01/22/2013 01:57 EST | Updated 03/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Star witness's cross-examination on hold at Quebec inquiry

Star witness Martin Dumont's cross-examination by the Charbonneau corruption inquiry has been delayed while his lawyer makes her case to Quebec Superior Court that the commission's chief investigator violated Dumont's constitutional rights.

Suzanne Gagné says Dumont was denied access to legal counsel, denied his right to remain silent and coerced by the inquiry's director of operations, Robert Pigeon, into admitting on videotape that he'd invented the story of a cash-counting receptionist when he first testified before the inquiry earlier last fall.

Dumont was invited back to the commission on Dec. 11 to talk to investigators on videotape about his testimony in October, in which he had described how Union Montréal receptionist Alexandra Pion had confided in him that she had helped the party's fundraiser Bernard Trépanier count $850,000 — and she no longer wanted to count money for him.

Meeting 'cordial,' investigator says

Gagné was given permission by Charbonneau this morning to question Pigeon about portions of that interview that were not recorded.

Pigeon recounted how Dumont had been escorted into a private interview room for questioning, but he insisted Dumont was told he was free to leave at any time.

"It was all very cordial," said Pigeon. "Mr. Dumont was not detained. He had had several meetings with investigators previously. This was just a follow-up....He was being treated as a witness, not as a suspect."

Gagné suggested, however, that the questioning became increasingly coercive.

Pigeon acknowledged that he told Dumont another inquiry witness, City of Montreal employee François Thériault, was about to be charged with perjury for not giving a full version of the facts during his testimony.

"Why did you bring up Mr. Thériault and the fact that he would be facing criminal charges of perjury?" Gagné asked. "Was it not meant to incite [Dumont] to answer your questions?"

"Not necessarily," Pigeon replied. "I told him that these were questions of lies, falsehoods and the two files were quite similar."

Pigeon said he told Dumont that in Thériault's case, the commission had gone straight to the police — but that they were taking a different approach in his case.

Dumont's wife also questioned

While Dumont was being interviewed, his wife was in another room, being questioned separately.

"[Dumont] was worried about what was happening with his wife, from the moment I explained to him that if the two of them had agreed on a fabricated story in advance... his wife could also face charges," Pigeon said.

Pigeon said it was at that point that Dumont demanded they halt the interview with his wife and asked to see her.

"I told him he could see his wife, as long as he promised to tell me the truth," Pigeon said. "He told me, 'Yes, I'll tell you the truth.'"

Gagné said Dumont was so upset by that interview he became ill and had to go to the hospital later that same day.

She asked to call Dumont's wife as a witness, to provide her version of those events.

Charbonneau denied that request, saying she thought Gagné's questioning of Pigeon had been useful, but that it was time to move on with Dumont's cross-examination.

It was at that point that Gagné objected, asking for a suspension of her client's cross-examination until she seeks an opinion from the Quebec Superior Court on whether Dumont's constitutional rights were violated.

Publication ban granted on Operation Hammer witness

Commissioner Charbonneau granted a preventive publication ban on the testimony of a sergeant-supervisor with the Quebec provincial police, Isabelle Toupin, who is appearing before the inquiry this afternoon.

Toupin was in charge of the special unit Operation Hammer's investigation into the Faubourg-Contrecoeur scandal.

The former head of Montreal's executive-committee, Frank Zampino, faces charges of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust in that affair, which involved the sale of municipal land to developer Frank Catania at far below market value.

Zampino's lawyer, Claude-Armand Sheppard, asked for the publication ban on some parts of Toupin's expected testimony, to protect his client's right to a fair trial.

Zampino and nine others charged in relation to that affair are expected to appear in court on March 4 to fix a date for their trial.

Charbonneau granted Sheppard's request, making it clear that some or all of Toupin's testimony could be made public at a later date.