National Post

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Friday, July 30, 1999

Off-the-cuff judge who insulted Acadians reinstated after ruling

Anne Marie Owens
National Post, with files from Elena Cherney

A New Brunswick provincial court judge who was removed from the bench for calling Acadian people dishonest has been given her job back by a court ruling that says judges must feel free to make off-the-cuff remarks.

The ruling, which was made public yesterday, said a judge "must be free to express the motives for their decisions without fear," and refers to another decision that says "neither should a judge about to pass sentence have to choose his words so carefully that he must ask himself: 'If I say this, shall I lose my job?'"

Justice J.C. Angers, of the Court of Queen's Bench, said the crux of the issue was "thoughtless or facetious remarks which a judge allows to slide from her lips in a momentary impulse."

Judge Jocelyne Moreau-Berube said during a sentencing hearing that if a poll was taken on the Acadian peninsula, it would find more dishonest people than honest ones. She also wondered aloud if her own neighbourhood in the French-speaking region was populated by crooks.

She issued an apology a few days later, but the comments drew a series of complaints to the New Brunswick Judicial Council.

The council removed her from the bench in April.

The Court of Queen's Bench has overturned that decision, saying the council overstepped its jurisdiction because the judge was not adequately advised of the possibility of dismissal. The court also stressed that the judge never intended to hurt anyone with remarks that were made carelessly rather than with any great thought or feeling.

The judgment appears to grant a great deal of leeway in the cases of judges who have been chastised for putting their feet in their mouths, such as that of Alberta Justice John McClung, whose ruling in a no-means-no sexual assault case escalated into a rare public judicial battle after he said the victim did not present herself "in a bonnet and crinolines."

Judge Moreau-Berube, a 44-year-old who has served on the bench for about three years, was awarded court costs of $1,500 and will start receiving her judicial salary again, although it is not known yet whether she will resume her court schedule.

Bradley Green, New Brunswick's Justice Minister, said the province will make a decision in the next few days about whether it will appeal the ruling.

"As a result of this decision, she is once again in technical terms a judge in New Brunswick, although she has not been assigned any duties," he said yesterday.

Paul Bertrand, the lawyer for Judge Moreau-Berube, said his client is obviously pleased with the ruling, although she will not be entirely happy until she finds out whether or not she will be re-assigned court cases.

"This is a woman who has been a prosecutor for most of her career, a judge for more than three years, who is anxious to get back to work," he said.

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