The province’s permanent anti-corruption unit — UPAC — last week issued a formal apology to Chomedey Independent MNA Guy Ouellette for his unjust arrest four years ago. Ouellette was detained and questioned by a UPAC squad in October of 2017 in connection with an ongoing investigation into media leaks and Liberal Party fundraising activities.
The news shocked the province, as Ouellette, a former Sûreté du Québec investigator specializing in criminal biker gangs, was detained but not charged by UPAC, which later declared he had merely been detained to secure evidence and prevent interference.
UPAC Commissioner Frédérick Gaudreau made the public apology Thursday, part of an agreement after Ouellette launched a suit against the province’s Attorney General for $550,000. Ouellette’s arrest, he said, was the result of a “faulty investigation and not justified,” adding that UPAC acknowledges the “devastating effects” of the arrest on Ouellette’s personal and professional lives, his family, friends and colleagues. Gaudreau acknowledged that several errors were made in the process leading to the arrest.
Ouellette didn’t make a formal statement, but chatted with some reporters, and told them he’d been waiting four years for this apology. And he got it. “Today, I offer my apologies,” said Gaudreau. “We need to learn from these mistakes and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Now, I am assuring Quebecers that I will continue to put all my energy into the development of our police force and I have full confidence in the work of our investigators to achieve this.” The UPAC chief also acknowledged that the warrants for a raid on Ouellette’s residence were later declared invalid.
Ouellette was arrested in an operation that many labeled a sting, which sought to secure him outside the protective walls of the National Assembly, and which led to a strong denunciation by former speaker and Westmount MNA Jacques Chagnon, who challenged the service to “accuse or excuse” (qu’on accuse ou qu’on s’excuse), which Ouellette used as the title of his book released last year.
Until his arrest, Ouellette presided over the parliamentary Committee on Institutions which was considering Bill 107, legislation to increase UPAC’s independence as a distinct police force, something he had strongly cautioned against. Chagnon publicly lambasted UPAC for not alerting his office of its intention to arrest a legislator, and said its methods reflected “a flagrant lack of consideration for the Assembly and its members… Arresting a committee chairman that interrupts important parliamentary business, particularly one dealing with UPAC itself, as a benign matter raises doubts in people’s minds.”
At the time, Ouellette refused to speak publicly about the details of the arrest but told The Suburban that Chagnon’s speech on parliamentary privilege was a wake-up call for all Quebecers. “It was just a reminder for people about the importance of privilege,” said the four-term MNA, “and he reminded the police of what they can and cannot do.”