Guy Ouellette, the Liberal MNA whose arrest by the province’s anti-corruption unit (UPAC) stunned Quebecers last fall, says he never disclosed any information about UPAC’s work to the media.
The former high-profile provincial police officer was called to testify at a hearing into the stay of proceedings request by lawyers representing Nathalie Normandeau, former Liberal cabinet minister and party fundraiser Marc-Yvan Côté and their four co-accused.
Normandeau, the ex-Liberal deputy premier, is facing corruption-related charges, along with her former chief of staff, Bruno Lortie, two former Parti Québécois staffers, and Côté.
Ouellette was summoned by Côté’s defence lawyer, Jacques Larochelle, who is trying to have the charges thrown out, arguing UPAC documents leaked to reporters have robbed the accused of their right to a fair trial.
Questioned by Larochelle, Ouellette said he never directly or indirectly provided information that aired in a Radio-Canada report, called Mon Ami Sam, which linked Côté to former MNA Sam Hamad.
“I played no role in this,” he answered.
Lino Zambito testimony discredited
Ouellette denied several of the claims former construction boss Lino Zambito made in court yesterday.
Zambito testified that it was Ouellette who told him members of the Liberal caucus, including Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux, were displeased by the reappointment of the head of UPAC, Robert Lafrenière, only weeks after Normandeau’s arrest.
Zambito suggested Lafrenière wanted “a big catch” to ensure his position and precipitated Normandeau’s arrest, which coincided with the tabling of the Liberal government’s 2016 budget.
Zambito added Ouellette had told him the Liberals wanted to replace Lafrenière at the end of his 5-year mandate, and that Denis Gallant, a lawyer with the Charbonneau Commission, was “on the short list” to replace him.
Ouellette said he had not given out this information “directly or indirectly,” and that he only heard of such a list in a newspaper article.
Toxic workplace at UPAC
In the days following his arrest, Ouellette alleged UPAC was framing him and suggested it was trying to conceal “irregularities” which had come to his attention, as chair of the parliamentary committee responsible for overseeing UPAC’s work.
When asked in court if he thought Robert Lafrenière was “the right man for the job,” Ouellette said the workplace relations at UPAC could certainly be improved.
“To get optimal results, the work environment wasn’t ideal,” Ouellette answered.
Ouellette was never charged following his arrest and eventually returned to the Liberal caucus.
Sections of the search warrant against him, unsealed last month, show UPAC suspected him, as well as two alleged accomplices inside the anti-corruption unit, of leaking information to the media.
Reporters showed up at raids before police
UPAC investigators Stéphane Bonhomme and Richard Despaties were suspended on Oct. 25, 2017, the same day that Ouellette was arrested.
They were also called to testify Thursday.
Both vehemently denied having leaked any information to reporters, and both said the tense work environment could have led any employee to leak the information.
“I am totally innocent. One hundred per cent,” Bonhomme told Quebec court Judge André Perreault.
He said he knew there was a serious confidentiality problem within UPAC when he started seeing reporters arriving before police when UPAC carried out search warrants.
“We suspected there were people who were making phone calls,” he said.
Bonhomme said plenty of people at the office had access to reports which were stored in an unlocked cabinet in the main office.
“That means 75 people minimum,” he said, adding computers weren’t well accounted for either.
‘You’re pushed aside, suspended or paid to shut up.’- ex-UPAC investigator Stéphane Despaties
Despaties, who has filed a grievance against his former employer, testified that during his last two years with UPAC he was responsible for forwarding complaints to his superiors.
He said he was bothered by the fact that at least four or five files which he considered serious never led to a formal investigation.
“This went against my values,” he explained.
Despaties said the only time he spoke to journalists about UPAC was to talk about the psychological harassment he said he witnessed.
Despaties that the general level of workplace dissatisfaction could have led to employees leaking sensitive information.
He said several of his co-workers have either left or received compensation after filing grievances of their own.
“You’re pushed aside, suspended or paid to shut up,” he alleged.
Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette testified Thursday at a hearing into a stay of proceedings request by Nathalie Normandeau and her five co-accused. (Radio-Canada)