Jacques Duchesneau, Quebec Anti-Collusion Crusader, Gets The Chop
MONTREAL - The man who authored an explosive report on corruption and collusion in Quebec's construction industry, paving the way for a public inquiry, has been dumped by his boss.
Jacques Duchesneau was relieved of his duties after a meeting Friday with Robert Lafreniere, the head of the province's permanent anti-corruption unit.
The outspoken former Montreal police chief dubbed "Mr. Clean" had been at loggerheads with Lafreniere ever since he went public with his criticism of the anti-corruption unit's leadership.
The rift had been evident for weeks, with Duchesneau stating he felt the unit was operating too much like a police force and should ideally be headed by a retired judge.
Lafreniere, a former deputy minister and longtime police officer himself, was appointed to head the unit in March. He took exception to Duchesneau's criticism and fired back a few weeks ago that he intended to have a "frank discussion" with his subordinate.
Duchesneau created a stir among Quebec's political and business class after the leak of an incendiary report he authored that delved into ties between organized-crime groups like the Mafia, the construction industry and political parties in Quebec.
He then went on to hold his own news conference, testify before the provincial legislature and appear on one of Quebec's most popular and influential talk shows.
Earlier this month, Duchesneau requested and was granted a leave of several weeks.
His abrupt dismissal drew criticism from opposition parties in Quebec City, who wondered whether he was being canned because the governing Liberals weren't happy with him.
The Action democratique du Quebec questioned the corruption unit's independence from the Charest government. ADQ house leader Sylvie Roy said the firing has all the hallmarks of a political settling of accounts.
"Mr. Duchesneau is an honest man who would have gone to the bottom of things," Roy said. "His disagreement with Robert Lafreniere is just an excuse and I don't believe it."
A spokesman for Public Security Minister Robert Dutil did not have much to say.
"It's a human-resources issue," said Mathieu St-Pierre.
"UPAC (the anti-corruption unit) is an autonomous and independent entity."
The Parti Quebecois said in a statement Duchesneau was clearly fired for talking too much.
Stephane Bergeron, the PQ public security critic, said the corruption unit has had well-documented troubles in recruiting staff, so it's surprising Duchesneau was let go.
"Announced with great fanfare eight months ago, the (corruption unit) has not yielded the expected results," Bergeron said.
Quebec solidaire said the government is letting Duchesneau go when his expertise is needed the most.
"UPAC reproaches Mr. Duchesneau for a lack of loyalty, but Mr. Duchesneau has shown great loyalty to Quebec," said Amir Khadir, the only Quebec solidaire member in the legislature.
Loyalty was indeed behind the departure.
A spokeswoman for the unit confirmed Friday the working relationship between Duchesneau and Lafreniere had become untenable.
It was impossible for the two men to "continue their collaboration," said Anne-Frederick Laurence.
Duchesneau, 62, was making $205,000 a year and his contract was set to expire next March. Details of his departure were not made public.
He had been on an extended leave for the past three weeks before meeting Lafreniere on Friday morning.
He was hired in February 2010 to head an anti-collusion squad within Quebec's Transport Department to investigate irregularities in the awarding of government roadwork contracts.
That unit, among others, was later absorbed into the province's permanent anti-corruption unit last February.
Duchesneau is a former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
He left that job in 2008 to pursue a doctorate in counter-terrorism before being called into service by Premier Jean Charest.
Duchesneau's explosive report outlined an elaborate web of corruption and Mob influence in Quebec's construction industry, further intensifying pressure on Charest to call an inquiry into the construction industry.
Charest steadfastly refused to do that for two years despite widespread calls for an inquiry.
On the heels of the Duchesneau report, Charest did finally call an inquiry last week, naming Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau to head the two-year probe.