NEWS
11/09/2011 07:00 EST | Updated 01/09/2012 05:12 EST

Quebec Corruption Inquiry: Jean Charest Reverses Himself, Gives Subpoena Power To Corruption Probe

The Charest government has made another about-face over the inquiry into allegations of corruption in the construction industry.

The judge in charge of the commission will now have full legal powers of a public inquiry, something the Liberal government has until now resisted.

When the inquiry was announced three weeks ago, Premier Jean Charest said the witnesses would not be subpoenaed and any testimony could be used to prosecute them later on.

Critics complained such a commission would be toothless, since anyone summoned to testify could simply decline if they feared self-incrimination.

Charest did quickly amend the government's position, saying that subpoena power could be granted if the commissioner requested it.

The judge in charge of the commission recommended that change on Monday.

Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier announced Wednesday it would be granted.

"The commission will have the power to summon witnesses and provide immunity," he said. "The commission will be careful not to compromise the investigation currently being conducted by the permanent anti-corruption squad."

The mandate of the commission has not changed, he said.

Commission aides named

Roderick A. Macdonald, McGill University's F.R. Scott chair in public and constitutional law, and Quebec Auditor General Renaud Lachance have been added as commissioners' aides, Fournier announced. They'll assume those roles on Nov. 28.

Opposition parties are welcoming the change after insisting for weeks the original commission wasn't a real inquiry.

Parti Québécois justice criticVéronique Hivon said it was astonishing to watch the province's attorney general try to "pull a fast one" on Quebecers by attempting to suspend the law governing public inquires.