Only weeks after taking office, the new bâtonnière of the Barreau du Québec has been suspended after a shoplifting incident she is alleged to have committed last year came to light.
The decision follows a special meeting Wednesday, when the Barreau’s board of directors voted unanimously to demand Lu Chan Khuong’s resignation. The meeting had been called as a result of [em][a href="http://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/justice-et-affaires-criminelles/actualites-judiciaires/201507/01/01-4882227-une-plainte-pour-vol-embarrasse-la-batonniere-du-quebec.php" target="_blank"]an article in
, in which the newspaper reported its discovery of a record of the shoplifting offence, which involved two pairs of jeans.
When Khuong refused to resign, the board responded by suspending her indefinitely.
The offence, according to La Presse, was treated non-judiciously by the Crown — a fact the Barreau says Khuong admits.
Quebec’s non-judicial program, according to the website of the province’s Ministry of Justice, is a way 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.”
Adding controversy to the affair, in its decision, the Barreau stated that some of the statements attributed to Khuong in the La Presse article were “worrying,” although it did not specify which.
In an initial interview with La Presse conducted as she had just begun her term as head of the Barreau, confronted with the provincial records in which her name appeared as part of a non-judicial case involving shoplifting, Khuong responded: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
When the question was raised again during the same interview, Khuong, according to the newspaper, said that no accusation had been made against her.
After that interview, Khuong contacted the Barreau to explain her situation. Another interview with La Presse followed, during which she told the newspaper she had left an outlet of Simons at Carrefour Laval with two pairs of unpaid-for jeans in April 2014, citing a lapse of attention. According to the paper, the total value of the jeans was around $455.
After she left the store, she said, a store employee asked her to accompany her to the office, telling her the police had been called. When a police officer arrived, Khuong told La Presse, “I didn’t make a statement” because the officer “didn’t ask me any questions.”
Khuong also told the newspaper the non-judicial process was something she chose “to avoid media attention and avoid wasting my time in court.”
According to the website of the Ministry of Justice, “the decision not to have the courts deal with an offence is a matter of prosecutorial discretion and is made by the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney” only once “it is has been determined that the wrongful act attributed to the offender constitutes an offence, that it can be proved and that no legal obstacle bars the prosecution.”
After receiving the complaint about Khuong, according to La Presse, Quebec’s Directeur des poursuites criminelles et penales chose to treat the case non-judiciously in June 2014.
In making its decision this week, the Barreau “took into consideration that the bâtonniere has to be unreproachable, because she is representing justice, she is representing protection of the public,” Lise Tremblay, CEO of the Barreau, told the CBC. “She has to support the administration of justice. No grey zone can be tolerated.”
The board of the Barreau will meet again late next week to decide on next steps.
Khuong could not be reached Friday to comment.