Que­bec cor­rup­tion probe steep learn­ing curve for judge

Lack of clear man­date likely cause of si­lence around jus­tice’s moves

Edmonton Journal - - CANADA - Monique Muise

Nearly three weeks af­ter she was ap­pointed to head a high-pro­file probe into cor­rup­tion in Que­bec’s con­struc­tion in­dus­try, Jus­tice France Char­bon­neau has yet to ut­ter a word in pub­lic, but ex­perts say she’s likely be­ing kept busy be­hind the scenes.

Char­bon­neau was thrust into the spot­light Oct. 19 when Que­bec Premier Jean Charest yielded to pres­sure to call a pub­lic in­quiry into what has been de­scribed as a deep-seated cul­ture of cor­rup­tion in the con­struc­tion sec­tor.

Best known as the tough-talk­ing pros­e­cu­tor who brought down Hells An­gels leader Mau­rice (Mom) Boucher, Char­bon­neau was widely praised as the ideal choice to lead the com­mis­sion.

Seven­teen days later, and de­spite in­tense pub­lic in­ter­est in her work, it’s un­clear what the 60-year-old judge has been up to.

On Tues­day, a spokesper­son in the premier’s of­fice di­rected the

Montreal Gazette to the provin­cial Jus­tice Depart­ment to find out what, if any, re­sources it might be pro­vid­ing as Char­bon­neau at­tempts to put to­gether her team.

Joanne Marceau, a spokesper­son for that depart­ment, said any in­quiries into the com­mis­sioner’s work would have to be put di­rectly to Char­bon­neau’s of­fice.

Char­bon­neau’s per­sonal sec­re­tary, Josee Boisvert, said Thurs­day the judge has yet to ap­point a me­dia spokesper­son, and is not grant­ing in­ter­views.

Bruce Hicks, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­site de Montreal and spe­cial­iz­ing in Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, said one ex­pla­na­tion for Char­bon­neau’s si­lence could be that she is still try­ing to de­cide how she will struc­ture the com­mis­sion. “The catch with the Char­bon­neau com­mis­sion is that it is not clear ­ex­actly what kind of work it will be do­ing”

The govern­ment did not name the com­mis­sion un­der Que­bec’s pub­lic in­quiries act, and orig­i­nally its man­date seemed to be more re­search­based, with Char­bon­neau and two co-com­mis­sion­ers look­ing into the broader sys­tem of cor­rup­tion in the prov­ince and leav­ing the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the po­lice per­ma­nent anti-cor­rup­tion squad.

But then the premier said the govern­ment would grant the judge the power to probe into the crim­i­nal el­e­ment by sub­poe­naing wit­nesses and grant­ing im­mu­nity “if she asks for it.”

“If you start go­ing in that di­rec­tion, then the model you draw on is some­thing like the Mul­roney-schreiber Com­mis­sion,” Hicks said. “It’s not clear that Char­bon­neau wants that.”

Right now, Hicks said, Char­bon­neau likely is fo­cus­ing on nam­ing her two co-com­mis­sion­ers, but the lack of a clear man­date could be mak­ing this dif­fi­cult.

“This is sort of a cart-horse thing in that un­til you re­ally know which di­rec­tion you want to go, you can’t de­sign your team to go there,” he said. “If you’re go­ing into crim­i­nal mat­ters, you need judges with crim­i­nal back­grounds as your two fel­low com­mis­sion­ers. If you’re go­ing into pub­lic pol­icy, you need peo­ple who have ex­per­tise and knowl­edge about how govern­ment op­er­ates who can ask the right ques­tions.”

Be­yond these ma­jor de­ci­sions, a slew of smaller, lo­gis­ti­cal mat­ters must be set­tled, in­clud­ing se­cur­ing of­fice space, hir­ing sup­port staff, set­ting up phone lines and or­der­ing sta­tionery and other sup­plies.

(The lat­ter does not re­quire ­or­der­ing ma­te­ri­als through the usual govern­ment chan­nels, since the com­mis­sion is sup­posed to be to­tally independent.)

Gre­gory Marchildon served as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Romanow Com­mis­sion, which in 2001, ex­am­ined the long-term chal­lenges of main­tain­ing a pub­lic, uni­ver­sal health-care sys­tem in Canada. He agreed that the lack of a clear man­date could make or­ga­niz­ing the com­mis­sion more chal­leng­ing for Char­bon­neau.

“Peo­ple who have worked in one field their en­tire lives and have never dealt with this sort of thing are not go­ing to know how to go about ne- go­ti­at­ing these things,” Marchildon said. “I could see how some­body could very eas­ily be taken ad­van­tage of by a govern­ment that wants some­thing done in a par­tic­u­lar way.”

Marchildon cau­tioned that the Romanow Com­mis­sion had a dif­fer­ent struc­ture and man­date, and the setup pro­ce­dures will not nec­es­sar­ily be the same for Char­bon­neau.

“I was re­spon­si­ble for set­ting up the com­mis­sion, em­ploy­ing ­peo­ple, and en­sur­ing that every­thing (was) go­ing to be done on time and on bud­get,” Marchildon said. In the first few weeks, “that meant fig­ur­ing out where the com­mis­sion would be lo­cated ... and, ob­vi­ously, even be­fore that, learn­ing every­thing there is to know about how com­mis­sions oper­ate. There were both good and bad lessons from pre­vi­ous com­mis­sions.”

Hicks said the pub­lic should ex­pect to re­ceive more in­for­ma­tion from Char­bon­neau in the com­ing weeks. “There’s no rea­son it couldn’t be up and run­ning in terms of of­fices and the ap­point­ing of com­mis­sion­ers within a month,” he said. “There should be a sense of ur­gency.”

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