Quebec Environment Minister Thomas Mulcair is never at a loss for words, and almost three years ago his feisty political rhetoric went far enough to lead to a defamation suit that may cost him dearly.
Yesterday, Quebec Superior Court Judge André Denis ordered Mr. Mulcair to pay former Parti Québécois minister Yves Duhaime $95,000 in damages for comments made during an altercation in May of 2002. In his ruling, Justice Denis said accusations made by Mr. Mulcair against Mr. Duhaime were "unfounded" and his behaviour "imprudent."
The ruling immediately prompted the PQ Opposition to call for Mr. Mulcair's resignation.
At the time of the altercation Mr. Mulcair did not mince words with his political rival.
"I can't wait to see you in jail, you Péquiste slut," was the comment Mr. Mulcair made to Mr. Duhaime almost three years ago as the two men crossed paths at the end of a taped television interview. The insult was heard by at least 15 people on the set and was widely reported the following day.
Back then, Mr. Mulcair was a Liberal Opposition MLA who went on to publicly accuse Mr. Duhaime, who has not been a sitting member for 20 years, of being involved in an alleged influence-peddling scam with the ruling PQ government.
The court concluded that the "false" accusations against Mr. Duhaime caused him and his family irreparable harm and that his reputation had been dishonored. The judge noted that Mr. Mulcair never formally apologized for making derogatory remarks and rejected the minister's version of the facts when he stated that Mr. Duhaime made threats against him, which instigated the verbal altercation.
Court heard evidence that showed Mr. Duhaime, a Montreal lawyer, was hired by Metro-Richelieu grocers and was paid $187,500 to represent them in their dealings with then finance minister Bernard Landry, who was also one of his close friends.
Evidence was introduced to show that the Liberal member alleged that Mr. Duhaime was implicated in what Mr. Mulcair said during a news conference in May, 2002, was a system of "government corruption."
"We have someone who says I have influence with the government. Give me $180,000 and I will do some work for you," Mr. Mulcair said at the time about Mr. Duhaime's lobbying activities. "It's a system that is in our view one that is corrupt. We're talking here about influence peddling."
Justice Denis concluded that the accusations were "unfounded." He ruled that Mr. Mulcair's expressed desire to see Mr. Duhaime imprisoned as well as the "carefree" and "imprudent" behaviour shown after the allegations were denied were "signs of malicious and abusive conduct, which the court must punish."
"The evidence heard in court shows that Mr. Mulcair's accusations were false, unjust, defamatory and prejudicial," Justice Denis concluded in his ruling.
The PQ immediately called on Premier Jean Charest to demand Mr. Mulcair's resignation, insisting that the ruling was a stain on the government's integrity. "Does he [Mr. Charest]accept gestures that are completely outside the boundaries of integrity and dignity of the office he [Mr. Mulcair]holds?" PQ House Leader Diane Lemieux said in the National Assembly.
While the Premier remained silent, Mr. Mulcair insisted that until he decides whether to appeal the ruling, the Opposition's demands are "inappropriate."
Court documents show that the government will pay all of Mr. Mulcair's legal fees as well as damages to which Mr. Duhaime is entitled.
In a related defamation suit, Mr. Duhaime is also suing La Presse and reporter Denis Lessard for what he claims were unfounded news reports stemming from his personal relations with Mr. Landry and the lobbying and strategic planning he conducted on behalf of Metro-Richelieu grocers.