Former Quebec lieutenant-governor Lise Thibault deserves leniency because she was a kind of "Robin Hood" for the disabled, her lawyer said Thursday during sentencing arguments at her fraud trial.
Marc Labelle said the wheelchair-bound Thibault distributed about $1.5 million from her foundation to help the disabled — a charitable act he said the judge should consider as a mitigating factor when deciding her sentence.
"She was a sort of Robin Hood who distributed $1.5 million," he told Judge Carol St-Cyr. "She equipped 31 (ski resorts) for para-alpine skiing," which is an adaptation of the sport for people with physical disabilities.
"That's rare. It's also exceptional."
The money in the foundation originally came from the public.
The Crown is demanding Thibault pay back $430,000 after a 2007 report by the federal and provincial auditors general revealed she claimed more than $700,000 in alleged improper expenses when she held the vice-regal post.
Labelle said the maximum she should pay back is $372,000 and that $272,000 should come from the money left in the foundation.
Thibault, 76, was lieutenant-governor between 1997 and 2007.
She pleaded guilty last December to one charge of fraud and one of breach of trust. They carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years and five years, respectively.
Labelle argued she should serve any sentence in the community.
"The mitigating factors we proposed are the age of my client, the fact she was a positive influence throughout her life and she was socially involved at all levels," he said. "As well as the fact she was ruined by this case."
Thibault didn't commit her crimes for personal benefit but rather to help society, Labelle said.
He added that Thibault was a "very active" lieutenant-governor who ran up a lot of personal expenses during her time on the job.
"She found herself in a situation where she had to claim money that she wasn't entitled to in order to maintain this level of expenses," Labelle said.
During her mandate, Thibault claimed expenses for travel, dinner with friends and family, ski and golf outings as well as for a specially adapted golf cart.
She maintains the spending was due to her being a quadriplegic and needing certain requirements for transportation and security.
In asking the judge to "not make an example" of Thibault, Labelle called her a good person who made a mistake.
Thibault's legal worries are not over with this case.
Quebec revenue officials say she owes the province $808,000 while the federal Revenue Department is seeking $676,000.
The sentencing arguments resume Friday with the Crown outlining its position.