Quebec's top court rejects Lise Thibault appeal; 18-month prison term stands
Former Quebec lieutenant governor Lise Thibault is escorted by agents, leaving the courtroom after receiving an 18-month prison sentence at the courthouse in Quebec City, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. (Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 24, 2016 10:51AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 24, 2016 5:17PM EST
Quebec's top court has rejected an appeal by ex-lieutenant-governor Lise Thibault for a lighter sentence on her fraud conviction.
Thibault, 76, was sentenced last fall to 18 months in jail for fraud and breach of trust.
Her lawyer, Marc Labelle, said she should be allowed to serve the time in the community, while the Crown wanted permission to appeal the sentence to have it extended to four years.
On Wednesday, the Quebec Court of Appeal rejected both arguments.
Thibault pleaded guilty in December 2014 after a 2007 report by the federal and provincial auditors general revealed she claimed more than $700,000 in improper expenses when she held the vice-regal post between 1997 and 2007.
She spent the money on various activities, including family outings, parties, a trip to a sugar shack and golf and ski trips.
Thibault had 24 hours from Wednesday morning's ruling to enter a Quebec City detention centre.
Labelle said it is too early to say whether he will take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. He has 30 days to make the decision.
The defence lawyer invoked several arguments in his appeal of the 18-month term, including his belief that the trial judge, Carol St-Cyr, should have taken into greater consideration how much negative media attention Thibault received before and during her trial.
Justice Jacques J. Levesque, writing on behalf of a three-member appeals court panel, said it was normal the case was closely followed.
"She (Thibault) wanted to be seen as the Queen's representative in Quebec and benefit from that aura," Levesque said. "As such, it is not surprising that the charges against her, which were linked to her time in that position, were the subject of hyper media coverage."
Labelle also said Thibault's case was unique, partly because of her age, her confinement to a wheelchair and her health problems, which include anxiety attacks.
Levesque noted, however, that St-Cyr didn't believe Thibault's fragile health should be taken into account in considering the sentence.
"It is understandable that, given the limited evidence presented on this matter, that the defendant's health and handicap could not constitute for the judge a determining factor in handing down a suspended sentence," Levesque said.
Labelle also argued St-Cyr should not have put the emphasis on making an example of Thibault strictly because of what the judge called her "prestigious" position.
The appeals court disagreed.
"The defendant has not convinced me that the judge made a mistake in his appreciation of the situation and of the criterion dealing with the exemplary nature of the sentence," he wrote.
Prosecutor Marcel Guimont had been seeking permission to appeal the 18-month sentence to have it extended to four years due to the severity of the offences and the degree of premeditation.
But the appeals court dismissed that motion, with Levesque saying he believed the appeal "would be doomed to fail" because the lower-court judge had the right to decide the sentence.
Thibault spent six nights in prison after being sentenced but was then freed.
St-Cyr called her behaviour "highly reprehensible" and part of a "culture of deceit." Thibault was also ordered to pay back $200,000 to the federal government and $100,000 to Quebec.