Drama at the Quebec Bar Association: Bencher Suspended After Shoplifting Allegations

On July 3, 2015, Quebec lawyers found out that the recently elected (63% of votes) bencher of the Quebec Bar Association, Me Lu Chan Khuong, was suspended with pay from her duties by the board of directors of said association.

The bencher/bâtonnière is the president of the Quebec Bar Association. She is the overseer of the affairs of the Bar and is president of office of several of these decision-making bodies, including the board of directors. She is elected by the members of the Bar and is answerable to them.

The suspension stems from allegations released to the press that in 2014, while she was the vice-president of the Bar Association, she was involved in a shoplifting incident where she stole two pairs of jeans worth $455. Criminal charges were never laid. In the piece in La Presse, Khuong said she was not guilty of the offence, that the Crown decided to deal with the case non-judicially, and that she went along with the process to “in order to avoid media attention and wasting time in court.”

The Quebec Ministry of Justice, describes the non-judicial process as a means of “of dealing with certain offences in a particular way so as to better rationalize the use of resources allocated to the judicial system and not to unduly stigmatize the misconduct of an offender whose behaviour does not warrant judicial action.”

At first, when Khuong did not deny what was reported in La Presse, the board held a special meeting requesting her resignation. She refused to resign and the board proceeded to suspend her.

Lise Tremblay, CEO of the Quebec Bar stated:

“The bar took into consideration that the bâtonnière has to be irreproachable, because she is representing justice; her duty is to protect the public.”

“She has to support the administration of justice. No grey zone can be tolerated.”

Khuong is contesting her suspension.

The decision to suspend Khuong wasn’t easy, said Tremblay, adding the board will meet again late next week to decide on its next course of action.

Quebec lawyers are divided on the issue and are wondering why Khuong’s criminal case was dealt in this particular way. There are additional concerns of impropriety since she is married to the former Quebec Justice Minister Marc Bellemare.

In addition, many Quebec lawyers are questioning the authority of the board to suspend the head of Quebec Bar since she is an elected representative. They argue that neither the Quebec Civil Code, the Loi sur le Barreau nor the Code des professions allows the “suspension” of a member of a board of directors of a corporation by the other board members. In their opinion the board should have filed a motion to the court as in other cases where there is a conflict between board members.

Several regional benchers and their respective associations have filed resolutions from their board asking for the reinstatement of Khuong, and some are calling for sanctions against the board and its members.

Regardless of whether the board of directors had the right to suspend Khuong, I wonder how Quebec lawyers will be able to trust that their elected president will be able to serve their interests—and how Khuong believes she will be able to continue serving the role of bâtonnière with a cloud of doubt hanging over her head.

She surely can’t regain public trust without coming absolutely clean about her involvement in the alleged activities. But on the other hand, it’s clear that the public may trust her less if all the details are revealed.

What do you think?

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