Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Quebec corruption: let's not forget Rene Levesque vs. Edgar Trottier

An excerpt from "IS HIS LIFE OVER OR HAS IT JUST BEGUN?; It's early, but Michael Bryant may get a second act" by Lynda Hurst. Originally published in the Toronto Star, Sept. 5, 2009.


[...In February, 1977, following a dinner party that had rolled on until 3:45 in the morning, Parti Quebecois Premier Rene Levesque ran over and killed a 62-year-old homeless war vet, Edgar Trottier, who was sprawled in the middle of the road. Levesque said he didn't see him until 10 feet before he hit him. The car dragged Trottier 100 feet. Though it was widely suspected Levesque had been drinking, Montreal police didn't give him a breathalyzer test - though they did to Trottier. ("Quebec is the only place in the world where it is the victim who is given the blood test," a former provincial Liberal minister dryly commented.) The incident drew most of its nudge-nudge media coverage from the revelation that the woman in the car with the hugely popular premier was not his wife, but his secretary and mistress, Corinne Cote. Three days later, Levesque gave a rambling speech, explaining that he'd "just lived through a difficult moment. I'm still turning it around in my head. I can't get rid of it completely. I can't get rid of it at all. We always think these things happen to others, but suddenly fate is there, and it happens to you too. It's a shock to the system." But no charges were ever brought and the coroner's office ruled out an inquest. Calls for a public inquiry faded into the blue. Five months later, Levesque was given his penalty a $25 fine for driving without his glasses. He remained premier until 1985. In his autobiography, Memoirs, published a year later, Levesque didn't mention the incident. In an interview, however, he said that he'd wanted to quit politics at the time "I felt like disappearing forever." Why exclude reference to it then? "I didn't think it was part of the story. It was sad, but everybody has accidents. Why make a big to-do over it? I keep the memory, though. It's no fun to think you've hit somebody."...]


Wrote John Allemang in The Globe and Mail (January 18, 2003) in "The partying premier," an article about then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's drunk driving charges:


[...To many commentators looking back from the morally upright perspective of 2003, it seems amazing that the combination of alcohol, a car, a partying premier and a dead body didn't lead to Mr. Lévesque's resignation at the very least, if not a coroner's inquest and serious criminal charges...

Witnesses described the roads as slick that evening. The temperature was -11 C, a cold night to be out, which may be why a homeless 62-year-old war vet named Edgar Trottier was causing a disturbance inside the Queen Mary Veterans Hospital around the same time. His ploy to get a bed for the night didn't work. The hospital called the police, who, instead of taking the inebriated Mr.Trottier into custody, dropped him off where they thought he wouldn't cause any more trouble...

In another oversight that indicates the degree of the police officers' distraction -- though not the reason for it -- no one seemed to notice that Mr. Lévesque's licence required him to wear glasses. Coroner Maurice Laniel discovered this through an anonymous tip from a Lévesque enemy, and only after he had already exonerated the premier of criminal responsibility in a report based on the drawn-out police investigation. But then no one expected Mr. Lévesque to be wearing glasses, since he was never seen in them, and for a good reason. Though he suffered from myopia, he didn't own a pair, and out of a misplaced sense of comfort, vanity or supreme self-confidence, he saw no need to adjust behind the wheel. It was a highstakes game that the police suddenly found themselves involved in...

...when Estanislao Oziewicz and William Johnson reported in The Globe and Mail that Mr. Lévesque had been driving without glasses, the francophone media turned on them. "The press gallery in Quebec was pro-péquiste," Mr. Oziewicz recalls. "The information about the premier's driver's licence was right there in information released by the Quebec justice minister to the media, but either they couldn't be bothered to pick up on it or they just didn't want to write that Lévesque required corrective lenses...]


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