POLITICS

Queen's ex-Quebec rep going to trial; province's lieut-gov charged with fraud

05/01/2012 10:58 EDT | Updated 07/01/2012 05:12 EDT
QUEBEC - An improbable spectacle is about to play out in a Quebec courtroom, where the Queen's former representative in that province will face criminal fraud charges.

Lise Thibault, Quebec's former lieutenant-governor, was ordered to stand trial by a court decision handed down Tuesday in Quebec City.

Thibault, who represented the Crown for a decade, will return to court on May 28 to set a date for her trial before judge and jury.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges in October 2009 and said Tuesday that while she was dismayed with the ruling, she looked forward to the trial as a "liberation."

"I have always acted in good faith and worked in the interest of Canadian Quebecers," Thibault said.

Her preliminary hearing, which began in January 2011, was subject to a publication ban. So were the reasons under which a judge decided Tuesday to send her case to trial.

Thibault faces six charges over events that occurred between 1997 and 2007, when she was the province's lieutenant-governor.

She is accused of making $700,000 in improper expense claims.

The details were made public in a joint report by former federal auditor general Sheila Fraser and her Quebec counterpart Renaud Lachance. The report said some claims were for trips, meals with friends, ski and golf lessons, as well as for the transport of specially adapted golf carts from Quebec to Florida.

The wheelchair-bound Thibault, now 73, is charged with two counts of breach of trust, two of fraud and two related to false or counterfeit documents.

Having a former representative of the Crown before the court, facing criminal charges, is indeed a rare occurrence.

When asked for precedents, four scholars contacted Tuesday said they couldn't recall a similar case.

A lieutenant-governor performs a similar role at the provincial level to the one the governor general does in Ottawa; that includes major constitutional functions like dissolving parliament or swearing in a new cabinet.

Thibault, who has remained silent through most of her legal proceedings, made a brief statement outside the Quebec City courthouse on Tuesday.

"You know, the trial will allow me to speak and one day I'll write my autobiography so that citizens know how people who have the courage to enter political life pay a price," Thibault said.

The federal government said in January 2011 that it would not foot Thibault's legal bill but also did not specify if she had even made the request.