Michael Applebaum's former top aide says informing on boss took emotional toll

Michael Applebaum's former right-hand man suffered from depression and struggled with his role helping police gather information on Montreal's ex-mayor and his network of contacts, a Quebec court has heard.

Former Montreal mayor, charged with corruption and breach of trust, has always maintained his innocence

Former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum arrives at the courthouse accompanied by his defence team on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Michael Applebaum's former political aide suffered from depression and struggled with his role helping police gather information on Applebaum and his network of contacts, a Quebec court has learned.

Hugo Tremblay worked as Applebaum's political aide and later chief of staff between 2006 and 2012, when Applebaum  was the mayor of Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.

​Applebaum is on trial for conspiracy, breach of trust and two forms of corruption: municipal corruption and fraud on the government. All the charges date back to his time as borough mayor.

Tremblay, a key witness for the prosecution, was cross-examined by defence lawyer Pierre Teasdale on Wednesday.

​The former political aide acknowledged it was difficult for him to wear a hidden microphone to help investigators in the spring of 2013, while pretending to carry on as if everything was normal.

"It upset me," Tremblay testified.

'Human spirit is complex'

In court, the defence lawyer read out a text message Tremblay sent to investigator Luc Lamy in May 2013, just a few weeks before Applebaum was arrested.

"It went well. The man was friendly," the text message said, in French.

Tremblay testified he was likely referring to his session with a psychologist, to whom he'd been referred to by police.

The defence asked why, if it was so difficult for him to turn against his former boss, did he continue to help investigators?

"The human spirit is complex," Tremblay answered.

Applebaum has always maintained his innocence.

Hugo Tremblay, once ex-Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum's right-hand man, testified against his former boss in the corruption trial. (Radio-Canada)

Earlier this week, Tremblay told the court that it was Applebaum who taught him to ask real estate promoters and engineering firms for cash in exchange for approving their projects.

Years later, after Applebaum had climbed the political ladder to the Montreal mayor's office, Tremblay said he received a call from anti-corruption investigators.

After some initial resistance, the former aide said he eventually agreed to help their investigation by wearing a wire on two occasions in May 2013 and participating in a phone wiretap in June 2013.

Conversations between Applebaum and Tremblay were used as evidence in court

6 years ago
Duration 1:14
Applebaum is charged with conspiracy, breach of trust and two forms of corruption: municipal corruption and fraud on the government.

'Thanks, Dad,' witness jokes to investigator

On Wednesday, during cross-examination, the defence lawyer also questioned Tremblay about the close relationship he developed with the police investigator during that period.

Teasdale listed off dozens of text messages between the witness and the investigator, some of them about dinners out together, birthday wishes and other topics unrelated to the investigation.

In one of those exchanges on June 21, 2013, days after Applebaum was arrested, the court heard that Lamy texted Tremblay to recommend the film Django Unchained.

Tremblay replied to say that he was at the beach, and Lamy reminded him to wear sunscreen.

"Thanks Dad," Tremblay wrote back, jokingly.

"No problem son," Lamy answered. 

Tremblay acknowledged it was "a good relationship" and explained it was a difficult period for him when he agreed to turn on his former boss and help police. He said he felt comfortable speaking to Lamy.

'They have to have the money'

Three different audio recordings from the spring of 2013 were played in court on Tuesday. 

Applebaum does not admit to wrongdoing in any of those recordings, but there's a contrast between his manner of speaking in what he believed to be private conversations and the public version of the mayor Montrealers knew.

In the recording, Tremblay explains to Applebaum that he was interrogated by police and that he's worried.

Applebaum reassures him and says: "They can come up all kinds of lies … but in the end they have to have the money.

"In order to charge you, [they've] got to see the money," he says.

The following is the audio from a June 10, 2013 phone call between Applebaum and Tremblay that took place over a wiretapped phone from a Montreal police station.

Audio from Michael Applebaum's recorded phone calls

6 years ago
Duration 5:25
Audio from Michael Applebaum's recorded phone calls


Jaela Bernstien


Jaela Bernstien is a Montreal-based journalist who covers stories about climate change and human rights for CBC News. She has a decade of experience and files regularly for web, radio and TV. She won a CAJ award as part of a team investigating black-market labour in Quebec. You can reach her at