial Council

Before his appointment to the bench to sit on Quebec's Superior Court, Justice Girouard practised law in the city of Val d'Or. No one might have suspected that someone in such a trusted and honoured position as this man would ever be dragged into an investigation on the drug trade in the province. But he was, and his illegal activity was discovered through an accidental finding while provincial police were conducting an investigation.

Informants did the justice a huge disfavour by identifying him as an illicit-drug client. That information came to the attention of Quebec's chief justice who then filed a complaint against Justice Girouard in 2012, with the Canadian Judicial Council. A document summarizing the allegations cites four separate sources claiming the justice to have been a frequent cocaine consumer in the late
1980s and early '90s.

Clearly, this is a most inconvenient discovery, that a Superior Court Justice who will sit in judgement on those breaking the law, and often enough laws relating to illegal drug possession and use,  and drug trafficking in general, has been in the past -- and perhaps to the present time -- a frequent illegal drug user. Who would be prepared to place their trust in such a man?

Justice Girouard is facing trial today in Quebec, not because he may once have erred decades ago and since managed to reform himself getting his life back on track, but because the evidence that is being brought before the court appears to paint him as a frequent user/abuser of cocaine. Independent counsel Marie Cossette, conducted a lesson  in cocaine potency and saleability for the edification of the uninitiated.

"For the neophyte among us who are not users, what are the different bags?" she prodded a police officer, relating to the samples of drug-filled baggies displayed via a photograph. Three of the initial charges brought against Justice Girouard have been withdrawn, but if this trial gives proof of what Justice Girouard denies, that he has been a frequent cocaine user, he will be removed from the Bench.

Five counts were brought to bear against the man relating to the purchase and regular use of cocaine while he practised as a lawyer. Provincial police had seized the cocaine-filled baggies in October of 2010 as part of a major operation targeting organized crime in the Abitibi region of Quebec, where Val d'Or is located.

A panel comprised of the chief justice of Manitoba, chief justice of the Federal Court and a New Brunswick lawyer, took exception when lawyer Marie Cossette referred to Justice Girouard, as "Mr. Girouard", taking pains to remind her that he must be referred to, respectfully, as "Judge Girouard", and they themselves deferred to Justice Girouard's esteemed position on the Bench.

A video was to be shown in court, one that depicts a damning exchange between Justice Girouard and a man operating an illegal drug dispensary out of his video store. A Surete du Quebec sergeant-supervisor had viewed the video and "concluded with certainty that this was a usual drug transaction between the two men seen on the recording".

Whereas Justice Girouard insisted in his defence that he was merely visiting with a client whom he was representing at the time, as a lawyer. And he stated his expectation that this being the case, lawyer-client privilege is involved and images from meetings with clients must remain private. Should images of his meeting with drug dealers or pedophiles throughout the course of his work become public, his reputation would be damaged.

The video, according to Justice Girouard's lawyers, should be inadmissible since it represents unlawful surveillance, seized when police raided the video store in 2010, with an investigator discovering Justice Girouard on the video a year later. To introduce the video as evidence "would violate the fundamental rights of Judge Girouard", claimed the lawyer, unfairly tarnishing the reputation of a man who had led "an exemplary, unblemished career."

Defending the indefensible; it's all in the family, and shameful family secrets must be screened and defended from public outrage; they needn't bother, the public has seen it all, and more. And this represents yet another instance where professionals line up in support of others of their profession at a time when they should be demanding honesty and decency of those sitting in judgement of the great unwashed.

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