Former Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair says he will take legal action for damage to his reputation against the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec and one of its key members in the mounting controversy over allegations related to his past cocaine use.
"Since Wednesday, I have been dragged through the mud because of no-holds-barred partisan politics," Mr. Boisclair – who has temporarily stepped aside from his duties as Quebec's representative in New York City – said at a news conference Sunday.
At a separate event in Montreal, PQ Premier Pauline Marois said Mr. Boisclair is a "responsible man."
"Mr. Boisclair has asked to be relieved of his duties so as to defend himself," she said. "He will no doubt take the necessary steps to do so. I have no other comment," she told reporters.
Mr. Boisclair vigorously denied allegations made last week by Jacques Duchesneau, a CAQ member of the National Assembly, that there are links to be explored between the Hells Angels, a businessman whose company is alleged to have had ties to that criminal organization and Mr. Boisclair's admitted use of cocaine in the 1990s.
"Mr. Duchesneau's attempt at making petty and dishonest connections in order to destroy my reputation is despicable," said Mr. Boisclair.
Mr. Duchesneau, a former police investigator and head of the province's anti-collusion unit, hinted last week to reporters that Mr. Boisclair's drug use could have left him vulnerable to the Hells Angels and under pressure to sign off on a $2.5-million subsidy in 2003 for a project involving a construction company headed by entrepreneur Paul Sauvé that was allegedly connected to the biker gang.
CAQ Leader François Legault defended Mr. Duchesneau and said he has full confidence in his star MNA.
Last week, Mr. Boisclair threatened Mr. Duchesneau with legal action if the latter did not retract his comments.
A CAQ spokesman said on Sunday that there would be no comment until the legal action is filed and studied. None of Mr. Boisclair's allegations have been proven in court.
Mr. Boisclair was minister of municipal affairs when he approved the subsidy in 2003 for the renovation of a downtown church, headed by Mr. Sauvé's company, just days before a provincial election won by the Liberals.
The former PQ minister categorically denied on Sunday that he was ever in debt to organized crime and said he was never under any pressure from any criminal element.
He also said that his admitted cocaine use goes back to 1997 or 1998, but that the letter he signed for the renovation of St-James United Church was in April of 2003 and that testimony to the ongoing Charbonneau commission on corruption regarding the alleged infiltration of Mr. Sauvé's company by the Hells Angels refers to events that didn't occur until 2006.
"Mr. Duchesneau's chronology doesn't hold water. How could I have known in 2003 that Paul Sauvé's company would eventually run into financial difficulties and would apparently be infiltrated by organized crime three years later," Mr. Boisclair said on Sunday.
He added that all administrative procedures were strictly followed in the granting of the subsidy and that the Liberal government that won the election did not see fit to cancel it.
In 2005, when he was the front-runner in the race for the leadership of the PQ, Mr. Boisclair admitted to having used cocaine while a cabinet minister in the government of former premier Lucien Bouchard in the late 1990s.
One experienced law-enforcement official noted at the time that – at the retail level – cocaine users such as Mr. Boisclair would not likely have had any direct contact with someone linked to organized crime.
Mr. Boisclair won the leadership but stepped down as head just 17 months later after a humiliating defeat in the March 2007 provincial election.
He was succeeded as leader by Ms. Marois and left politics for good in October, 2007.
Ms. Marois last year appointed Mr. Boisclair to the position of Quebec delegate-general to New York.
Mr. Boisclair said on Sunday he is fighting the allegations as a citizen and not as the province's representative in New York.