Montreal fights to get back $260K in severance pay from ex-mayor Michael Applebaum

The City of Montreal sought Wednesday to recoup more than $260,000 in severance pay from former mayor Michael Applebaum, who was found guilty of fraud in 2017.

Applebaum received the money shortly after he resigned from the city's top job in 2013, a day after he was arrested. 

He was given $159,719 as a transition allowance, which is intended to help politicians with their return to private life, and $108,204 in departure pay, for a total of $267,923.

In the wake of the Charbonneau commission, the Quebec government amended legislation in 2016 to say politicians found guilty of a serious offence while in office must refund the transition allowance they were paid.

The law was amended again in 2018 to force politicians to give back departure pay, as well. 

At issue is whether the law can be applied retroactively to 2013, when Applebaum was paid.

In the case of the departure pay, there is the added complication that the rule was put into place a year after Applebaum's conviction.

Sarah Simard, a lawyer for the city, argued before Quebec Superior Court Justice Serge Gaudet that Applebaum should be forced to give back the money. 

"The law is clear," she told the court. "It applies."

But Gaudet repeatedly took issue with the timeline.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

At one point, the judge raised the hypothetical case of a politician who received severance in 1960 despite having committed crimes: Could the municipality get that money back now? 

"This is my question," he said.

The defence, for its part, contended the legislation doesn't apply to Applebaum because it was not in effect when the payments were made.

"There are no indications that the law is retroactive," Applebaum's lawyer, Natalia Manole, told reporters. 

Manole said Applebaum has already served time for his crimes, and suggested the civil suit is an attempt to "punish him again." 

Applebaum 'doing fine'

Dressed in a button-down shirt and dark blue suit, Applebaum, 56, sat quietly as lawyers made their arguments.

Outside the courtroom, Applebaum briefly addressed reporters, but declined to comment on the case.

"I'm sure that many people are questioning how I'm doing and everything, but I can tell you that I'm very healthy. I'm doing fine," Applebaum said.

"I have a beautiful life and I'm enjoying myself." 

Hearings in the civil case are also scheduled for Friday at the Montreal courthouse.

Applebaum was found guilty in January 2017 of eight corruption-related offences related to his time as borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, including fraud on the government and breach of trust.

Both those offences are punishable by prison terms of up to five years.

He was granted parole in June 2017 after serving two months of a 12-month sentence.