A Quebec judge did not breach ethics when he handed down a conditional discharge to a man who pleaded guilty to sexual assault and voyeurism, the province's judicial council ruled Wednesday.
The council received several complaints about the sentencing of Simon Houle, who pleaded guilty in June of assaulting an acquaintance and taking photos as she slept in 2019.
Matthieu Poliquin, a judge in Trois-Rivières, Que., found that the victim suffered significant harm due to the assault, including anger, shame, fear of seeing the accused and consequences for her work and personal life.
However, he said the assault happened quickly, and said Houle was a person with good morals who had taken therapy seriously. Houle could become a useful person in his community, the judge said.
Poliquin sentenced Houle to probation and a conditional discharge, in part because a conviction would have made it hard for him to travel for his job as an engineer.
That decision caused an uproar in the province.
Kareen Emery posted a petition on July 7, collecting more than 4,600 signatures in about a week. The petition called for Poliquin to be removed from the bench.
But the council has ruled in the judge's favour, stressing the importance of giving judges the freedom to make decisions — even if they're unpopular.
In its decision, the council notes it was called upon to rule on questions of ethics, and not on the content of the decisions rendered by the court.
The council points out that the Quebec Court of Appeal will hear arguments on the sentence itself next month.
Meanwhile, Houle is back in hot water, accused of violating the conditions of his probation.
Houle is accused of having grabbed a woman's buttocks in Cuba, just two weeks after his sentencing.
The Crown says the accused did not respect his commitment to good conduct and not disturbing public order.
He's expected back in court in Saint-Jérôme, Que., on Dec. 2.