Ex-minister urged to testify at Quebec inquiry
A former Quebec justice minister who spurred the Liberal government to call an inquiry into its judge nomination process is being urged to testify during proceedings.
Marc Bellemare, who was justice minister under Liberal Premier Jean Charest in 2003-04, said he doesn't want to testify at the Bastarache inquiry, which got underway Monday. He is also willing to fight any order to appear, saying the commission of inquiry is anything but impartial.
"In my opinion, it's a commission created by Premier Jean Charest to try to save face in this scandal, and I'm not ready to play that game," Bellemare told the CBC's French-language service.
The commission, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache, will examine how judges are appointed in Quebec.
Charest ordered the commission this spring following public allegations by Bellemare, who accused the Liberal government of influence peddling in appointing Quebec court judges.
Bellemare said he is prepared to take part in a commission that would examine allegations of political interference, but "not a biased hearing" like the Bastarache inquiry.
He believes Bastarache cannot be impartial because the retired Supreme Court Justice works for Heenan Blaikie, a prestigious law firm where many staff members have donated to the Quebec Liberal Party.
On Tuesday, Environment Minister Line Beauchamp disputed Bellemare's claims and appealed to him to participate in the inquiry.
"It is an important process, it is a credible process," Beauchamp told reporters in Montreal.
Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir agreed with Bellemare that the commission does have the appearance of Liberal bias.
Nonetheless, he urged Bellemare to tell his side of the story.
"Unfortunately we are there, so, let's try to save it," said Khadir. "I'm not sure we are going to be able to, but let's try to save the Bastarache commission."
Should Bellemare refuse to testify, the inquiry will be a failure, agreed Parti Québécois justice critic Véronique Hivon.
On Monday, Bastarache said the inquiry aimed to evaluate any systemic problems with court nominations.
The first step is to determine who has standing at the commission. The Quebec government, the premier, the Quebec Liberal party, the Parti Québécois and the association of Quebec judges have all petitioned for standing.
The commission is not a court of law, and does not have legal jurisdiction to assign guilt or responsibility, but can call witnesses.