No evidence of influence peddling: Bastarache

The Bastarache Commission's report says says there's no concrete evidence to support the allegations of influence peddling in judge nominations in Quebec.

Commission harshly criticizes process for appointing Quebec judges

Former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache unveils the report of his inquiry in the appointment of judges Wednesday in Quebec City. ((Canadian Press/Clement Allard))

The Bastarache Commission's report says there's no concrete evidence of influence peddling in the appointment of judges in Quebec.

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache said Wednesday that the evidence shows former justice minister Marc Bellemare appointed three judges to the bench of his own accord, and not because of alleged pressure from provincial Liberal Party fundraisers.

"Regarding the allegations made by Mr. Bellemare, I have found that there were no pressures exercised that would have caused him to make any decisions that were against his will," said Bastarache after presenting his report in Quebec City.

Bastarache said testimony during the commission on judge nominations was often contradictory, and pieces were missing. But he said he was able to piece together different versions to come to what he sees as the facts.

He said those don't prove the allegations from Quebec Premier Jean Charest's former justice minister.

Bellemare had alleged that he faced "colossal" pressure from Liberal Party fundraisers Franco Fava and Charles Rondeau to name certain people to the bench, and that Charest knew of the influence and was complicit.

Bastarache said internal memos and notes of civil servants were valuable to determine the facts, but Bellemare's piece of cardboard with scribbled notes on it could not be considered strong proof of the former justice minister's allegations.

He said the judges sitting on the bench in Quebec are capable and qualified.

Veil of doubt now lifted: Charest

Quebec Premier Jean Charest reacts to the Bastarache Commission's report Wednesday afternoon. ((CBC))
Speaking to the media shortly after the Bastarache report was presented, Charest said the book is now closed on Bellemare's accusations.

"This is much more than just saying that there's no foundation, the evidence actually shows that he did the nominations himself," said Charest.

Charest said the victims of the commission are Quebec's court system and its credibility, and said the damage caused by Bellemare is considerable. But he said the commission's report has helped repair some of that damage.

"If there's one thing today I am grateful for is the fact that this veil of doubt is now lifted, and Quebecers know that their judicial system is a good system."

The opposition Parti Québécois is not expected to comment before Thursday morning, and Bellemare was not available for comment Wednesday.

Appointment process is flawed: Bastarache

Bastarache's nearly 300-page report also harshly criticizes the process of appointing Quebec judges, saying there are no standards governing selection committees, and that each justice minister has had to find his or her own way because of the legislative vacuum.

It says the rules are not clear, and the process lends itself to possible political intervention.

Bastarache said it gives the public the wrong impression.

"When almost half of the population believes that political ties are considered in the appointment of judges, there is a problem," said Bastarache.

His report recommends the creation of a standing selection committee made up of 30 trained members to identify potential judges.

It also recommends that a secretariat that does not answer to the justice minister administer the selection committee.

A pitiful circus: Bellemare

Former justice minister Marc Bellemare said he faced pressure from Liberal Party fundraisers Franco Fava and Charles Rondeau to appoint certain judges. ((Clement Allard/Canadian Press))
Bellemare has called the inquiry a pitiful circus, saying it was doing nothing to restore Quebecers' confidence in the justice system.

"The last days have been trying for me and my family," Bellemare said in French after testifying before the commission last summer.

He told the commission that while he was justice minister, certain high-profile fundraisers for the Quebec Liberal Party told him who to nominate as judges in Quebec.

Bellemare also claimed he warned Charest about it, only to be told by the premier to follow the fundraisers' recommendations.

When he finally took the stand, Charest denied Bellemare ever raised the issue.

That left Quebecers with two very different stories to choose from, and since the inquiry, polls have indicated the majority believes Bellemare's.

Analysts said a lack of evidence to support Bellemare's allegations wouldn't do much to restore Charest's popularity.

"This falls into all of the other allegations of corruption surrounding the Charest government, and the grey cloud of misery we've seen over the last year and a half," said Christian Bourque, vice-president of research at Léger Marketing.

Bourque said the damage has been done and, even with two years left in his mandate, it will be hard for Charest to turn his fortunes around.