The Northwest Territories Supreme Court’s chief justice was surprised by a group of lawyers on her final day before retirement.
Lawyers in black robes quietly filed into Louise Charbonneau’s courtroom on Thursday, before she finished her final sentencing decision, to recognize her long career in the North.
Defence lawyer Peter Harte, speaking on behalf of those lawyers, shared a prepared speech praising Charbonneau.
“All of us believe you to be one of Canada’s best jurists,” he said.
Harte highlighted Charbonneau’s sensitivity and the care she takes when making decisions, adding that while being a lawyer can be stressful, she never made it more difficult than necessary.
He said that while he didn’t always agree with decisions Charbonneau made, he “never thought the baby ended up being cut in half,” referencing the biblical narrative of the judgment of Solomon.
Charbonneau would not yell or give lawyers a “dressing down,” Harte said, yet there was a “gentle but highly motivating fear of disappointing Charbonneau” among lawyers. He said they did not want to see her “little frown with pursed lips,” eliciting laughter from the other lawyers in the room.
In response to Harte’s statement, Charbonneau said: “It’s rare, but I may actually be without words.”
The justice thanked the lawyers and said Harte’s words came at a good time, not only on her final day before retirement but following a recent event where things were said about her in a courtroom that caused her “consternation.”
While Charbonneau did not give further details, she appears to have been referencing the departure of Territorial Court Judge Donovan Molloy. Molloy abruptly left the bench indefinitely late last month, citing a “hostile work environment” and concerns about the “overall administration of justice” in the NWT, harshly criticizing his colleagues. Molloy is also facing a misconduct complaint from a former NWT Crown prosecutor.
Charbonneau was first appointed as an NWT Supreme Court judge in 2006. She served as a senior judge of the court from 2015 until October 2018, when she was formally recognized as chief justice.
Charbonneau said Thursday likely won’t be the last time lawyers see her in an NWT courtroom. She has asked to serve as a deputy judge during her retirement.