Update on the Case of the Quebec Bar Association Suspended Bencher

This is an update regarding the Quebec Bar Association’s controversial suspension of its recently elected bencher, Me Lu Chan Khuong (see our past blog posts here and here). To summarize, the bar association’s board of directors suspended Khuong after it went public that in 2014 she had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting two pairs of jeans at a Simons store in Laval. Khuong sued the bar for $95,000 in damages and filed a safeguard order to be reinstated to her position as president of the bar.

Additional allegations surface

Now, the bar has countered with its own lawsuit demanding $90,000 and requesting documents from the Simons store. In addition, there are allegations of another shoplifting incident at a second Simons location near Quebec City.

An extraordinary general assembly of the Quebec Bar, requested by 138 members, on the topic of Khuong’s suspension was held on August 24, 2015. There were 991 lawyers out of 25,500 members present.

Majority favours reinstating Khuong, provincial investigation

Three resolutions were brought forth and dealt with at the assembly.

  1. The members requested that Khuong be reinstated in her position as president elect of the Bar Association. About 68.5 percent of the 991 lawyers present reaffirmed their confidence in Khuong and asked that the bar’s board of directors reconsider the decision that led to her suspension.
  2. The present members also voted in favour of demanding the Syndic du Barreau du Québec investigate the leaking of the confidential documents.
  3. The assembly also requested the minister of justice look into the same matter.

The board of directors left the meetings reassuring members that it will seriously consider the outcome of the resolutions.

The court sees things differently

However, in the meantime, on August 28, 2015, Quebec Superior Court Judge Michel Beaupré ruled on Khuong’s safeguard order seeking immediate reinstatement. Judge Beaupré decided it was not in the best interest of the bar association and its members that Khuong be reinstated to her position as president of the bar until the court can examine the whole case fully. In his ruling, Beaupré said that immediately reinstating Khuong, before her case is heard in court, would only create turmoil at the Quebec Bar.

Furthermore, Beaupré suspended the work of the bar association’s governance committee looking into the actions of the board of directors regarding the suspension until the civil case has been heard and judgement rendered.

Amid examinations and other motions, the final hearing on the case should resume October 7, 2015 and last six days.

The board agrees with the court’s recommendation

The board of directors met on August 27 and 31 and decided not to proceed to follow through on the August 24 resolution demanding the reinstatement of Khuong as president because of the pending legal action. However, the board accepted that the Syndic and the Minister of Justice should look into the matter if they so wish.

It seems some lawyers agree with that decision. CBC News announced that four former Quebec premiers, Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry, Daniel Johnson and Pierre-Marc Johnson—all lawyers—wrote a letter, ” imploring the Quebec Bar not to reinstate Lu Chan Khuong before the court proceedings are over.” According to the group:

“…reinstating Khuong would undermine the Bar’s credibility and its members’ dignity, and it would imperil the public’s trust in the institution.

Allowing the reinstatement of Khuong, even temporarily, would go against the very ethics and respect for the law that the bar is supposed to espouse.”

Ensuring good and effective functioning

On August 22, we heard in La Presse that the Quebec Minister of Justice has asked l’Office des professions to look into the affairs of the bar association to ensure in the eyes of the public that the drama that currently plagues the bar association will not impede its good and effective functioning. The office has mandated an observer to review the goings on and the board of directors of the bar association is working with him.

It is really a sad state of affairs.

In my opinion, the general assembly turnout may have been extraordinary, but it is not indicative of the voice of all members. I think the silence and non-participation of most members of the bar association speaks louder.

It is remarkable to me that the majority of members of the bar would not recognize the danger of reinstating Khuong as president until the court renders a decision. With so many questions about Khuong’s behaviour, how could anyone, let alone lawyers, trust the judgement and direction of the board until there are answers?

Judge Beaupre’s ruling was wise. Whether or not the board of directors was right to suspend Khuong, it is not in the bar’s best interest to reinstate her as president until the court releases its findings.

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