UPAC’s apology last week to Laval MNA Guy Ouellette was too long in coming and another example of the dangers of unaccountable bureaucracy especially in the security services. As you read in our front. page story this week, UPAC had arrested — but not charged — Ouellette for allegedly leaking information to media about certain ongoing investigations. Ouellette had always maintained his innocence and sued the unit. UPAC’s apology called the action against the MNA “unjustified” and “destructive.” UPAC leadership promised to revaluate its procedures.It has been nearly four years that this has hung over Ouellette’s head.
When former Premier Jean Charest created UPAC we warned at the time of the unacceptable dangers of a police agency not subject to oversight, nor the normal rules surrounding matters such as warrants nor even the rigours of the rule of law as it applies to the obtaining of evidence. In the wake of the alleged construction scandals and political financing schemes, it was argued by some that an extra-judicial agency was necessary. But we also warned that even if the argument could be made that UPAC was necessary, it should have had a sunset clause. A time limit. UPAC did not have that. It was permanent. And permanently protected from the light of day working on anonymous denunciations that are now pervasive throughout all government departments and agencies.This cannot be allowed to stand in a free society.
At the time of Ouellette’s arrest, Assembly Speaker Jacques Chagnon rose to give an extraordinary statement criticizing UPAC and saying in part that UPAC’s action demonstrated, “...ignorance of our institutions, and in particular of parliament, which is at the very heart of the democratic governance of our State.” He then went on to demand that, “...qu’on accuse ou qu’on s’excuse.” That UPAC either charge Ouellette with something or apologize. UPAC never charged Ouellette. And took four years to apologize. Ouellette used Chagnon’s words as the title for his book on the affair. This is not the first time that reputations have been tarnished by UPAC with no evidence. Indeed, baseless UPAC insinuations even hurt former Premier Charest as he was considering a run for the federal Conservative leadership. UPAC has yet to apologize for that.
Arrest and detention without charge are the tools of tyranny not democracy. One of the fundamental principles of our law is that the law itself will not be used as a weapon. Some veteran observers believe that UPAC’s actions against Ouellette were carried out for nothing more than purposes of intimidation.
Guy Ouellette was not only a decorated SQ officer, he is one of the hardest-working and well-respected MNAs. One of his duties was chairing the Assembly Committee on Institutions. That committee was in the midst of examining UPAC’s request for more powers and status. Some termed UPAC’s request as wanting to become a third police force over local forces and the SQ. It was well-known that Guy Ouellette was opposed to the expansion of UPAC’s powers and unlimited mandate. And here lays the crux of the problem.
When Premier Charest created UPAC it was at a time of many claims of alleged corruption in public bodies. There were calls for an independent inquiry and independent investigators to determine if — and to what extent — corruption existed. The Charbonneau Commission and UPAC were established. But while the Charbonneau Commission had a start and end date (the latter extended several times,) UPAC and its investigators have simply continued. A free society must fix problems in its institutions from within when they arise. It should never simply create another bureaucracy operating outside the norms. Indeed, that was a noted criticism of the Charbonneau Commission itself.
Institutional corruption of the rule of law is arguably more harmful to the public good than any monetary corruption of public officials. The latter passes. The former stays in place. These commissions and extra-legal agencies are supposedly created to protect our liberties. Yet the only real protection of liberty is respect for due process and the rule of law. We have laws. We have police. We have courts and judges. Let us do the necessary work within the frameworks governed by our Charter Rights protections. Not with Star Chamber proceedings and methods.
Then UPAC commissioner Robert Lafrenière — whose premature resignation two years ago has never been explained — said,“Urgency to act can certainly influence certain decisions in an investigation strategy, but this urgency can never justify an action that breaks the rule of law.” Unjustified indeed. That word was repeated in the UPAC apology. But even if we give Mr. Lafrenière full credit for good faith, the reality is that unbridled extraordinary authority — particularly security authority — will always compromise the rule of law in the end.
Respect for individual privacy as guaranteed by our Charters. Presumption of innocence. Attorney-client privilege. Guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Freedom of the press as the fourth estate of government. Confidentiality of journalists’ sources. Pretty straight forward stuff. Any tenth-grader in a civics class gets these. So why is it that these fundamental principles have been breached so often in the past decade in Quebec?
Seemingly only after harm has been done do we answer the question of Juvenal “Who watches the watchmen?” The answer, in the end, is always the same. We the people do, because we must. The Ouellette apology drives the point home with searing intensity. It is time to bring UPAC to an end.