Quebec's anti-corruption unit gets its powers boosted, despite internal woes
Bill 107 gives greater jurisdiction to UPAC, the Crown prosecutor and the BEI
Quebec's National Assembly has adopted a bill that gives more wide-ranging powers to the province's anti-corruption unit (UPAC), which is currently embroiled in scandal.
The Liberal government's Bill 107 was passed Wednesday by a vote of 61-49. While Liberal MNAs voted in favour of the bill, opposition parties refused to throw their support behind it.
Under the bill, UPAC is officially recognized as a specialized police force and given a wider scope of jurisdiction when it comes to investigating suspected cases of corruption and collusion.
"UPAC will have the same tools as all other police forces, but also the same obligations related to law enforcement," said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux.
The bill comes as UPAC has been the source of controversies in recent months after classified information from its most sensitive investigations was leaked to the media.
The unit was also heavily criticized after it arrested but failed to charge Liberal MNA Guy Ouellette last October.
Coiteux said the bill won't fix the unit overnight, but that the changes are a step in the right direction.
"It contains key ingredients to help improve the situation," he said Wednesday.
As its own police force, the unit will also no longer have to go through the Sûreté du Québec or Montreal police to access certain information.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, UPAC said the changes marked an "important addition in the fight against corruption in Quebec."
Demands from opposition parties fall flat
Opposition parties had asked for the bill to be amended before it went to vote in order to change how a director is selected for UPAC.
The Parti Québécois, Québec Solidaire and Coalition Avenir Québec proposed that the head of the unit should be appointed with at least two-thirds of the vote by the National Assembly.
"We're confident about that position and we defended it to the very end," said Coiteux.
"It was the only real cause of disagreement with the opposition parties."
PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée said that if his party is elected to power in the upcoming provincial election, it will replace Robert Lafrenière as the head of the anti-corruption squad.
"The bad decision is to give more power to managers that have proven they are bad managers of UPAC," he said. "It is the Liberals' mistake to do that."
More powers for BEI, DPCP
Bill 107 will also give greater powers to the independent bureau of investigations (BEI), which investigates police shootings, and the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP).
The BEI now has the responsibility to investigate sexual misconduct allegations committed by police officers in the scope of their work functions.
Under the bill, the DPCP will now have room to negotiate when it comes to striking deals with important witnesses who choose to collaborate with investigators.
With files from Radio-Canada