Quebec's anti-corruption unit gets its powers boosted, despite internal woes

Quebec's National Assembly has adopted a bill that gives more power to the province's anti-corruption unit (UPAC), the independent bureau of investigations (BEI) and the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP).

Bill 107 gives greater jurisdiction to UPAC, the Crown prosecutor and the BEI

Under Bill 107, UPAC is officially recognized an a specialized police force and given more jurisdiction. (Radio-Canada)

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.

With its new powers, UPAC can now investigate cases of corruption at the administrative level of the justice system. It can also look into cases involving the granting of rights or privileges, such as nominations or funding grants.
Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux says that Bill 107 will help fix the province's anti-corruption unit, which is embroiled in scandal. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

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.

The Liberals opted to keep the current appointment process, which allows the government to select a director from a list of shortlisted candidates for a seven-year term.
Quebec's anti-corruption unit is recognized as an independent and specialized police force under Bill 107. (Carl Boivin/Radio-Canada)

"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