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This article was published 20/6/2016 (1155 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
STEINBACH — He calls it a dark time in his life, fuelled by a crumbling marriage and other personal issues. But a former Manitoba judge says he has no excuses for a drunk-driving incident that has cost him his career on the bench.
Michel Chartier, who spent nine years in the provincial court, wiped away tears during a brief court appearance Monday morning. He admitted to driving with a blood-alcohol reading of 0.25 — more than triple the legal limit — after being pulled over by RCMP on the Trans-Canada Highway near Portage la Prairie in March.
"It’s not lost on me my moral culpability is high. Of all people, I should have known better," Chartier wrote in an apology letter read in court by his lawyer, Tony Cellitti.
He was handed a $2,000 fine, $600 in court costs and a one-year driving prohibition. It’s the typical sentence in Manitoba for a first-time drunk driver with no prior criminal record who didn’t get involved in an accident or cause any injuries.
A prosecutor and a judge from Saskatchewan both headed east to deal with the matter to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. The matter was also quietly brought forward Monday on an otherwise empty docket, apparently because of availability of the out-of-town officials. It was held in Steinbach because of Chartier’s proximity to that location and his ban on driving.
"Your readings were shockingly high," Judge Kevin Lang told Chartier. "I’m thankful this didn’t end more tragically for you or other members of society."
Chartier apologized to his colleagues on the bench, his family and friends in the legal community and his two teen boys.
"Taking responsibility for my actions goes far beyond today’s court proceedings," Chartier wrote in his letter. "It’s not lost on me severe tragedy could have ensued."
Chartier was going through a difficult time while his 27-year marriage was ending, leading to the heavy alcohol consumption on the day in question, court was told. Two different motorists called 911 to report his vehicle swerving on the highway in the early afternoon. A Carberry RCMP officer spotted him moments later and made the same observations.
Cellitti told court that Chartier felt there was no choice but to resign his position as a provincial court judge following the arrest.
"My client very much enjoyed being a judge in this court, very much enjoyed serving the public and in both official languages," he said. "He was going through a very difficult set of circumstances."
Several letters of support were filed in court Monday, including one from a University of Manitoba law professor and another from veteran defence lawyer Richard Wolson.
"The letters of reference speak very highly of his character, of his work ethic," said Cellitti. In his apology letter, Chartier said how he constantly thinks about a conversation he had with his 13-year-old son following his arrest, in which the boy told him that resigning meant "the next time I appear in court will be as an accused."
That was certainly the case on Monday. Following his resignation, Chief Judge Ken Champagne said it was an important move.
"Public confidence in and respect for the judiciary are essential to an effective justice system. Therefore, while the resignation of Michel Chartier from the court is regrettable, by having resigned he has done the honourable thing, recognizing that the charges brought against him would significantly undermine public confidence in the judiciary," Champagne said in a statement.
Chartier was called to the bar in Manitoba in 1991 after graduating from Université de Moncton the previous year. He focused on banking law, labour law and insurance litigation while practising at Monk Goodwin in Winnipeg and was appointed as a provincial court judge in September 2007. For four years, from September 2009 to August 2013, Chartier served as associate chief judge.
"I know you have paid a very high price for moments of indiscretion," Lang told him on Monday. He said it’s clear Chartier is otherwise a person "with great honour and dignity and dedication to your community."
"A bad decision doesn’t make you a bad person," he said.
Chartier handled numerous drunk-driving cases throughout his career. Two years ago — in what was believed to be a legal first in Manitoba — Chartier decided not to impose a jail sentence or a criminal record on a drunk driver who hit and severely injured a motorcyclist. Instead, Chartier granted the longtime alcoholic a "curative discharge" and considered it in the public’s best interest the accused get treatment for his alcohol addiction rather than jail time.
"Our courts have emphasized that denunciation and deterrence are driving principles of sentencing for the drinking driver," Chartier said in his 2014 ruling. "Sometimes, effective rehabilitation can be the most effective way of keeping an individual from drinking and driving."
Chartier plans to return to private legal practice and hopefully continue teaching law students in Manitoba, his lawyer said. He is currently focused on dealing with his alcohol issues, which includes attending weekly AA meetings.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Monday, June 20, 2016 at 4:55 PM CDT: Writethru