The cross-examination of Marc Bellemare at the Bastarache commission has taken a personal turn, as Premier Jean Charest's lawyer brought up the subject of the former justice minister's daughter, whose investigation for possible links to Hells Angels members almost forced his resignation two days after he was sworn into cabinet, in 2003.
"That's a bit of a cheap shot" said Mr. Bellemare's lawyer, Rénald Beaudry, pouncing from his chair in objection to the line of questioning by Mr. Charest's lawyer, André Ryan, during a second day of cross-examination, on Tuesday.
Mr. Ryan wanted to establish that Mr. Bellemare offered to resign on May 2, 2003, after reports appeared the previous day that his daughter had worked part-time as a topless dancer in venues with links to biker gangs. The reports were embarrassing for the newly appointed justice minister and the Charest government.
But Mr. Beaudry argued that it was a personal family matter and that it had nothing to do with Mr. Bellemare's role as a minister. And Mr. Beaudry added that the question had no bearing on the mandate of the commission, which was established last April after Mr. Bellemare claimed that party fundraisers had put forward nominations for judges, allegedly with Mr. Charest's approval.
Mr. Bellemare acknowledged he had offered his resignation because of the potentially damaging information. He went on to serve as justice minister until his resignation nearly a year later, in April, 2004, after he said Mr. Charest refused to proceed with the reforms put forward during the election campaign.
During earlier testimony, Mr. Bellemare said he would have resigned on Sept. 2, 2003, when he said he informed Mr. Charest of the "undue influence" of party fundraisers on the nomination of judges had he known that his reforms were going to be scrapped.
Mr. Ryan attacked Mr. Bellemare's testimony on numerous fronts. He raised doubts about Mr. Bellemare's alleged encounters with Mr. Charest and party fundraiser Franco Fava. Mr. Ryan also tried to establish that despite taking an oath of secrecy that barred him from revealing confidential information obtained during his years as a cabinet minister, Mr. Bellemare broke that oath during media interviews in April.
Mr. Bellemare told the commission on Tuesday he never revealed the names, places or dates of his meetings with anyone regarding the nomination of judges. Under oath, he denied ever giving detailed information to journalists, suggesting that it must have come from another source.
The former justice minister also said Mr. Charest showed little interest in the nomination of judges, and suggested that this could account for "irregularities."
The accusation that party connections played a role in appointment went beyond the judiciary, Mr. Bellemar claimed Tuesday. He told the commission that the person in Mr. Charest's office responsible for the nominations, Chantal Landry, met with party fundraisers Franco Fava and Charles Rondeau to discuss appointments.
"Every Liberal who wanted a job went to see Ms. Landry," Mr. Bellemare told the commission. "Ms. Landry knew about all the nominations, including judges. … She did background checks on everyone who could be named."
The head of the commission, former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache, intervened on a number of occasions to restrain attacks on Mr. Bellemare's credibility.
Quebec government lawyer Suzanne Côté called into question Mr. Bellemare's decision not to resign on Sept. 2 2003, when he allegedly was told by Mr. Charest to appoint to the Quebec court the candidates named by fundraiser Mr. Fava. Mr. Bellemare testified he stayed in order to pass the reforms he promised to adopt in the election campaign.
"You truncated your role as minister of justice and attorney-general for your own political agenda," Ms. Côté charged.
Mr. Bastarache ruled that Ms. Côté's interpretation was out of order, ruling that Mr. Bellemare wasn't required to respond.
Mr. Bellemare faces a third day of cross-examination when the inquiry resumes hearings on Wednesday.