Quebec's anti-corruption squad has arrested a Liberal member of the National Assembly who was once among the province's most prominent crime-fighters.
Guy Ouellette, a government MNA and former Sûreté du Québec investigator who helped cripple Quebec's Hells Angels in the 1990s, was arrested Wednesday afternoon by the Unité permanente anti-corruption (UPAC), a government source confirmed. On Thursday, Mr. Ouellette said he is stepping away from the party.
UPAC confirmed someone was arrested Wednesday but would not confirm Mr. Ouellette's identity.
Mr. Ouellette was arrested on suspicion he leaked internal UPAC documents on corruption investigations involving former premier Jean Charest and fundraising by the Quebec Liberal Party, La Presse reported. Mr. Ouellette was recruited by Mr. Charest and first won his seat in 2007.
Mr. Ouellette, who is not formally charged with any crime, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
In recent months, the investigative reporting team of Quebecor Media delivered several scoops that suggested Mr. Charest and his political fundraiser Marc Bibeau had been under continuing investigation for years.
The investigation, which was code named Mâchurer, was active as recently as 2016, the reporting, based on internal UPAC documents, showed.
Mr. Ouellette was in the National Assembly chairing the committee on institutions from 11:16 a.m. to 1 p.m. When the committee resumed sitting at 3 p.m. he was absent.
Premier Philippe Couillard left Wednesday evening on a two-day trip to Northern Quebec. He was set to rush back early Thursday morning to deal with the crisis and hold a caucus meeting.
Government and opposition members expressed their shock Wednesday evening. Mr. Ouellette, 65, was known as "Mr. Integrity" in the National Assembly – both for a junior minister role he once played monitoring the integrity of the public administration and for his spotless law-enforcement past.
"We are dumbfounded by the arrest of Guy Ouellette," Parti Québécois public security critic Pascal Bérubé said. "We need to know more."
Robert Lafrenière, the head of UPAC, testified last May about the leaks in front of the legislative committee chaired by Mr. Ouellette. "I have a fervent hope we get to the end and find the bandit who did that," Mr. Lafrenière said. "If the person who did that thought they would destabilize us, it was just a distraction. You can be certain I will get to the end of this investigation."
That spring, Mr. Ouellette also said he was fed up with leaks and he hoped the investigation would end quickly with an arrest.
Mr. Ouellette had been at odds both with Mr. Lafrenière and the Liberal Party in recent months.
The two men recently had a public spat over whether the head of UPAC would appear before Mr. Ouellette's committee to discuss a law to make UPAC more autonomous. Mr. Lafrenière finally appeared last Thursday and told the committee a new structure would help UPAC avoid future leaks.
Last spring, Mr. Ouellette said Liberal Party staffers were trying to push him out to make way for fresh candidates – an allegation the party denied. He said he intended to stay in office and run again.
Mr. Ouellette worked for the SQ from 1969 to 2001 and continued as an expert witness and media commentator before turning to politics in 2007.
"I'm shocked by this," said Robert Poëti, also a former law-enforcement officer among Liberal MNAs. "I'm just trying to understand what happened."
With reports from The Canadian Press