“We’re surprised” and “no comment” were among the most common phrases uttered by stunned politicians in the National Assembly Thursday, a day after a Liberal MNA was arrested by the province's anti-corruption squad.
Chomedey MNA Guy Ouellette was arrested apparently in connection with confidential UPAC information being leaked to journalists, in particular concerning an investigation about Liberal Party financing during the years Jean Charest was premier.
UPAC executed six search warrants and met with about ten individuals on Wednesday in the Montreal and Quebec City areas in an investigation targeting breach of trust and obstruction of justice.
UPAC has confirmed one person was arrested Wednesday but will not name the individual because they have not yet been charged in court.
The unit said officers made an arrest "to secure evidence and to prevent the offences from continuing or recurring."
In April, Ouellette denounced the leaks and conflicts of interest that were affecting his party, as he was the head of the government committee holding hearings into the leaks.
At that time Quebecor media published emails that were exchanged between several Liberal Party fundraisers and former Liberal Party staff members. The leaks revealed UPAC had been investigating the comings and goings of ex-premier Charest and Liberal fundraiser Marc Bibeau up until 2016.
UPAC had questioned Ouellette in 2014, but the nature of that investigation was never disclosed.
A news organization had published emails dating from 2011 between Bibeau; Jean-Louis Dufresne, the former chief of staff to Premier Philippe Couillard; and Hugo d'Amour, a spokesperson for Charest and in which they discussed a contract to repair a Montreal-area bridge.
Ouellette stepped down from caucus
Ouellette is stepping down from the Liberal caucus until the case is resolved.
The Crown “still hasn't decided if and when the charges could be laid. I have no information on that,” said Premier Philippe Couillard, who cancelled planned announcements in northern Quebec Thursday to return to the National Assembly for a special Liberal caucus meeting and question period.
Couillard said he hadn't spoken to Ouellette directly as of Thursday morning, adding that the shock extends to all political parties but that Ouellette's departure won't destabilize his government.
"It came as a shock, as a surprise, of course, for us – as it was, I guess, for all the members of the National Assembly and the media certainly and the public as well. The only thing we know is that the public prosecutor still has to decide if and when charges could be laid and I have no information on that," Couillard said.
Other Quebec politicians, including opposition members, were surprised about the news, saying Ouellette has a good reputation and is well respected.
"It's an honest man and every single observer of the police questions in Quebec can say that he dedicated his whole life to justice, to the seeking of truth and he has all my confidence. And as a member of the commission, all I can say is that Mr. Ouellette deserves a lot of respect," said Parti Quebecois public security critic Pascal Berubé.
"We need UPAC to tell us what happened and what they have to say about Mr. Ouellette."
CAQ house critic Francois Bonnardel also supported Ouellette.
“Yeah I know him for ten years now at the National Assembly. I know him as a good person with integrity, so we're all surprised,” said Bonnardel.
Ouellette an SQ veteran
Before entering politics in 2007, Ouellette had a 30-year career as an officer with the Sureté du Quebec, notably as a member of the unit that went after biker gangs in the 1990s. He worked to bring down organized crime leaders, most notably the former heads of the Hells Angels, Mom Boucher.
“My police background is in line with my continuous quest for honesty and fairness which has been the base of my motivation in my professional and personal life,” he said in a prior interview with CTV Montreal.
Ouellette was accidentally involved in another leak in 1999, while he was a police officer.
Biker gangs, who were staying in the same hotel as Ouellette while he investigated them, broke into his room and stole a laptop.
The computer contained sensitive information and was linked to the murder of at least one informant.
With files from The Canadian Press