Jean Charest will therefore not be charged. For a fairly simple reason: there is no evidence to convict him in a criminal court.
This investigation, undertaken in 2013, mobilized experienced investigators, substantial budgets, shadowing, interrogations of more than 300 witnesses.
To achieve what? Nothing. It was high time to end it.
Thus ends the era of ex-commissioner Robert Lafrenière at the head of our anti-corruption police: with another failure. Most resounding of all.
In and of itself, an investigation that does not result in a charge is not a failure. But it’s not every day that the police launch an investigation against a former prime minister. What is even more unusual is that from the start, the investigation was leaked to the media. Interrogations, confidential documents were the subject of reports (a huge investigation is still taking place on the origin of these leaks). These leaks created the impression that the police were “holding” Jean Charest for influence peddling or corruption. Whereas generally, when the police orchestrate leaks, it is precisely because they lack material and want to provoke reactions. Either with witnesses; either with the bosses, so that they release additional budgets.
Even if no piece published in the media proved the commission of a crime, the recurrence of leaks created a huge cloud of suspicion around the former Liberal leader. He was guilty, only the sentence was missing.
Except that in the end, the proof of crossing the red line separating favoritism from pure influence peddling was missing.
And in a court of law, all the suspicion in the world is useless. You have to prove who did what, when, how. “We know well” is not – not yet – admissible in evidence.
And the illegal funding of the Liberal Party? And the undue influence of collector Marc Bibeau, for nominations and other major decisions?
Asking for money from a law firm or building society is a violation of Election law. The Parti Québécois, the Action Démocratique and the Liberal Party have done so. With this difference that the Liberals did it much more than all the others, under Charest.
But to prove a criminal act, it must be demonstrated that an appointment, a contract, a specific advantage was granted by name in exchange for a donation – legal or not, for that matter.
Contrary to what Paul St-Pierre Plamondon suggested in a tweet on Monday, the Charbonneau commission never found this proof at the level of the Quebec government, Liberal or PQ – but at the municipal level, en masse.
The lack of ethics, even deep, even dirty, is not necessarily a crime.
The Nathalie Normandeau affair, former number two in the Liberal government, never came to fruition. But fundamentally, it was a question of knowing if contracts given by his ministry to companies had been in exchange for a political donation. And obviously, the UPAC only had against it what came out at the Charbonneau commission. That is to say, nothing really specific on the criminal level: only “ordinary” cronyism and favoritism.
I don’t trivialize the excesses of what some call the “old politics”, as if it had disappeared, while it always finds ways to resuscitate.
I am saying that not everything that is detestable is necessarily a criminal offence.
There are also elections, for that…
The UPAC under Lafrenière had developed a criminal theory of circumventions at the Political Party Financing Act. And in the two most important cases, she has drawn a blank.
The Mâchurer investigation lasted under three governments: those of Pauline Marois, Philippe Couillard and François Legault.
And if it ends in a fishtail, no one can seriously say that it is for reasons of political influence. We can even argue that one of the motivations of the first commissioner, Robert Lafrenière, was to distance himself from the Liberals who had appointed him and to show off his independence. One thinks of the arrest of Nathalie Normandeau, Deputy Premier of Quebec, the very day the budget was tabled. What a coincidence: he was waiting to be nominated for another term. We think of his resignation as commissioner on the same day of the general elections in 2018. What timing…
When the new commissioner, Frédérick Gaudreau, was appointed, he had the Mâchurer file re-evaluated. The evidence gathered against Jean Charest was analyzed by a committee chaired by former judge André Rochon, a man with an absolutely impeccable reputation, highly respected in the legal community. In fact, it was analyzed twice rather than once: a first report was provided 14 months ago. And a second, definitive, at the beginning of the year 2022 – without even the entourage of Charest being informed before Monday morning.
Those who, like Mr. St-Pierre Plamondon, see it as an “aberration” should tell us what document they are relying on.
Using the police for political purposes, putting pressure on politicians to demand accusations from adversaries, is a dangerous game that, unfortunately, some have played in the National Assembly.
Many politicians, for 10 years, have allowed themselves to question the independence of the UPAC or the DPCP, to demand that an investigation, if not a conviction, succeed – suggesting all kinds of dark influences, without the slightest evidence.
We note that the CAQ’s elected officials no longer use this kind of argument, now that they are in business. For one fundamental reason: they respect the independence of the police and state attorneys who must work without political influence. Even if the final result of this investigation is not to particularly please the Legault government.
All this tells us at least that no Quebec politician is safe from a police investigation, regardless of his rank. But we still need proof.
Otherwise, without proof justifying it, governments are still judged by elections. Not by the courts.
And to see the bad fortune of the liberals for a few years, the verdict and the sentence awaited no trial.