Quebec MNA says his arrest by anti-corruption squad was an attempt to silence him, intimidate others

MONTREAL – Since the creation of Quebec’s permanent anti-corruption squad in 2011, the arrival of its investigators to execute a search warrant has instilled fear in the hearts of businesspeople and politicians.

The officers in the UPAC jackets symbolize the cleansing of the corruption that had famously stained Quebec. Their boss, Unité permanente anticorruption commissioner Robert Lafrenière, is likened by the media to Eliot Ness, the American agent who brought down Al Capone.

But on Monday, it was a different view of UPAC offered by a man who himself was once on the front lines of the fight against organized crime, the sergeant-turned-politician Guy Ouellette.

Speaking for the first time since UPAC arrested him last Wednesday, Ouellette told Cogeco radio that the province’s corruption hunters are out of control. His arrest, he said, was an attempt to silence him and to intimidate other politicians considering speaking out.

Quebec MNA Guy Ouellette in 2011.

leads me to believe that the anti-corruption squad and its commissioner are doing in their power to muzzle my efforts to properly represent the population,” Ouellette said. “They are doing in their power to prevent legislators from doing their work.”

The comments came from an interview that was given last Friday to Cogeco host Bernard but only aired Monday. Ouellette, elected as a Liberal but sitting as an independent since Thursday, said he agreed to talk because he feared UPAC would lock him up before he got a chance to tell his story in the National Assembly.

“On this , 27 October, I am meeting you to protect myself,” Ouellette began the interview, sounding like someone fleeing a dangerous criminal syndicate.

He recounted his arrest on suspicion of obstruction of , breach of trust and conspiracy. He said investigators suspect him of leaking information to the media concerning a UPAC involving former Liberal premier Jean Charest and party fundraising. After the information was leaked last spring, Lafrenière vowed to catch “the bandit” responsible.

Ouellette denied any involvement in the leak.

Drainville, a former Parti Québécois MNA, said he was surprised Friday afternoon when Ouellette and Transport Department whistleblower Annie Trudel showed up at his studio unannounced. Drainville said he spoke at length with Ouellette before he agreed to be recorded for his own protection.

In the interview, Ouellette said he had been tailed by an unidentified police force since he was released from custody Wednesday. During a 30-year career with Quebec’s provincial police, Ouellette was a top investigator of biker gangs before he retired in 2001.

Now 65, he told Drainville he still has the police ethic “tattooed on his heart.” He said he is being targeted because of his willingness as chairman of the committee that oversees UPAC to stand up to Lafrenière. The committee is currently studying a bill to give UPAC the full of a police force, a change that Ouellette said would make it less accountable to elected officials.

“I never thought I could be framed like I was framed last Wednesday. . . . I never thought that could happen in 2017, in particular for an elected official who is just doing his job,” he said. “So I am bothering people.”

UPAC did not respond to a request for comment Monday. In a statement issued last Thursday, it did not name Ouellette but said one person had been arrested and a series of searches had been conducted in connection with a breach of trust and obstruction of justice investigation.

Quebecor Media reported Monday that Trudel, an independent analyst hired in 2014 to help clean up the Transport Department, had informed Ouellette of a scheme involving UPAC, the province’s and a consulting firm. Trudel said Ouellette had been planning to divulge the scheme at the legislature.

She said firms seeking the corruption-free seal of approval from the securities regulator, the Autorité des marchés financiers, that is to bid on contracts are sometimes required to pay exorbitant fees to an unnamed consulting firm. Trudel described the arrangement as “collusion” between the regulator, UPAC and the consultant.

The AMF said the allegation was “false and totally gratuitous,” but late Monday Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux announced that the government has asked the auditor-general to investigate Trudel’s allegations. In response to the concerns raised by Ouellette, Coiteux said the proposed legislation increasing the powers and independence of UPAC would be modified to provide for increased accountability from the anti-corruption squad.

“Independence does not mean an absence of accountability,” he said. Asked whether Lafrenière should step aside, Coiteux said he has “no reason not to have confidence” in the commissioner.

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