In an unlikely turn of events, a husband and wife may end up leading the Quebec Bar.
Lu Chan Khuong, the former president of the Quebec legal society who reluctantly resigned after a bitter and protracted fracas with the board of directors of the Barreau du Québec, recently announced that she is going to try her luck once again.
Now her husband, Marc Bellemare, plans to run for a position in the legal society’s Board of Directors. Bellemare, a former Quebec justice minister, is a controversial figure in legal circles. He has long questioned the logic behind Quebec’s no-fault auto insurance program, which he maintains rewards criminals while denying victims the right to sue for more compensation.
More notably, in 2010, Bellemare rocked the legal community when he alleged that the judicial appointment process in Quebec was tainted. He alleged that when he was justice minister he faced under undue pressure by provincial Liberal Party fundraisers, with the consent of former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, to appoint judges. Following the explosive allegations, a public inquiry headed by former Supreme Court of Justice Michel Bastarache was launched. The Bastarache commission made sweeping recommendations to address “several weaknesses” in the Quebec judicial selection and appointment process “vulnerable to all manner of interventions and influence” but dismissed Bellemare’s allegations.
Khuong herself is no stranger to controversy. Khuong, a prominent Quebec City lawyer who was elected president of the Barreau du Québec in May 2015 with 63 per cent of the vote, was suspended by the Quebec Bar’s board of directors two months later after confidential information was leaked to the media that she had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting two pairs of jeans in Montreal. Khuong, who maintains her innocence, was never charged. She formally stepped down in mid-September after a settlement agreement was reached with the Barreau and its board of directors that provided Khuong with “assurances” that her electoral program would still be considered, and where possible, put in place.
Now Khuong and Bellemare want to shake up the Barreau. They maintain that the Quebec Bar is a shadow of the institution it once was – an influential organization that promoted justice and that “vigorously” was involved in social debates. The couple castigate the Quebec Bar for its “anemic” stance following the landmark Jordan ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada. That decision criticizes the country’s legal system for its “culture of complacency” and sets out new rules for an accused’s right to be tried within a reasonable time frame. The Jordan decision laid down a ceiling of 30 months for matters before Superior Court cases to be completed. Provincial court trials should be completed within 18 months of charges being laid, but can be extended to 30 months if there is a preliminary inquiry. Khuong and Bellemare argue that the Quebec Bar should have been more forceful in pushing the Quebec government to adopt measures that would have addressed the growing problems following the Jordan ruling.
They also assert that the Barreau should have taken a public stance supporting Quebec government lawyers and notaries in a labour conflict that turned out to be the longest Canadian strike by public civil servants. “I am ashamed by my professional corporation,” told me Khuong. “I am ashamed by the way that justice was treated in 2016.”
The couple also deride the salary earned by the Quebec Bar’s president. Claudia Prémont, the bâtonnière, will earn a staggering $314,100 this year. They claim that Prémont ostensibly promised to reduce her salary by 39 per cent to $189,000.
“If people feel that justice is being handled correctly, if they feel that the dues members pay is fair, if they feel that the Barreau is being perfectly managed, then don’t vote for me,” said Khuong. “But if you want to modernize this institution, this Bar that has become archaic and outdated, then I am here. But I do not want to be elected with a mandate to maintain the status quo.”