Madam Speaker, I am here to talk about Bill C-9, an act to amend the Judges Act.
In the end, the Michel Girouard case was not even about whether Justice Girouard had purchased cocaine from his former client, a known drug dealer. The Canadian Judicial Council panel hearing the case found that there was not enough evidence on a balance of probability to find that the judge had been dealing in drugs.
There was a video recording, which, unfortunately for him, captured an exchange between him and his client, with money going one way and a package going the other. The judge said that exchange was not about drugs; it was about pornography. Clearly, this judge had a bad habit or maybe two bad habits, but I am willing to concede to the panel's finding that there was no drug dealing. In the end, it was the cover-up that torpedoed this judge's short time on the bench.
The panel's report reads, “[He] deliberately and intentionally attempted to conceal the truth during the hearing.” After that, they recommended his removal. However, Judge Michel Girouard of the Quebec Superior Court was a very good judge. He was certainly a very smart judge. He was a very competent lawyer too. He had a good track record as trial counsel, and he knew his way through the legal court system probably better than anybody did. He used the experience he attained during his career as a lawyer to his full advantage.
Here is a short history. In 2010, he was appointed to the court. In 2012, there was a complaint launched against him relating to drug dealing. In 2014, the Canadian Judicial Council undertook a full investigation, and at the end of that, it recommended his removal to the minister of justice at the time.
I will give a brief explanation of how the Canadian Judicial Council works.
It is a body of judges that is appointed pursuant to the provisions of the Judges Act to review judges' complaints against judges. This is judges judging judges. The idea behind the structure, as with all administrative bodies, is to take specialized cases out of the regular court system. The idea is to be more fair, more transparent and more efficient.
Generally, this works, but it can be abused, as it was in the Girouard case. That case was dragged through the Canadian Judicial Council appeal processes and then through the court system under judicial review procedures. All of these tools were available to Justice Girouard under the governing legislation, the Judges Act, which we are reviewing today. Along the way, he found some courts that were actually sympathetic to his position. The case went back and forth, and it finally ended up at the doors of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2019, which refused to hear the appeal.
The end of the story is that Justice Girouard resigned, mercifully for all of us, but not until after eight years of dragging the case through the court system while he had full pay, even though he did not have to show up for work. His pension also accrued during that time.
Although the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear this case, the chief justice had this to say, not specifically about this case but generally: “If the judge has to be removed, he has to be removed quickly and without too much cost to society. We need reforms. Parliament should find a way to make sure that these matters don’t drag for too long and aren't too expensive.”
That is why we are here today to review Bill C-9, an act to amend the Judges Act. I do not want to leave the impression that Bill C-9 is Parliament's response to the Girouard case. It is not. I took up that case only because it is high profile and a good example. It illustrates why reform is necessary.
The Canadian Judicial Council is busy with many files. It oversees the work of almost 1,200 federally appointed judges. The vast majority of those judges are very competent, fair, judicious, respectful of the people who appear before them and respected by their profession and in their communities. The CJC's judicial conduct oversight role is part of its general mandate to keep the judicial system efficient, uniform and accountable, and in large part, it does that work effectively.
I do not want to get into the details of Bill C-9; we do not have time for that. A general overview is that it expedites the inquiry process and simplifies it, while also keeping it fair to judges. It also aims to secure the public's confidence in our court system. Importantly, it keeps cases out of the court system.
The council's recommendation to the Minister of Justice will be the final decision, except in the case of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. That is a faint hope because most applications for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court are turned down, as in the Girouard case. It did not make the cut. Most cases coming out of the Canadian Judicial Council, I am sure, would not make the cut to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Not everyone is going to be happy with that. In the Girouard case, for example, which made it to the federal trial court in its long and winding history of eight years, the judge had something to say in response to the Canadian Judicial Council's arguments that only the council had any jurisdiction over the oversight of judges and that the Federal Court had no jurisdiction at all. This is what the federal trial judge said:
It is undeniable that a report recommending the removal of a judge has a serious impact on that judge, professionally and personally, and on his or her family. It is inconceivable that a single body, with no independent supervision and beyond the reach of all judicial review, may decide a person's fate on its own.
If the judge who wrote that paragraph were sitting here today, he would be voting against Bill C-9.
At committee, as stated earlier in debate with the Minister of Justice, the Conservative members of the justice committee put forward a common-sense motion to amend Bill C-9 to allow for an automatic right of appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal. This is not to a trial court, where things could get bogged down, but directly to the Federal Court of Appeal. Unfortunately, the other members of the committee voted against that.
All that said, despite that flaw, which I think is significant, this legislation is good and sound. It stands in line with other judicial reform legislation of recent years and we support it.