QUEBEC – For the first time in Canadian history a retired judge has been charged with first-degree murder – a move which prompted Quebec officials to initiate exceptional legal procedures in the case against former Court of Appeal judge Jacques Delisle.
The 75 year old was arrested Tuesday morning and arraigned at the Quebec City courthouse on one count of first-degree murder and one count of illegal possession of a weapon in connection with the death last November of his wife of nearly 50 years.
Quebec’s director of criminal and penal prosecutions spokeswoman Martine Berube said the province took extra precautions to deal with the sensitive case by presenting it to a judge before deciding whether charges should be laid.
"The judge was presented with the results of the police investigation and he heard witnesses," said Berube, who confirmed it is the first time a judge – sitting on the bench or retired – has been charged with a crime as serious as murder.
The Canadian Judicial Council said Wednesday the case is indeed unique, but expressed confidence the justice system will be able to ensure Delisle receives an impartial trial.
"We want Canadians to be reassured that the law applies to everyone and that we expect our judges to have the highest standards of conduct both on and off the bench and that is why this is a very unfortunate development," said spokeswoman Johanna Laporte, noting Delisle was not a judge when the alleged events took place last fall.
The Montreal native was named to the Court of Appeal in 1992 and remained there until his retirement in 2009. Delisle was first named judge at the Quebec Superior Court in 1983.
Criminal lawyer Jean-Pierre Rancourt stressed the chief judge of the Quebec Superior Court might have to bring in a judge from Montreal or another city to preside over the case.
"They’ll be able to find someone who didn’t know Delisle, but it’s not going to be easy to hear the case against a former Superior Court and Court of Appeal judge," he said.
Police said Delisle’s wife, 71 year-old Nicole Rainville, died on Nov. 12 2009 at the couple’s residence in Sillery, a borough of Quebec City. Police initially thought the woman killed herself, but the investigation concluded there was enough evidence to charge Delisle with murder.
Friends of Delisle said Wednesday his wife suffered a stroke two years prior to her death, leaving her partially disabled.
"Nicole took it very hard because she was such a proud woman. The stroke was a real tragedy for both of them," said a close friend of Delisle who asked not to be identified.
Delisle retired before the end of his term in May 2009 to take care of his wife full time.
"He cared deeply for her and it was difficult at times, but I’m not aware of any problems they could have had," the friend said.
The couple, which has two children, married in Sept. 1960.
Quebec City defence lawyer Renald Beaudry, who often argued cases before Delisle, described him as a remarkable jurist and rigorous magistrate.
"It’s all speculation at this point, but everybody who knew him is shocked and trying to understand what could have happened. One explanation might be that it was a compassion killing since his wife was ill, but he remains innocent until proven otherwise," Beaudry stressed.
Delisle will stay incarcerated until his next court appearance on June 21 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.
The exceptional legal measure taken by Quebec was also used by the Crown prosecutor to weigh the evidence against former Quebec lieutenant-governor Lise Thibault, who was eventually charged with fraud in connection with allegations of extravagant spending while in office.