Pierre Paradis out of cabinet, Liberal caucus as police probe complaint of sexual nature

Premier Philippe Couillard is denying he misled the public about the reasons Pierre Paradis, who is being investigated for crimes of a sexual nature, was stripped of his cabinet portfolio and kicked out of the Liberal caucus.

Ex-employee of former minister filed complaint with police

Premier Philippe Couillard (centre) defended his government's handling of the scandal after meeting with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre (left) and Municipal Affairs Minister Martin Coiteux (right) on Friday. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Premier Philippe Couillard is denying he misled the public about the reasons Pierre Paradis, who is being investigated for crimes of a sexual nature, was stripped of his cabinet portfolio and kicked out of the Liberal caucus. 

Paradis was Quebec's agriculture and fisheries minister until Wednesday, when reports began circulating he was stepping down to treat a concussion suffered while horseback riding. 

Couillard's office issued a statement that night saying simply that Transport Minister Laurent Lessard was adding agriculture to his portfolio. 

But on Thursday it emerged that Paradis — who represents the Eastern Townships riding of Brome-Missisquoi — was the subject of a provincial police investigation.

Sources have since confirmed to Radio-Canada that the investigation was launched following a complaint made by a former employee of Paradis's and is of a sexual nature.

Quebec's opposition parties are accusing the government of trying to cover up the reasons for Paradis's departure. 

He is now the second MNA, following Gerry Sklavounos, to be removed from the Liberal caucus pending police investigation into complaints about possible sexual crimes.

"It's clear that the premier wasn't clear in recent days," Agnès Maltais, the Parti Québécois critic for ethics and integrity, said in a Quebec City news conference. 

"He was attempting to spare his minister or the government."

'We acted quickly'

Speaking to reporters on Friday morning, Couillard insisted his government removed Paradis from office as soon as it received confirmation that a police investigation was underway.

Asked why his office let the story about the concussion circulate, Couillard replied: "that information didn't come from us."

"Apparently Mr. Paradis did have an accident and was treated and is being treated for that," Couillard added.

Pierre Paradis, who represents the Eastern Townships riding of Brome-Missisquoi, has been relieved of his duties as agricultural minister and removed from the Liberal caucus because he is the subject of a police investigation. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"But I will be clear, the reason we asked him on Wednesday to step down as minister wasn't for that reason. It was because that day we received a letter from the person who wanted to be heard."

Couillard would not discuss the contents of the letter or detail the allegations against Paradis, noting he hasn't been formally charged with an offence. 

Sources have told Radio-Canada that Couillard's office was informed as early as last week, Jan. 19, that someone had filed a complaint against Paradis.

The sources said that it wasn't until Thursday that Couillard received word that police had formally launched an investigation. 

"We acted quickly each time we received new information," Couillard said. 

Long-serving MNA

Paradis is among the longest-serving MNAs in the legislature. He was first elected in 1980 and was a trusted minister under Robert Bourassa.

He fell out of favour when Jean Charest became premier in 2003. Despite his experience in cabinet, Paradis was relegated to the backbench until Couillard named him agriculture and fisheries minister in 2014.   

Paradis's exit comes months after MNA Gerry Sklavounos resigned from Liberal caucus following an allegation of sexual assault.

The police report into that incident was turned over to the Crown prosecutor's office in December.

Sklavounos has not been charged.

With files from Radio-Canada