Quebec government asks auditor general to probe allegations against anti-corruption unit

Quebec's Liberal government has asked the province's auditor general to look into a series of allegations triggered by the arrest of one of its own MNAs last week.

MNA Guy Ouellette alleges UPAC 'intimidated' MNAs in interview after arrest last week

Guy Ouellette, MNA for Chomedey, was first elected in 2007. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec's Liberal government has asked the province's auditor general to look into a series of allegations triggered by the arrest of one of its own MNAs last week.

Guy Ouellette left the Liberal caucus last week after being arrested by UPAC, the province's anti-corruption unit.

In an interview that aired Monday on French-language radio station 98.5, Ouellette, a former provincial police investigator, said his arrest last Wednesday was an attempt to intimidate MNAs from scrutinizing the police unit.

Before the interview, host Bernard Drainville explained on air that Ouellette and a former analyst for the Transport Ministry, Annie Trudel, took refuge in the station's studios last Friday, when the interview was recorded. Drainville said they were concerned they were being followed.

Trudel made further accusations in an article published Monday in the Journal de Montréal newspaper about an alleged scheme involving UPAC, the province's securities regulator, the Autorité des Marchés financiers (AMF), and a consulting firm.

Calling those allegations "very, very serious," Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux told a news conference late Monday afternoon that he has asked the province's auditor general, Guylaine Leclerc, to look into them.

Ouellette calls his arrest 'orchestrated'

UPAC arrested Ouellette last Wednesday in connection with an investigation looking into leaked documents. He was released the next day without being charged.

In the radio interview, Ouellette denied leaking any documents and accused UPAC of leaking news of his arrest to the media.

"Do you think that since last Wednesday, starting the moment they orchestrated the arrest of Guy Ouellette, the integrity of Guy Ouellette, do you think my 124 colleagues in the National Assembly are feeling brave right now?" Ouellette asked Drainville.

"Do you think they're comfortable in their work? Do you think they'd be comfortable talking to a citizen in their office who wanted to complain about doubtful practices by UPAC?" he continued. "The answer is, 'No.'"

Ouellette alleges UPAC 'intimidated' MNAs

Up until last week, Ouellette chaired the National Assembly's committee on institutions.

He said that committee has been studying a proposal to increase the jurisdiction and independence of UPAC.

Ouellette told Drainville that the head of UPAC, Robert Lafrenière, was often unco-operative when the committee asked him for information and had to be asked repeatedly to appear to answer questions.

Ouellette also alleged that Lafrenière "pressured" and "intimidated" Liberal MNAs into renewing his mandate as head of UPAC in 2016. 

Drainville asked how he did that.

"Through pressure in terms of different activities that made everyone uncomfortable to not renew the mandate," Ouellette replied.

"He forced the hand of the government?" Drainville asked.

"He forced the hand of the government. You know how attached I am to parliamentary procedure and how it's important.  The night before Lafrenière's mandate was to be renewed, I raised it in caucus," Ouellette answered.

He said the decision was made to renew Lafrenière's mandate despite his concerns.

Ouellette said he's convinced that MNAs agreed to renew Lafrenière's mandate because they felt intimidated. And he feels his arrest last week was an attempt to further discourage MNAs from questioning UPAC's mandate and its powers.

Treasury Board President Pierre Arcand, who was with Coiteux at Monday afternoon's news conference, said the auditor general's mandate would be limited to the allegations concerning the alleged scheme between UPAC, the AMF and the independent consulting firm.

Coiteux said he had "no knowledge" of anyone being intimidated.

Allegations against UPAC, AMF

In her interview with the Journal de Montréal, Trudel, who once worked for UPAC as an investigator, said she was also briefly detained by agents from the anti-corruption unit last week.

Trudel told the Journal that Ouellette has information about the alleged scheme, which she said she discovered.

The AMF, with the support of UPAC, is responsible for certifying companies that want to bid on large public contracts.  That system was established after revelations of widespread corruption at the Charbonneau commission.
Former Transport Ministry analyst Annie Trudel waits her turn to testify at a legislature committee June 8, 2016 at Quebec's National Assembly. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Trudel alleged that the AMF would suggest that companies hoping to bid on public contracts work with a particular consulting firm in order to get certified. She said this consulting firm would then allegedly charge additional fees for unexpected work.

Trudel said this could qualify as collusion, but she offered no tangible proof.

CBC News has not independently verified Trudel's allegations.

AMF denies allegations

The AMF responded to those allegations in a statement Monday morning.

"The AMF is anxious to deny loud and clear the allegations made this morning, which refer to an 'alleged ploy involving UPAC, the AMF and a consulting firm,'" the statement reads. "These allegations are not only untrue and completely gratuitous, but they undermine the repuatation and integrity of all AMF staff."

UPAC has not returned calls from CBC.

Sources have told Radio-Canada that Ouellette wants to return to the National Assembly by Wednesday, at the latest, to give his version of events, but he fears UPAC may try to prevent him from doing so.

With files from Radio-Canada