A Quebec judge is facing intense criticism and calls for a conduct review after granting a conditional discharge to a man who pleaded guilty to sexual assault — and citing concerns about the man’s career.
Matthieu Poliquin was appointed to the provincial court of Quebec last year by the province’s justice minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, and is now under fire for saying in his sentencing decision that a criminal record would “have a significant impact” on the engineering career of Simon Houle.
Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa, said conditional discharges in sexual assault cases have become more rare in Canadian law over recent years.
“I would say that it is an exceptionally uncommon thing,” he said.
“Especially in the last five years, they’re few and far between.”
Spratt said the directions issued in rulings from courts of appeal as well as the Supreme Court of Canada have emphasized over recent years that sexual assault sentences should be serious, even for first-time offenders, because of the deeply pernicious impact the crimes have on individuals and society.
And while he said the use of the conditional discharge in the current case appears “exceptional and a bit shocking,” Spratt stressed the appropriate channel for challenging any concerns about the basis for the ruling is the Quebec court of appeal.
“We’ve seen this sort of backlash in other cases. It is hard because we don’t have all the same facts that the judge has,” he said.
Spratt emphasized that there are established paths in place in the justice system to challenge rulings, which reflect the general reality that “judges can and do make mistakes.”
“That’s why we have courts of appeal, and it’s right for the public to disagree with the decision, to voice displeasure with the decision. But we have to be very careful that we don’t overly criticize or call for the removal of a judge that makes a mistake. The independence of the judiciary is very important.”
He continued: “The last thing we want to see is bringing politics onto the bench.”
Read Amanda Connolly’s full story: Global News