QUEBEC – Former Quebec lieutenant-governor Lise Thibault is being freed pending an appeal of the 18-month jail term she received for fraud and breach of trust.
Her lawyer, Marc Labelle, appeared in court today seeking permission to appeal the sentence.
The Quebec Court of Appeal has granted the appeal and is freeing Thibault, who has spent the last six days and nights behind bars.
Labelle told Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Jacques J. Levesque 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 Quebec court judge who imposed the sentence should have taken those factors into consideration.
He also argued the judge should not have put the emphasis on making an example of Thibault just because of the position she held as the Queen’s representative in Quebec.
The Crown countered the case was not that unique because many high-placed officials have been sent to prison for fraud and breach of trust. Marcel Guimont also said the detention facilities have been adapted to accommodate Thibault’s needs.
Thibault was charged two years 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.
In sentencing Thibault last Wednesday, Quebec court Judge Carol 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.