QUEBEC – After six nights behind bars, former Quebec lieutenant-governor Lise Thibault was freed Tuesday as a judge granted her lawyer permission to appeal her 18-month jail term.
Thibault pleaded guilty last December to fraud and breach of trust charges 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.
Tuesday’s ruling came after Marc Labelle told the judge his client’s case was unique, partly because she is 76, is confined to a wheelchair and has health problems, including anxiety attacks.
Labelle said the lower-court judge who imposed the sentence last week should have taken those factors into consideration.
He also argued Quebec court Judge Carol St-Cyr should not have put the emphasis on making an example of Thibault just because of her position as the Queen’s representative in the province between 1997 and 2007.
“The applicant has convinced me there are arguments to justify the court looking at them on their merits,” Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Jacques J. Levesque said as he granted the appeal, which will be heard next Feb. 5.
Thibault was freed on bail of $5,000.
Earlier on Tuesday, Crown prosecutor Marcel Guimont said the case was not that unique because many high-placed officials have been sent to prison for fraud and breach of trust.
“There was no error of principle as far as I’m concerned,” Guimont said.
“Can we say the sentence is clearly unreasonable? No.”
Guimont also said the detention facilities were adapted to accommodate Thibault’s needs.
In sentencing Thibault last Wednesday, St-Cyr called her behaviour “highly reprehensible” and part of a “culture of deceit.”
Her trial heard the money was spent on gifts, trips, parties, meals and skiing and golf lessons.
St-Cyr also ordered Thibault to reimburse $200,000 to Ottawa and $100,000 to Quebec.
Besides a four-year prison sentence for Thibault, the Crown was seeking the reimbursement of $430,000.
Thibault originally pleaded not guilty but switched pleas last December because, according to Labelle, she came to a better understanding of the evidence and the law.
She testified at the trial she had little to show financially for her time as vice-regal _ that a divorce ate into her savings and that she lived on a $30,000 pension.
St-Cyr also ruled against a pair of motions filed by Labelle, who argued the case should be dismissed because the accused benefited from royal immunity.
Labelle said that meant Thibault was not a civil servant and therefore could not face criminal charges.
The judge said that, according to constitutional law, the lieutenant-governor does not enjoy the same benefits as the Queen.
St-Cyr also noted that under the Constitution, the lieutenant-governor is a civil servant, adding such an affirmation is even posted on the lieutenant-governor’s website.