PQ MNA charged with sexual assault, booted out of party caucus

Harold LeBel, the Parti Québécois MNA for Rimouski, has been booted out of the party caucus after being charged with sexual assault. The charge stems from an incident that allegedly took place in the fall of 2017.

Harold LeBel, Parti Québécois MNA for Rimouski, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with sexual assault

Harold LeBel, the Parti Québécois MNA for Rimouski, has been charged with sexual assault and kicked out of the party caucus. (Radio-Canada)

Parti Québécois MNA Harold LeBel has been charged with sexual assault, prompting the party's leader to temporarily boot him out of caucus.

LeBel, who was first elected in the Rimouski riding in 2014, was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in Rimouski and questioned by police investigators.

According to the arrest warrant, signed by Judge James Rondeau on Nov. 26, the alleged assault occurred in October 2017 in Rimouski.

The alleged victim is an elected official whose identity is protected by a publication ban, Radio-Canada has learned.

"We are obviously in shock this morning," said PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon.

"All sexual violence must be confronted with force. No one is above the law."

He said LeBel is out of the party's caucus for the duration of the investigation and judicial process. The PQ leader said his party would offer its full co-operation to authorities, if needed.

LeBel, 58, left the police station at 12:30 p.m. after being released on a promise to appear on Jan. 11 at the Rimouski courthouse.

In a statement issued Thursday, LeBel said he will continue to sit as the MNA for Rimouski. He said he intends to co-operate with the investigation, but that in the meantime he and his staff will do their jobs defending their constituents' interests.

LeBel was the party's critic on several issues, including employment, social solidarity and the fight against poverty.

Rimouski Mayor Marc Parent said residents of his town, located about 540 kilometres northeast of Montreal, are reeling from the news.

Harold LeBel, an MNA for Rimouski, was elected to the National Assembly in 2014. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Parent said the MNA is innocent until proven guilty, but in all cases of sexual assault, his thoughts are with the victims.

"Harold is a friend of mine," said Parent. "This is a difficult situation, of course, for the alleged victim. It is also a situation that is extremely difficult for the alleged abuser."

Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon said she has zero tolerance for sexual assault.

"We all have a thought for this alleged victim today," she said. "This phenomenon is too present in our society."

The allegations against LeBel arose on the same day that the province's four political parties announced the tabling of a report that includes 190 recommendations to improve the handling of sexual assault and domestic violence complaints. 

An expert committee compiled the nearly 300-page report that, among its recommendations, calls for a special court to handle sex crimes and for lawyers, prosecutors and police to get special training.

Hivon took to Twitter on Monday to commend what she said is an "ambitious and innovative" report that she looks forward to helping implement.

With files from Radio-Canada