POLITICS

Meet Quebec's anti-corruption fighter, the man who once arrested his own boss

09/16/2011 04:15 EDT | Updated 11/16/2011 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - The man tasked with tackling corruption in Quebec's construction industry is no stranger to investigating wrongdoing. In 1983, he arrested his own boss.

Now he's operating under the anxious glare of his current political masters, along with the scandal-weary gaze of an entire province.

Jacques Duchesneau, whose leaked report describes a cringe-inducing web of corruption, is probably best known to Canadians as the man who headed the air transport security agency after 9-11.

He came to public prominence earlier when he was a young detective-sergeant in the Montreal police drug squad and nabbed his boss, who was stealing cocaine and hashish from police evidence lockers and selling it.

"I put the handcuffs on him myself, dragged him out to a squad car," the steely eyed, square-jawed Duchesneau told Maclean's magazine in a 1994 interview after he was named Montreal's police chief.

"It was a nightmare, the saddest day in my entire career."

His boss, who had been renowned as one of the elite members of the Montreal police and was once touted as a future police chief himself, was convicted and sent to jail.

Duchesneau himself knows the sting of corruption allegations, however, after he was accused in media reports of breaking Quebec election laws when he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Montreal in 1998.

Duchesneau briefly stepped down last fall from his top job leading Quebec's new anti-collusion squad, strongly denying he had hidden an illegal loan to his campaign.

"I refute the allegations against me," he said in a statement at the time. "In fact, I'm offended by them."

Duchesneau, who had been called "Mr. Clean" by some, was cleared of any wrongdoing and went back to work earlier this year.

The 62-year-old member of the Order of Canada hails from a modest family in Montreal, where he joined the police force in 1968, serving as a constable, an undercover agent, detective and commander.

He was head of the organized-crime division and was one of the officers who rushed to Montreal's Ecole polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989, when gunman Marc Lepine killed 14 women students in a rampage before taking his own life.

Duchesneau served five years as police chief and would often patrol in a squad car, helping to work the street during Quebec's devastating ice storm that blacked out much of the city in 1998.

His term was marked by increased emphasis on fighting organized crime — in particular outlaw bikers — as well as bringing in community policing and returning professionalism to the troubled force.

After his failed bid for mayor, the Canadian Army reserve officer worked as a consultant and businessman before being tapped in 2002 to head the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

He remained there until 2008 when he left to complete his doctorate in counter-terrorism. He was named by Premier Jean Charest to head the anti-collusion task force last year.

At the time, he said he hadn't even bothered discussing the details of his contract before agreeing to accept the job because he said he was so passionate about the cause.

He was quoted in reports at the time saying he wanted a public inquiry, which the premier has steadfastly refused to call.

Duchesneau reports to the Quebec Transport Department — meaning the senior civil service, the transport minister and, ultimately, the premier — are his current bosses.