The federal body that oversees judicial conduct is reviewing the actions of a Quebec Superior Court judge who allegedly asked a political fixer to launder illegal cash donations for a municipal election campaign.
The Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement Thursday afternoon, saying it takes all complaints seriously and is looking into testimony that named Judge Michel Déziel at Quebec's corruption commission this morning.
Gilles Cloutier testified at the inquiry that Déziel, who is currently a sitting judge in Laval, Que., helped commit election fraud nearly 15 years ago while he was a lawyer.
Cloutier said that Déziel called him to his law firm in Ste-Thérèse in 1997.
He told the commission Déziel gave him an envelope containing $30,000 in $100 bills and asked Cloutier to turn it into legitimate $750 cheques.
The money was intended to support Pierre Gingras's Parti de l’action civique de Blainville in a municipal election.
"He knew I had a lot of contacts in Blainville – that I know everyone and that it would be easy for me to do," Cloutier told the commission.
"For him, as a lawyer, to go launder the $750, it looks bad."
Cloutier has previously told the commission about work he did finding so-called strawmen, or people who would agree to let their names be used to launder illegal corporate donations to political parties and conform with election laws.
He told the commission that the $30,000 came from the engineering firm Dessau. Cloutier said he simply asked friends, relatives and neighbours in Blainville to write checks for the campaign in exchange for cash. They also got a tax credit for their donation.
Déziel was appointed to the Quebec Superior Court by the federal government six years after the alleged incident.
He is currently listed on the Quebec Superior Court website as one of two judges responsible for Laval.
A representative at Déziel's office said he was not available to comment and referred questions to the office of another judge, who was in court at the time.
Gingras served as a municipal councillor and then leader of the Parti de l’action civique de Blainville for 16 years. He served two years in the national assembly as a member of the Action démocratique du Québec.
In 2011, he was appointed to the CBC/Radio-Canada board of directors for a five-year term.
Cloutier, who worked in business development for engineering firms Roche and later Dessau on a contractual basis, was a specialist in so-called turnkey elections, or ones in which a company offers up services to help win the election in exchange for political favours later.
Cloutier has told the commission about dozens of elections in smaller Quebec municipalities where he helped candidates win in return for millions in contracts he secured for his employers.
Cloutier is now being cross-examined.
Cloutier's clear conscience
After days of naming names and pulling the lid off a system of illegal campaign donations and so-called turnkey elections, the spotlight fell on the role of a political fixer who said he doesn't think his actions were dishonest.
He perfected what he called a "get out the vote" system that nearly always guaranteed success for his candidates, who he supported with the understanding that they would repay the favour with municipal contracts for his employer, one of two engineering firms.
Cloutier said, even now, he doesn't see his practices as dishonest, because the election law at the time was bad and everyone was circumventing it.
Grilled by lawyers representing his previous employer, Roche, and the Parti Québécois, Cloutier showed little remorse for his own role orchestrating a scheme that saw some political parties outside of Montreal using illegal funds to fund its campaigns.
He also described keeping two sets of books for electoral campaigns – one that was officially reported to the authorities and another cash account that was used for less ostentatious expenses.
Despite all of those detours around Quebec's election laws, Cloutier, now 73 and retired, insisted that his actions were not dishonest.
"My conscience tells me that I wasn't dishonest. That was the way things were done at the time," he said.
"We spent money on strategy, but we didn't falsify the election," Cloutier continued. "We didn't falsify voters."