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Accusations of lying too common to justify Charest libel suit, court to hear

Accusations of lying have become so common in Quebec politics that Premier Jean Charest's libel suit against Marc Bellemare can't be justified, the former justice minister's lawyers will argue.

The lawyers sought the expert advice of two former journalists on the practice of lying in politics in order to argue in the pending lawsuit that accusing a politician of lying has become an everyday occurrence. A date has yet to be set for Mr. Charest's libel suit.

At the request of Mr. Bellemare's lawyers, the former journalists have compiled reports on lying and accusations of lying in Quebec politics. The reports were tabled in Quebec Superior Court recently as part of Mr. Bellemare's defence in the libel suit. They could be used by his lawyers in the case in an attempt to dispel Mr. Charest's claim that his personal reputation was tarnished by "false, deceptive, slanderous and libellous" accusations made against him by Mr. Bellemare, who had accused him of lying.

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"Accusations in the National Assembly of lying or of misleading someone are frequent, I would say almost everyday," retired journalist Norman Delisle stated in his report that was completed in December. During last spring's session in the National Assembly, he compiled 60 examples of members accusing one another of lying, misleading or bending the truth. He also counted several examples of similar accusations made outside the National Assembly.

Mr. Delisle, a former La Presse Canadienne journalist who covered Quebec politics for 38 years, used examples of politicians and commentators who recently accused Mr. Charest on radio and TV shows of being "a liar" or even a "serial liar" but who were never sued for making libellous remarks. The public, he argued, has grown so accustomed to the lies and deception in politics that they barely react when someone is called a liar.

"These few examples … demonstrate that lying is something that is frequent, customary, common, current, ordinary in politics," Mr. Delisle argued in his report.

In a more theoretical study on the ethical consequences of lying, former journalist and University of Ottawa communications professor Marc-François Bernier argued in a report, also completed last month, that while lying in politics was perhaps morally justifiable under certain circumstances it was totally unacceptable when used to promote a personal interest or to manipulate public opinion.

Politicians who lie take a serious risk, Mr. Bernier argued in his report, underscoring past studies showing that Quebeckers strongly condemn those who lie on issues of public interest. "A study conducted by Canadian researchers indicated that as early as 1998 Quebeckers had higher expectations than other Canadians with regards to the ethical conduct of their elected officials," Mr. Bernier stated.

Last March, Mr. Bellemare accused Mr. Charest of "lying" when the Premier denied allegations that in 2003 senior Quebec Liberal party fundraisers took illegal cash payments from construction entrepreneurs in order to influence the appointment of certain judges.

Mr. Bellemare said he repeatedly told Mr. Charest of the irregularities but nothing was done to stop it. Mr. Charest responded by saying that "what Mr. Bellemare is saying are essentially lies."

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Mr. Charest has launched a $700,000 libel suit against Mr. Bellemare that will be heard in court some time this year. Mr. Bellemare responded last fall with a $900,000 countersuit against Mr. Charest.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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