Accounting Court of Quebec Quebec Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms Quebec Human Rights Tribunal

News roundup: On crucifixes, missing judges and spying

The City of Saguenay and Mayor Jean Tremblay has been ordered to pay $30,000 in moral and punitive damages by a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to a citizen for discriminating against his freedom of religion and conscience. The City and the mayor were also ordered to remove a crucifix and a Sacred Heart statue from city council meetings as well as to stop reciting a prayer before each city council meeting.

“By reciting a prayer and displaying religious symbols in a hall where all citizens are invited to participate in the life of a democratic municipality, the Mayor and the City of Saguenay did not respect its obligation to remain neutral,” said the Tribunal.

In spite of the ruling, it appears that Quebec’s National Assembly will not follow suit. A crucifix placed over the Speaker’s chair will stay put.

This is not the first time that Mayor Jean Tremblay lost an expensive court battle. In 2009, in a ruling that harshly castigates the mayor for providing testimony akin to science fiction, Quebec Superior Court condemned the city and the mayor to pay nearly $600,000, plus interest and legal costs, to the city manager for wrongful dismissal.

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Quebec crown prosecutors and government lawyers have long complained about being woefully understaffed. Now Court of Quebec judges have joined the chorus. The criminal section of the provincial court in Montreal is apparently in dire straits. Out of its roster of 32 judges, five have retired, one passed away, one is ill and one was nominated to Quebec Superior Court — and none have been replaced. All of which has led to lengthy court delays, said Justice Ruth Veillet, the Court of Quebec coordinating judge for the Montreal region. She has gone so far to wonder “whether if we are going to free people who have committed serious crimes?”

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Surreal, almost akin to a novel by John Le Carré. It appears that the City of Montreal conducted a ten-month long investigation against a public servant who has become its nemesis – the city auditor. City comptroller general Pierre Reid allegedly led the operation, and investigators ostensibly even examined confidential e-mails, apparently including  e-mails between clients and lawyers, which is supposed to be protected by client-sollicitor privelage, according to a report by Montreal newspaper La Presse.

“By its length and magnitude, this intrusion, or this interference, are akin to systematic espionage and a real fishing expedition that were clearly meant to build a case against the auditor general,” city auditor Jacques Bergeron wrote in a three-page letter to members of city council.

Quebec Municipal Affairs Minister Laurent Lessard publicly rebuked the city, pointing out that “the auditor must have a free hand. He’s there to audit the administration and not to be audited by the administration.”

Gilles Ouimet, the head of Quebec’s legal society, told me today that even if the allegations are true (which he described as disturbing), there is little that the Barreau du Quebec would be able to do.

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