Criminal law is a mixed bag area of ​​practice. Sometimes certain cases are particularly fascinating, both in law and in fact. Here is an example of a rather unusual case.

“Courts must forcefully denounce crimes committed by judicial officers, especially when they use their privileged position to achieve their ends[1]

Vaillancourt c. R., 2020 QCCA 1586

The facts

The appellant was a criminal lawyer at the time of the offenses. He was found guilty of trafficking narcotics to one of his clients. The transaction took place in the detention sector of ​​the Sorel-Tracy Courthouse and was caught on tape by surveillance cameras installed in accordance with a video surveillance warrant.

During the trial, Ms. Mongrain, the appellant’s wife, testified that she gave him the package, specifically mentioning that it contained narcotics. However, during his interrogation following his arrest, the appellant indicated that he was not told what was in the package.

In his defense, the appellant argued that he was unaware of the contents of the package and that he acted under duress following threats made by another of his clients. The trial judge dismissed his testimony and concluded that the appelant was aware of the contents of the transacted package. The appellant appeals against the conviction and against the overall sentence of 6 years imposed.

The judgment

Regarding the verdict, the appellant criticized the trial judge for not having taken into account certain contradictions in Ms. Mongrain’s testimony. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, indicating that even by completely excluding Ms. Mongrain’s testimony, the evidence still shows that the appellant was wilfully blind as to the contents of the package.

The appellant also criticized the trial judge for dismissing his request to cross-examine the depositor on the application for a warrant to allow video surveillance. In his affidavit, the depositor stated that the appellant had been found guilty by the Disciplinary Council of the Quebec Bar Association, without mentioning that he was subsequently acquitted on appeal before the Professions Tribunal. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and confirmed the decision of the trial judge to the effect that the reasons were amply sufficient to allow the issuance of the warrant, even disregarding the appellant’s conviction by the Disciplinary Council of the Quebec Bar Association.

Regarding the sentence, the Court of Appeal confirms the overall sentence of 6 years’ imprisonment imposed. It reiterates the principle that a Court of Appeal must show deference to the decision of the sentencing judge and emphasizes that the appellant benefited from very few mitigating factors and that it had to strongly denounce his behavior, which constituted a abuse of his status as an officer of justice. The Court of Appeal, however, agreed to remove the 111 days of preventive detention served by the appellant.

This judgment sends a clear message to the population and to judicial officers: the latter will not benefit from preferential treatment because of their status, on the contrary, they are subject to high standards of integrity.

1 Vaillancourt c. R., 2020 QCCA 1586, at para 71.

Published on 20/05/2021