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CANADA - Hammer falls on top corruption cop

OFF THE WIRE
BY: KEVIN DOUGHERTY
 montrealgazette.com
Not our call, government says; UPAC says criticism of unit's boss made it 'impossible' for him to stay
It was after Jacques Duchesneau testified about his report In September to a National Assembly committee that he made the remarks that led to him being fired on Friday.
It was after Jacques Duchesneau testified about his report In September to a National Assembly committee that he made the remarks that led to him being fired on Friday.
Photograph by: MATHIEU BELANGER REUTERS FILE, The Gazette.
Jacques Duchesneau, the former Montreal police chief whose investigations confirmed that corruption and collusion involving organized crime and attempts to pay off politicians were widespread in Quebec, was fired Friday.
His offence was saying a judge - not a police officer - should head UPAC, Quebec's permanent anti-corruption unit.
Duchesneau was summoned in the morning to the Fullum St. headquarters of UPAC.
UPAC commissioner Robert Lafrenière informed Duchesneau that his contract to continue probing attempts at collusion to rig bids on public-sector construction contracts was finished.
"Mr. Duchesneau had created doubts about UPAC and its leader," said UPAC spokesperson Anne-Frédérick Laurence, adding Lafrenière told Duchesneau it would be "impossible" for him to continue.
Lafrenière first called in Duchesneau when La Presse reported his comments after Duchesneau testified Sept. 22 at a National Assembly committee, following the leak of his report to the media.
That night, after his testimony, Duchesneau gave a lift back to Montreal to La Presse reporter Michèle Ouimet, who wrote of their wide-ranging discussions about the career of Duchesneau in law enforcement and as one-time candidate for mayor of Montreal.
At the end of the La Presse story, Duchesneau is quoted saying: "UPAC isn't strong. They think like the police."
Lafrenière, 58, was deputy minister of public security before he was named head of UPAC.
He was a senior public security official for eight years, after a 31-year police career, climbing to senior positions in the Sûreté du Québec.
"There should not be a police officer at the head of UPAC, rather a retired judge like John Gomery," Duchesneau told La Presse, referring to the judge who headed the public inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.
In yielding last week to sustained pressure from opposition parties, mayors, the police, prosecutors and the public for a public inquiry into Quebec's construction industry, Premier Jean Charest said Duchesneau's report convinced him an inquiry was needed.
"We uncovered a universe that was clandestine and wellrooted, of a surprising scope, harmful to society in terms of security and the economy, as well as for justice and democracy," Duchesneau wrote.
After interviewing more than 500 people involved construction in Quebec, Duchesneau found "people who were exasperated, even desperate, who needed support."
UPAC was created last February by the Charest government, taking over and expanding a team designated Operation Hammer. It has a $30.5-million budget and an authorized staff of 200 people, including police officers from the provincial, federal and municipal levels, as well as investigators from Revenue Quebec, the Commission de la construction du Québec, the Régie du bâtiment du Québec, municipal affairs and federal agencies, such as the Competition Bureau.
Duchesneau was originally named in February 2010 by then-transport minister Julie Boulet to head an anti-collusion unit in her department, but stepped down in November 2010 after allegations he breached Quebec's party financing laws, when he was a candidate in 1998 for mayor of Montreal.
After Elections Québec cleared his name, Duchesneau returned in February 2011 to his job heading the anti-collusion squad, now integrated into UPAC.
On Friday, Quebec's opposition parties blamed the Charest government for Duchesneau's firing, although the government insisted it was Lafrenière's call.
Duchesneau was "efficient, honest, competent," said Action démocratique du Québec's Sylvie Roy.
For Stéphane Bergeron of the Parti Québécois, Duchesneau was fired "for talking too much and irritating the Liberal government."
Amir Khadir of Québec solidaire deplored the firing, saying that while Lafrenière found his remarks "disloyal" to himself, as UPAC head,
"Duchesneau proved his greater loyalty to Quebec."
Hugo d'Amours, Charest's press secretary, recalled that the premier "said many times he hoped Duchesneau could continue his work," adding: "The premier was sincere, but UPAC is a totally independent body."
Duchesneau has said he planned to step down next March, when his contract was to end, to finish his doctoral thesis on air terrorism. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Mathieu St-Pierre, press secretary to Robert Dutil, Quebec's public security minister, said Friday that UPAC is "totally independent" and had not informed the minister that Duchesneau had been let go. St-Pierre said he learned of Duchesneau's firing in the media.
UPAC line to report crimes in the construction industry: 1-888-444-1701. Email: upac@upac.gouv.qc.ca
kdougherty@ montrealgazette.com

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