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Friday, April 16, 1999N.B. judge fired for calling Acadians crooks
A New Brunswick Provincial Court judge who enraged the province's Acadian community when she labelled them dishonest and crooks was removed from the bench yesterday.
The provincial cabinet took the rare step after the Judicial Council of New Brunswick concluded that leaving Judge Jocelyne Moreau-Berube on the bench would "shock the conscience and shake the confidence of the public."
The seven-member council, chaired by Joseph Daigle, Chief Justice of New Brunswick, over-ruled a panel of three of its members, which had recommended that Judge Moreau-Berube be reprimanded and ordered to undertake sensitivity training.
"To gain the public's respect and confidence, courts of law must adhere to the highest standards of impartiality. It is fundamental to our system of justice that trials be fair and that they be seen to be fair," the council wrote in its unanimous report, dated last Friday.
Judge Moreau-Berube's impartiality was called into question during a Feb. 16, 1998, sentencing hearing in Tracadie-Sheila, on the Acadian peninsula.
"If a survey were taken in the Acadian peninsula, of the honest people as against the dishonest people, I have the impression that the dishonest people would win," she said. "In the area where I live, I wonder whether I'm not myself surrounded by crooks. . . . Look at the honest people in the peninsula, they are very few and far between, and they're becoming fewer and fewer."
After media published her remarks, there was an uproar and she apologized, stating that her words had exceeded her thoughts and she never doubted the honesty and integrity of the Acadian people. During a public hearing in March, her lawyer, Anne Bertrand, argued the 44-year-old jurist didn't even deserve a reprimand for a mistake she made under duress.
"Day after day, sitting on the bench, is not easy,'' Ms. Bertrand said at the time. "It's not easy to be a judge. That's why it's easy for someone to make a mistake.'' She said the judge had learned the day before the controversial sentencing that her mother was seriously ill and spent a sleepless night.
But the council concluded Judge Moreau-Berube crossed the line that bars judges from expressing personal beliefs or biases that could be seen to influence their decisions.
The council noted "the extreme seriousness and vehemence of the statements made by the judge, the fact that they attacked an entire community and went to the core of the sense of integrity and honour of its every member." Although the slur was spontaneous, it was not "completely without thought," it concluded.
An Acadian appearing before her could conclude he was not benefiting from the presumption of innocence because of the judge's opinions, it said.
Paul Bertrand, one of Judge Moreau-Berube's lawyers, said the decision came as a surprise and his client is not ready to comment. "We're going to sit down and have a look at it and look at the options," he said. "Obviously it's not news you'd like to hear."
It is extremely rare for a judge to be ordered off the bench in Canada. On Tuesday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Robert Flahiff resigned after being found guilty of laundering $1.7-million in drug money. He quit as the Canadian Judicial Council was about to force him to explain his actions. In 1996, Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean Bienvenue resigned after the Canadian Judicial Council recommended his dismissal for comments he made about Jews and women.
Under New Brunswick law, Judge Moreau-Berube had no chance to resign before the axe fell. Unlike recommendations of the Canadian Judicial Council, which must pass a vote in Parliament, recommendations of the New Brunswick Council are binding on the government.
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