Ex-Quebec police chief goes to court to stop process that could lead to his ouster

·4 min read

MONTREAL — The former head of the provincial police is the latest big name in Quebec to take the government to court over a years-long saga involving leaked documents tied to anti-corruption unit investigations.

Martin Prud'homme -- who has been suspended since March 2019 for reasons that were never made public -- is asking the courts to stop a process launched by the government that could lead to him being removed from the force.

In a Nov. 16 court application that is filled with redactions, Prud'homme alleges that key state players in Quebec are "politically contaminating" his case and are undermining the integrity of the provincial police.

"For nearly two years, the applicant has found himself sucked into a political, media and disciplinary whirlwind that continues to endure due to government interference," the application to Quebec's Superior Court reads.

Prud'homme's legal troubles began after then-Liberal member of the legislature Guy Ouellette, a former provincial police officer and longtime friend of Prud'homme, was arrested in 2017 in connection with document leaks to the media. 

The leaks were related to an investigation by the anti-corruption unit, known as UPAC, into alleged illegal financing within the Quebec Liberal party. Former Quebec premier Jean Charest announced last month he was suing the Quebec government over UPAC's investigation. Last week, UPAC director Frederick Gaudreau said that investigation is ongoing.

Prud'homme's application for judicial review says that on Oct. 24, 2017, Guy Lapointe, then-spokesman for the provincial police, told him there were rumours circulating in the police force and among Crown prosecutors about his friendship with Ouellette.

That same day, Prud'homme said, he called Quebec's head prosecutor, Annick Murphy, and talked to her about rumours that he was connected to Ouellette and the leaks.

Then in March 2019, he said he was told by a member of Premier Francois Legault's office that he was being targeted by an undefined criminal investigation. One year later, in March 2020, he said he was told by the same person, Line Berube, that he wouldn't be charged criminally.

Prud'homme said, however, that Berube informed him he would be subject to an investigation mandated by the premier's executive committee, which would determine whether he broke ethical rules by calling Murphy and should be fired.

The former police chief's court application said the process the government has used to judge his behaviour is not legal. The investigation report is not public, and all mention of it in the application has been redacted. 

On Oct. 16, Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault, told reporters that the committee concluded he had committed a sufficiently serious ethical fault for the case to be heard by an administrative tribunal.

"I think the motive is serious," she said. "If I considered it frivolous or minor, we would not have reached the point of appointing the (tribunal)."

Prud'homme's application calls for the court to stop the proceedings started by Guilbault in October and to declare that the committee tied to the premier's office didn't have the authority to investigate him. He also wants the court to declare the committee's report null and to state his phone call with Murphy was not an ethical breach.

Legault refused to discuss the case Tuesday. "I never got involved in this case in the past, and I won't start now," he told reporters in Montreal.

In early November, Murphy announced she would resign as head of the prosecutor's office in February, about year before the end of her mandate. She said she wants to spend more time with her children and grandchildren.

Ouellette was never charged with a crime following his arrest in connection with the leaks to the media, and in 2018 he sued the government over his treatment. He has left the Liberals and sits as an Independent in the legislature.

Lapointe, who has been on loan from the provincial police since October as a communications adviser with Quebec's police watchdog, told The Canadian Press Tuesday that he remains friends with Prud'homme. "I simply did my job as head of communications to inform my boss about the rumours that were circulating," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2020.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press