Former NHL player Georges Laraque is stepping aside as deputy leader of the federal Green Party and dropping out of the race as the party's candidate in Montreal's Bourassa riding to concentrate on clearing his name, after learning he will face fraud charges.
Laraque confirmed late Wednesday that he is facing fraud charges following an investigation by Longueuil police into a dispute with a former business partner.
He initially said that he planned to continue door-knocking in the east-end Montreal riding, left vacant by the departure of longtime Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who is running for the Montreal mayor's job. A date has yet to be set for a byelection.
Day spent in reflection
However, in a statement released by the Green Party late this afternoon, Laraque now says he will focus his time and energy on clearing his name.
“I am stepping aside from my roles with the Green Party while the judicial process takes its course," Laraque said in the statement. "I have spent the better part of the day reflecting on this with family, friends, supporters, members of the party and my campaign team. It is a very difficult decision to make, but ultimately, I make this decision for the residents of Bourassa, so as not to distract from the many important issues to be addressed in this campaign."
Laraque has a court appearance scheduled for Nov. 19.
Earlier this year, it was publicly reported that the police raided his home in search of documents related to his business venture with Super-Glide synthetic ice venture.
Laraque confirmed in an interview Wednesday night that the criminal charges are related to two transactions worth a total of $120,000. He said the accusations stem from a dispute with engineer Marc Filion, who co-founded the company with him in 2009.
"I find it bizarre to hear that I'm being accused of fraud by an associate who didn't put a single penny into the company," Laraque told The Canadian Press.
'I'll get through this'
Laraque said that he's benefiting from the support of his party.
"They've seen my defence and have seen the witnesses defending me. They were reassured to see that even if I have to go to court, I'll get through this."
“I am confident of Georges' innocence and I support him personally," said party leader Elizabeth May in today's statement, explaining why she is asking him to step aside as deputy leader.
"The Green Party holds itself to a high standard and believes that any candidate or MP of any party cannot serve the public interest if dealing with charges such as these. Once Georges is exonerated, I hope he will once again represent us as a candidate. In the meantime, I accept his resignation as Deputy Leader and as a candidate with tremendous regret,” said May
Laraque and May will hold a news conference Thursday morning at the Green Party's campaign office in the Bourassa riding.
Laraque may sue ex-business partner
Laraque told The Canadian Press he's considering a defamation suit against his rival in the affair and, as for his own case, he's eager to get started.
"I want it to begin, because this thing's been dragging on for two years. I have nothing to hide."
Before his career as an activist and politician, the 36-year-old Laraque played for four NHL teams between 1997 and 2010 — the Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens.
He was best-known for his fighting skills.