Ex-Premier Charest and Chomedey MNA are suing over corruption watchdog’s practices
Despite a lawsuit filed by former Quebec Premier Jean Charest against UPAC, as well as a recently-published book by Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette alleging abuse and incompetence at the investigative agency, a Quebec committee overseeing UPAC appears to be taking a business-as-usual approach to dealing with such allegations.
On Oct. 8, the Comité de surveillance des activités de l’Unité permanente anticorruption, a provincial committee responsible for the overall supervision of the Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC), did due diligence by tabling an annual report in the National Assembly on UPAC, which is mandated to fight corruption and collusion in the awarding of government contracts.
Created by Liberals
UPAC, which reports to the Quebec Ministry of Public Security, was created in early 2011 by the then-Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest to respond primarily to rising public alarm over reports of widespread corruption in the awarding of municipal contracts.
“In as much as we are a young organization, we must improve our way of doing things,” was almost all that Frédérick Gaudreau, the UPAC commissioner who oversees operations, had to say in a press release issued last week by UPAC.
UPAC’s new head
“The recommendations of the committee are always welcome to help us to fully develop UPAC as an organization,” added Gaudreau, who replaced Robert Lafrenière after the latter resigned two years ago amidst a growing list of complaints regarding UPAC’s methods of investigation.
Gaudreau says in the statement that he takes seriously “the importance of complete and full collaboration between the Commissioner and the Committee with a view to offering the most rigorous public accounting.” He says that he will “favourably welcome all measures that will allow the Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC) to improve its performance.”
No major changes at UPAC
Gaudreau notes that of 23 recommendations made by the committee in its first report last year, six were implemented, 14 are in the process of being implemented, and one is partly in place.
In its second annual report, the Comité de surveillance des activités de l’Unité permanente anticorruption (which is presided by Claude Corbo, a retired Quebec academic and university administrator who was appointed) made no major recommendations, except to say it is following up on an examination of how UPAC conducts its investigations.
“Examination of the management of the criminal investigations undertaken over the course of the 2019-2020 exercise comes nowhere near exhausting the subject,” the committee said in a statement issued last week. “The work on this theme will continue over the coming years. As the issue is particularly complex, the Committee judged it necessary to deal with it in several stages.”
Charest suing Quebec
The UPAC commissioner’s and the UPAC committee’s comments were made the day before former Quebec Premier Jean Charest served notice on Oct. 9 that he was suing the Government of Quebec for violation of his privacy through UPAC. The suit seeks $1 million in punitive damages, well as $50,000 more in moral damages. In a statement of claims, Charest alleges that in recent years, confidential information about him and his family was leaked to the media by UPAC.
Charest blamed the leaks on the anti-corruption investigation unit. UPAC has been conducting an investigation into provincial Liberal party financing during the period when Charest was the province’s Premier. He maintains the leaks were illegal and obstructed justice. Charest says he was prepared to avoid taking legal action in exchange for an apology from the current government, but his proposal was refused.
Ouellette suing over UPAC
Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette also has an axe to grind with UPAC. Ouellette was arrested by UPAC in October 2017 on suspicion he was involved in a leak of information at UPAC. Despite the arrest, he was never charged.
Currently sitting as an independent member of the National Assembly, Ouellette was expelled from the Quebec Liberal Party caucus shortly before the 2018 election, after news reports claimed he had leaked information about the Liberals to the Coalition Avenir Québec, who won the election.
In addition to a book he recently released detailing numerous abuses allegedly committed by UPAC and its former head, Robert Lafrenière, Ouellette, like Charest, is also suing the Quebec government. In late September, former Quebec Liberal deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau, who was arrested by UPAC in 2016, was granted a stay of proceedings on corruption-related charges.
Normandeau had served prominently in the Charest cabinet. She was arrested after UPAC conducted an investigation into a contract awarded for a water treatment plant in Boisbriand, Quebec. Normandeau’s legal team argued that delays in proceeding with the charges against her were unreasonable and the judge presiding the case agreed.