The Quebec justice system, in crisis following an acute shortage of court personnel and strained labour relations that has led to walkouts and strikes, may face even more serious judicial delays if the Court of Quebec follows through with plans to have judges of the Criminal Division sit every second day as of this fall.
Court of Quebec Chief Justice Lucie Rondeau informed Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette earlier this year that 160 provincial court judges who preside over criminal proceedings will curb the amount of days they sit, from two days out of three to one day out of two so that they can spend more time writing judgments and managing cases. The Chief Justice is calling for the appointment of 41 provincial court judges to attenuate judicial delays once the new work scheme is implemented.
The Quebec justice system, buckling under the weight of years of chronic underfinancing, is stricken by such a serious manpower shortage that hardly a day goes by without a trial, a preliminary inquiry or a sentence being delayed or postponed, an untenable situation that could lead to “significant harm” to the public and undermine faith towards judicial institutions, warn top legal officials.
The “catastrophic” situation is exacerbated by tense labour relations with a host of different legal actors and the Quebec government, with legal aid lawyers recently launching half-day strikes, private sector lawyers who take on legal aid mandates now refusing to accept cases dealing with sexual and intimate partner violence, and court clerks launching walkouts that may metamorphose into a strike.
“The situation is at a minimum very troubling,” remarked Catherine Claveau, head of the Quebec Bar. “The system has reached its limits. At the moment, there are very real risks of breakdowns or disruptions of services that could cause significant harm to citizens and generate a great deal of insecurity towards judicial institutions.”
Former Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice Jacques Fournier is just as concerned by the turn of events, asserting that parts of the justice system is in the midst of cracking, a state of affairs that will unlikely improve with an ageing workforce progressively retiring – unless more monies are poured into the justice system.
“It’s very, very worrisome, very worrisome, because it’s not going to get better,” said Justice Fournier, who along with the chief justices of the Court of Quebec and the Quebec Court of Appeal wrote a letter to the Quebec government last year entreating it to boost the salaries of their judicial assistants. “To be satisfied with justice that is delivered in twelve, fifteen or eighteen months is not ideal. In my opinion, justice should be rendered almost in real time. It will take major investments to modernize, but modernizing in terms of access and in terms of speed of execution.”
McGill law professors, hoping to gain greater faculty autonomy while seeking the security of a collective bargaining framework and a collective agreement, are attempting to unionize at the faculty level, a first for professors in the university’s 200-year history.
The Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) petitioned the Quebec Administrative Labour Tribunal to be recognized under the Quebec Labour Code in late November 2021 shortly after the university adopted a controversial COVID-19 vaccination policy, a position that proved to be the “bale of hay that broke the camel’s back,” said Evan Fox-Decent, AMPL’s interim president. A supermajority of the 51 McGill law professors have signed membership cards to allow the AMPL to act as their exclusive bargaining agent. The overwhelming majority of Canadian professors are unionized, with less than a handful not represented by a certified bargaining unit.
“The university is becoming more McGill incorporated than McGill University in recent years,” remarked Fox-Decent, Canada Research Chair in Cosmopolitan Law and Justice. “What really drove the point home to us about how precarious our situation is, was when we were told we were going back to teach in fall, of course we were under a new wave of COVID-19 that was starting up. That was as much as anything what put people on edge and made the majority of the faculty think that we just had to sort of take control over our own house.”
Professional services firms that have mandatory retirement policies and provisions that require partners to divest their ownership shares solely on the basis of age are discriminatory and in breach of the Quebec Charter of human rights and freedoms held Quebec Superior Court in a ruling that has the legal community buzzing over its implications.
In a case that pitted a Montreal municipal and labour and employment law firm against its founder, the decision by Quebec Superior Court Justice Stéphane Lacoste is expected to have wider repercussions than the thorny issue of mandatory retirement, according to legal observers. Following the decision in DHC Avocats inc. c. Dufresne, 2022 QCCS 58, typical arrangements made by professional services firms in succession planning such as “unpartnering” or changing the status of their senior partners while still allowing them to work in the firm may be called into question, added legal experts. Continue reading “Mandatory retirement clauses breach Quebec Charter, rules court”
A Quebec notary with drug problems and in financial straits was found guilty of misappropriating more than $50,000 from a client by a disciplinary committee, the eighth case heard by disciplinary councils over the past year dealing with pilfering by legal professionals, something that has been described as the profession’s dirty little secret.
Daniel Girouard, who was admitted to the Chambre des notaires in 1986, was found guilty of breaching articles 1, 13, and 56 (7) of the Code of ethics of notaries — of failing to act with dignity, abiding by the strictest rules of integrity, and misappropriation. Girouard misappropriated $59,250 held in his trust account, and used it to pay his drug debts.
In an email to an investigator, Girouard said:
“I know anyway that I will be struck off. I am addressing you in order to minimise the misery of the parties in this case. As for the consequences for me vis-à-vis the Chamber and the tax authorities, I take responsibility.”
The disciplinary committee will determine his sanction at a later date. But it’s moot. Girouard has resigned.
The victim was reimbursed by the professional corporation’s indemnity fund.
Barely two weeks after the Quebec Justice Minister and the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec publicly clashed over competing visions on how to deal with conjugal and sexual violence, a judicial compensation committee released a report recommending sizeable salary increases for the provincial judiciary, laying the groundwork for even further friction between the executive and the judiciary.
A five-member blue-ribbon panel (pdf) of legal and financial experts recommended boosting the renumeration of Court of Quebec judges from the current $255,000 to $310,000 by July 2022, which would make them the third best paid provincially appointed judges, behind Ontario and Saskatchewan. The independent committee would have recommended a more significant increase “had it not been for the uncertainty created by the pandemic” on Quebec’ economy and public finances.
An unusually public clash between the Quebec Justice Minister and the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec has materialized over competing visions on how to deal with conjugal and sexual violence cases, with little signs of abating.
The simmering skirmish between the executive and the judiciary erupted in the open shortly after Chief Justice Lucie Rondeau announced on Sept 28th the creation of a new division within the Court of Quebec to deal with conjugal and sexual violence offences, two weeks after the Quebec government tabled a bill that would move away from the traditional criminal justice framework to deal with gender-based violence and create a “specialized” court to deal with these offences.