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The Honorable Lyse Lemieux studied law at the University of Montreal and was admitted to the Bar of Quebec in 1962. She held a variety of positions in the provincial government, becoming a specialist in expropriation. Lemieux was appointed a justice of the Superior Court of Quebec in 1978 and in 1994 was named an Associate Chief Justice. In 1996, she became the first woman to ever hold the office of Chief Justice in the Province of Quebec.
Lyse Lemieux was arrested on August 5, 2004 after her vehicle careened wildly off the road and smashed into a road grader parked on the side of a Montreal expressway. Police charged her with driving while under the influence after testing revealed her blood-alcohol level at double the legal limit. Later, when asked about the incident, Lemieux dismissed it as an "extremely unfortunate event", but pressure in the two weeks after her arrest mounted to the point where she finally submitted her resignation.
The incident involving her operation of a motor vehicle was not the first for the chief justice. In 2001 Lemieux had her driver's licence suspended for three months after she passed a stopped school bus. Passing a school bus unloading children with its warning signals flashing is serious and reckless behaviour. At the time of her infraction, the chief justice was apparently never required to take a Breathalyzer test for drunkenness, a police decision that drew severe criticism. Despite the seriousness of her actions, Lemieux has never admitted to having an alcohol problem that some observers of her work on the bench say could go back many years.
As part of the Canadian order of precedence, her position as chief justice of the Superior Court of Quebec is part of the symbolic hierarchy of important positions within the Government of Canada. However, Lemieux's history on the bench has had more than its share of controversy, including her August 1996 appointment to the high office in the Quebec judiciary. Although appointed by the prime minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, the appointment was made from a name put forth by the premier of Quebec, who at the time was the separatist Lucien Bouchard. In the Parliament of Canada, Gilles Duceppe, the interim leader of the separatist Bloc Québécois party, was the only party leader to applaud the announcement of Lemieux's appointment.
As chief justice, in 1998 Lemieux gave a lecture on ethics and professional behaviour in conformity with certain moral standards at a Canadian Bar Association function. Throughout her time as chief justice, Lemieux often portrayed self-righteous indignation towards others, evidenced through several widely publicized condemnations by her of the behaviour of others. As far back as the early 1980s when she was a relatively new appointee to the bench, certain of her rulings led to expressions of concern by some as to her judgement and political ideology. Given the current revelations of her alcohol abuse and lack of judgement in getting behind the wheel when allegedly drunk, questions are being asked as to whether alcohol has been an ongoing problem over an extended period and the effects that could have had on her decision-making abilities.
Although charges of alcohol abuse against a chief justice is an unusual event, alcoholic judges working in Canadian courts are not unheard of and were talked about by author Wendy Dennis in her widely discussed magazine article and best-selling book titled The Divorce from Hell . However, in one instance, Lemieux granted the request for a divorce proceeding in Quebec court by a French-Canadian applicant who had already been divorced by her English-speaking husband in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Without the woman's spouse present in her court, but with a copy of the divorce decree in her hands, in defiance of the Divorce Act of Canada Lemieux ordered the husband to undergo a second divorce proceeding in Quebec court that eventually led to a multi-million dollar lawsuit for damages.
In March of 2000 Lemieux removed Judge Jean-Jacques Croteau from a case after Croteau ruled that the Parti Québécois government (the same one that had had Lemieux appointed) had "openly and continually violated" Cree Nation rights under the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement . Lemieux removed Croteau as the judge in the $500-million lawsuit that had been brought by the Cree Nation of northern Quebec in 1998 over logging rights on their territory. Cree Nation leaders were infuriated by Lemieux's action and James O’Reilly, a lawyer for the Cree, was quoted as saying that he was stunned at what he termed an "incredible" step for a chief justice to take.
In April of 2001, Chief Justice Lemieux launched a scathing attack on Stockwell Day, the then Federal leader of the official Opposition and head of the Canadian Alliance party. Stockwell Day made allegations that a Quebec judge might not have been impartial when he authorized a warrant that allowed police to search the home and offices of Francois Beaudoin , the former president of the Business Development Bank of Canada. In this court case, the search warrant issued by the Judge that Stockwell Day complained about, was in fact revoked. Francois Beaudoin was eventually awarded damages that will cost Canadian taxpayers several million dollars and in his verdict, the judge harshly denounced the Business Development Bank and others for trying to discredit Mr. Beaudoin with fabricated civil and criminal allegations of fraud after they forced him out of his job.
Following the announcement of her resignation as Chief Justice, Lyse Lemieux attempted to salvage her reputation, stating she was quitting to preserve the integrity of the court. "All citizens are equal before the law and I am taking my responsibilities," the disgraced Chief Justice said.
Lyse Lemieux had been scheduled to appear in court on November 10, 2004 but, unknown to the press, she arranged to file a guilty plea a week earlier. By so doing, her change of date allowed her to avoid the media. The former Chief Justice had her driving privileges suspended for three months In a deal arranged with the prosecutors, the second charge of having a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. The former Chief Justice had her driving privileges suspended for three months.
As reported by the CBC, Lemieux will receive a federal government pension for retiring judges of roughly $160,000 per year for the rest of her life.
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