Quebec's anti-corruption unit (UPAC) used a text message to trick a sitting MNA into a situation that led to his arrest, according to Radio-Canada sources.
Guy Ouellette was arrested Wednesday in connection with UPAC raids but has not been charged. He has since been released and temporarily resigned from the Liberal Party caucus.
The Sûreté du Québec officer-turned-politician is considered to be a suspect in an investigation into information leaks, Radio-Canada says.
It's believed someone disclosed information to the media about a confidential UPAC investigation into Liberal Party financing, an investigation that involved former premier Jean Charest and former party fundraiser Marc Bibeau.
None of the following information has been confirmed by UPAC, which has declined to comment on the case and is releasing very little information.
The UPAC raids targeted two police officers as part of an investigation into how the information about the probe into Liberal Party financing made it into the media.
While at the home of one of those officers, a member of the Sûreté du Québec, the UPAC investigators took his cell phone and started texting Ouellette, saying they had to talk as soon as possible because the police officer was getting ready to tell all to La Presse.
As soon as he could get away, Ouellette made his way over to the officer's home in a Quebec City suburb. But instead of that officer, he was greeted by the UPAC team.
Ouellette was questioned, and his cell phone was seized. Later in the night, UPAC raided his home as well.
It is still unclear how that officer is connected to Ouellette.
Ouellette 'appreciated' in caucus, premier says
Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters at the National Assembly Thursday morning that he cut short his trip to northern Quebec so he could be with members of his caucus in the wake of the news of Ouellette's arrest.
He said that like everyone else, he was shocked by the news, but he has no other details about the circumstances.
"He is someone who is well-known and appreciated in the caucus," he said.
Ouellette informed Liberal caucus chair Filomena Rotiroti last night that he would be stepping aside until Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions announces whether he will be charged.
Radio-Canada's Denis said she believes it's possible Ouellette hasn't been charged to avoid running up against the Jordan ruling, which places limits on the amount of time that can pass between a charge being laid and the start of a trial.
Political colleagues react
Ouellette's colleagues addressed the lack of details being released through official channels about the arrest.
UPAC issued its first news release on the raids Thursday morning, more than 12 hours after they were carried out. There was no mention of Ouellette's name, though it did confirm one person had been arrested.
Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux defended the delay, saying UPAC has its reasons for being vague, including concerns over protecting people's identities and jeopardizing its ongoing investigation.
He said situations like the one the Liberal Party is now finding itself in don't destabilize the government.
"The government is here to govern. It has to govern Quebec in days like this one and days that aren't like this one. So sometimes we have days that are more intense, but we still have to govern, and for that we have to maintain our calm, serenity."
Even opposition MNAs are treading carefully.
Parti Québécois MNA Pascal Bérubé said there are many questions surrounding the situation, but he called Ouellette a well-respected man who dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice.
"[He's] an honest man, and every single observer of police [matters] in Quebec can say that. He dedicated his whole life for justice, for the seeking of truth," Bérubé said.
Coalition Avenir Québec MNA François Bonnardel said he was floored that Ouellette, a man of integrity, was arrested.
"I've known him for 10 years now at the National Assembly. I know him as a good person — integrity. So we are all surprised."
During question period, CAQ Leader François Legault was a bit more pointed, calling on Couillard to take action in order to restore the public's trust in UPAC.
Political commentator and ex-Liberal MNA Yolande James said if one of her former National Assembly colleagues was responsible for a leak, it would be a "betrayal" and unforgivable.
But other politicians refused to go that far. Kathleen Weil, the minister responsible for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, said while it's good that Ouellette has stepped away, these are still allegations and justice must now follow its course.
Ouellette 'disgusted by all these leaks'
In April, Ouellette publicly denounced the leaks, saying he was "disgusted by the situation, disgusted by all these leaks, disgusted by all these conflicts of interest."
Ouellette has been chairing the legislative committee looking into the information leak — something of an embarrassment to the Liberals.
Ouellette was first elected to the National Assembly in March 2007. Before entering politics, he was a provincial police officer for about 30 years and made his name during Quebec's biker wars.