In the wake of allegations that Jean Charest agreed to judicial appointments for three lawyers recommended by provincial Liberal fundraisers, a good number of people are rushing to convict the Quebec Premier. Before doing so, the public should consider the facts, the context and the process.
The explosive charge first came in April from Marc Bellemare, who served as justice minister for 14 months in 2003-2004. Mr. Charest ordered an inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache, into the allegations, where, with every new utterance, Mr. Bellemare impugns the Premier further - he said last week that Mr. Charest personally ordered the judicial appointments, quoting Mr. Charest: "'Franco [Fava]told you to name [Marc]Bisson and [Michel]Simard [to the bench] Name them. Franco is a personal friend, he's an influential fundraiser. We need guys like him.'"
This version of the story has won the day. Only 13 per cent of Quebeckers believe Mr. Charest's denials, while 69 per cent put their stock in Mr. Bellemare, according to one poll; in another, 57 per cent of Quebeckers say Mr. Charest should resign altogether.
But there are good reasons to be skeptical. Documents Mr. Bellemare has tabled do not support his most sensational claims. He has not adequately explained why he waited more than six years to speak, and why he made the appointments to begin with. His description of the timeline under which he made the appointments has not held up under cross-examination. Former staff members say that Mr. Charest simply does not speak in the commanding tone alleged by Mr. Bellemare.
Mr. Charest almost destroyed his political career in a similar scandal 20 years ago - he was removed from the federal cabinet of Brian Mulroney after phoning a judge about a case - making him especially aware of the dangers of judicial meddling.
The allegations strike at the very integrity of the justice system. But they are not, at the moment, a criminal matter. It is largely Mr. Bellemare's word against Mr. Charest's. In the eyes of many Quebeckers, Mr. Bellemare may be a heroic fighter of government corruption, and Mr. Charest an unpopular politician. They should wait to hear Mr. Charest's side of the story before issuing their verdict.
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