Quebec Premier Pauline Marois says Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum should step down following his arrest this morning.
"He does not have a choice, he should resign," said Marois at a news conference. "No members of my government had a choice about this support for Mr. Applebaum. We didn’t know he could have problems with the law."
Applebaum faces 14 criminal charges, including fraud against the government, breach of trust, conspiracy and municipal corruption, the provincial anti-corruption unit UPAC announced.
Marois said she does not believe the City of Montreal should be placed under trusteeship because Applebaum is the only member of municipal council facing charges.
"I don't think we should be discrediting every politician who is acting in good faith," said Marois.
The provincial minister responsible for Montreal, Jean-François Lisée, said city council should select an interim mayor to serve until the next municipal election, to be held in November.
Applebaum left provincial police headquarters in a taxi without commenting to the media Monday afternoon, 10 hours after his arrest on 14 charges, including fraud.
The list of charges against Applebaum was made public at a news conference several hours after the mayor and two other people were arrested.
UPAC said the charges relate to obtaining permission and political support for two real estate projects in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough between 2006 and 2011.
"No one is above the law and you can't hide from the law," said Robert Lafrenière, head of UPAC.
Lafrenière said he will not provide additional information about the real estate transactions because it could jeopardize ongoing investigations.
Radio-Canada investigative reporter Alain Gravel said the mayor was taken from his home at 6 a.m. ET.
Images aired on the station show the mayor being taken to provincial police headquarters on Parthenais street early this morning in an unmarked white car.
Vowed to fight corruption
In November, Applebaum was sworn in as Montreal's 42nd mayor, vowing to combat corruption at city hall, replacing Gérald Tremblay, who resigned amid allegations of corruption.
In May, UPAC conducted a series of raids, including one at the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough offices where Applebaum previously sat as borough mayor.
At the time, officials said the unit did not contact Applebaum as a part of the investigation.
Two others with previous ties to the borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce were also arrested Monday morning. They are:
- Jean-Yves Bisson, former borough manager. He faces four charges, including breach of trust, fraud against the government and receiving illegal commissions.
- Saulie Zajdel, former city councillor and former Conservative candidate in the last federal election in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal. He faces five charges, including breach of trust, fraud against the government, municipal corruption and receiving illegal commissions.
Zajdel was hired by the Conservative government as an adviser to Heritage Minister James Moore following his defeat in the 2011 election, but left the job with little explanation in the spring of 2012.
- 'Shadow MP' Saulie Zajdel arrested in corruption probe
In the wake of the arrests, the Conservative government sent an emailed statement to The Canadian Press, saying, "Our government firmly believes that anyone proven to be involved in corruption in Quebec will have to face the consequences."
Call for trusteeship
Stéphane Le Bouyonnec, the provincial Coalition Avenir du Québec party’s critic responsible for Montreal affairs, said Applebaum should resign and believes the province must take control of the city.
"Quebec has to act with resolve and put Montreal into trusteeship," said Le Bouyonnec. "When there's a [raid] like that the mayor has to resign."
Le Bouyonnec said he is not in favour of letting Montreal politicians run the city. He recommends either taking requests from management companies — like what recently happened in Laval — or "an official law from the Quebec parliament," that appoints someone to manage the city until the next elections in November.
City hall reacts
Some municipal politicians expressed shock at the news of Applebaum's arrest. Westmount Mayor Peter Trent said he had hoped Applebaum would be a good replacement mayor.
"Once again it means there's a huge amount of work to be done to rebuild not just the city of Montreal, but the whole area of Montreal. The whole municipal field is really in turmoil," said Trent.
City Coun. Marvin Rotrand told Quebec's call-in program Radio Noon that he believes the mayor is innocent, but said the arrest will likely end his political career.
"I'm in total shock. I have known Michael Applebaum for a long time and as far as I know, he's honest and hard working. I have never seen a politician who has served his citizens as well," said Rotrand.
Several municipal politicians are calling for Applebaum to step down as well as the province. They include Saint-Laurent borough Mayor Alan DeSousa, who spoke to CBC Montreal's morning radio show, Daybreak.
"I don't think the City of Montreal can absorb the body blow of having a mayor who's been arrested and having that person continue," he said.
DeSousa emphasized "there is a presumption of innocence," but went on to say the City of Montreal is governed by "confidence of the Quebec government, the confidence of Montrealers, the confidence of the bond-rating agencies and the business community."
Ahuntsic-Cartierville city Coun. Jocelyn Ann Campbell and Vision Montreal leader Louise Harel also called for Applebaum's resignation.
Harel held a press conference at Montreal's city hall following the arrests to say she does not want the city to be placed under provincial trusteeship. She said an interim mayor should be chosen by city council.