Opposition challenges UPAC chief on his political independence
Published Thursday, May 4, 2017 10:55AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 4, 2017 7:49PM EDT
Opposition parties in the National Assembly say they're trying to make sure that the head of Quebec's anti-corruption squad is fully independent.
Robert Lafreniere, the chief of UPAC, spoke Thursday in front of a committee examining Quebec's public security ministry.
In the midst of allegations against the Quebec Liberal Party and suspicions political influence is stalling investigations, MNAs questioned Lafreniere about UPAC’s operations and what is has achieved.
Pascal Berubé, the PQ public security ciritc asked who was making decisions about the cases UPAC investigated.
“If someone tried to stop Mr. Lafreniere from doing his job, I want to know the name, I want to know when, I want to know how,” he said.
"We want to make sure Mr. Lafreniere has all the independence he needs to go forward," added Jean-Francois Lisée, the head of the Parti Quebecois.
Lafreniere responded that it was, ultimately, his decision.
"There is no interference," said Lafreniere, adding thatthe only reason people believe investigations are being blocked is because of the slow pace of investigating corruption and building solid cases that will hold up in court.
Independence in question
All three opposition parties said the head of UPAC should be approved by two-thirds of the National Assembly and not nominated by the government in power.
"We increase the level of trust and independence when it's the whole National Assembly that has a say in the nomination of these people because I think it has to be reminded to your viewers that the government that is under investigation is nominating those who are in charge of the investigation," said Quebec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir.
Hearing amid allegations against former Liberals
The appearance, which was scheduled months in advance, comes after a week of accusations and allegations concerning former premier Jean Charest and other MNAs.
Last week, information was leaked that UPAC had Charest and Liberal fundraiser Marc Bibeau under surveillance for several years as part of a criminal investigation, but never turned up any evidence of wrongdoing worthy of recommending charges.
Lafreniere said he was outraged by the leak, calling it unacceptable.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec's Eric Caire said his questions for Lafreniere were straightforward.
"What happened? How could this happen? And what Mr. Lafreniere will do to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Caire.
Two well-known whistleblowers, both star witnesses from the Charbonneau Commission into corruption in Quebec’s construction industry took a front row seat for the committee hearing.
“We have to question ourselves. Where's the law and order? Where is it going? What can we do to accelerate?” said Ken Pereira.
“The people on the ground, the cops, do a very good job. The problem that I have is with the high-level of UPAC, like Mr. Lafreniere and people in the high staff. I believe they do too much politics,” said Lino Zambito.
Francoeur meets with investigators
Days later the head of the Montreal police union, Yves Francoeur, alleged that an investigation into two Liberal MNAs had been stopped.
That prompted the Crown prosecutor's office to formally demand a meeting with Francoeur so he can explain his allegations. The Sureté du Quebec will lead that investigation.
Lafreniere said that UPAC began investigating immediately and reached out twice to Francoeur, who blew off the initial email, then after a phone call, put his lawyer in charge of communicating with them.
Late Thursday afternoon, though, the Montreal Police Brotherhood confirmed Francoeur met with SQ investigators to speak with them.