There is no place for mean-spirited judges in Canadian courts, but regretfully a few slip through the vigorous screening process and become tyrants in an institution where they preside as untouchables.
Mr. Justice Jean-Guy Boilard, of the Quebec Superior Court, is a case in point. A former crown prosecutor, he was appointed to the Quebec court in 1977, beginning a career steeped in controversy. Boilard retired in 2012 but not before leaving a legacy of arrogant, pompous, and derisive in-court commentary attacking the lawyers who had the misfortune of drawing him as their judge. His behavior was so loathsome that Crown Attorneys in Quebec circulated a petition urging their colleagues to sign on, in an attempt to avoid Boilard’s courtroom.
In 2001 Judge Boilard was conducting a trial involving seventeen members of the Hell’s Angels when, in the words of the Canadian Judicial Council, he was “insulting and unjustifiably derogatory…displaying a flagrant lack of respect” for defence counsel, Gilles Dore. Boilard chastised Mr. Dore saying “an insolent lawyer is rarely of use to his client” and also criticized Dore’s “bombastic rhetoric and hyperbole” and dismissed his “ridiculous” argument.
After the hearing, Gilles Dore delivered a scathing letter to Judge Boilard calling him “a coward…pendantic…aggressive…petty…arrogant…unjust…that he was of dubious legal acumen” and made “shameful, ugly, vulgar and mean personal attacks on the unsuspecting”.
Boilard removed himself from the motorcycle gang trial while Mr. Dore was left to respond to a complaint to the Barreau du Quebec, who ultimately found his letter was “likely to offend and was rude and insulting”. Dore was suspended from practice for 21 days, a ruling that was upheld by three other courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada in 2012.
In an inquiry to determine if Justice Boilard’s unilateral departure from the criminal trial was worthy of his removal from the bench, the Canadian Judicial Council ruled it was improper but not so serious that public confidence in the judicial system was undermined. This finding was made in the face of evidence that Judge Boilard’s withdrawal took place four months into the trial and was recommenced at great expense by a new judge.
However, the final blow to Judge Boilard’s reputation was the finding of the Quebec Superior Court this month that his abrasive, insulting behavior directed at criminal defence lawyer Elise Pinsonnault so profoundly compromised the 2011 jury trial of Sebastian Hebert, who was convicted of first-degree murder, that a new trial was ordered. Judge Boilard’s insulting comments included the following exchanges with Ms. Pinsonnault:
Boilard: “It would probably be a good thing if Ms. Pinsonnault listened to us.”
Pinsonnault: “I am sorry your Honour…I can do two things at the same time.”
Boilard: “That’s what women are doing all the time. It does not mean that it is always done well.”
Boilard: “What is it you want to introduce?”
Pinsonnault: “Some photos!”
Boilard: I’m not asking you to be hysterical. I’m simply asking you to answer me.”
Boilard: “Listen here, there is a limit to amateurism, isn’t there?”
Boilard: “I am not in the habit of responding to lawyers’ questions. Nor am I in the habit of polishing their education in criminal law.”
Despite the emotional rollercoaster for the victim’s family and the expense and inconvenience, a new trial was required said Chief Justice Hesler:
“Such animosity, such contempt on the part of the presiding judge, so flagrant and repeated to the appellant’s lawyer, leads me to believe that the fairness of the trial was in all probability compromised.”
It is staggering to think that Mr. Justice Boilard spent 35 years on the bench mired in anger and hostility and not one person stopped him.