Quebec judge chastised for heroin remark

July 27, 2002   - The Toronto Star

OTTAWA (CP) The Canadian Judicial Council has chastised a Quebec judge who told an aboriginal mother she could give her kids heroin if she wanted them to be happy.

The comment was just one of several "improper, insensitive and insulting" remarks that Justice Frank Barakett of Quebec Superior Court made during a custody hearing in August, 1999, the council said.

The council issued a statement yesterday, as well as two disciplinary letters to Barakett dated last Wednesday and the judge's letter of apology to the council dated July 3.

"Many of your comments both in the course of the proceedings and in your written judgment were improper for a judge," wrote Joseph Daigle, New Brunswick chief justice and chair of the council's three-person panel that studied the complaint.

"Some are not only insensitive but also insulting to aboriginal culture in Canada."

The complaint, filed with the council Oct. 12, 2000, was signed by Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and four other aboriginal leaders.

Earlier this year, Coon Come and others accused the council of dragging its feet in dealing with the matter.

The complaint stems from a custody battle that started in 1996 over twin girls born in the United States to an aboriginal woman and her former non-aboriginal husband.

The second letter to Barakett stems from a custody case earlier this year in Quebec city when the judge suggested that a mother of three living on social assistance doesn't provide the best role model for her children.

According to court transcripts of the 1999 case, Barakett asked if the Mi'kmaq mother wanted her daughters to be happy. She said yes.

"That is easy," said Barakett. "Just put them on heroin, they'll be happy all the time."

The judge also suggested the girls were "unwittingly and out of a totally misplaced expression of motherly love ... brainwashed away from the real world into a child-like myth of powwows and rituals."

Daigle wrote that Barakett also engaged in "gratuitous exploration of the children's `Indian blood'" as part of a "misguided attempt to determine whether these children were `really' Aboriginal."

Daigle said the panel decided no further investigation is warranted, noting Barakett has acknowledged his errors and has apologized.

The Quebec judge also plans to enrol in training courses on "social context and judicial conduct in the courtroom."

Barakett said he is also willing to publicly apologize to the complainants.