(Adds premier calling on mayor to resign, Applebaum declining
By David Ljunggren and Julie Gordon
June 17 Montreal's new mayor, who pledged to
stamp out corruption when he took office in November after his
predecessor resigned under a cloud, was arrested and charged
with fraud on Monday in the latest blow to the reputation of
Canada's biggest cities.
The allegations against Mayor Michael Applebaum are sure to
reinforce the perception of widespread corruption in the
province of Quebec, particularly in the construction industry.
A special inquiry in the mostly French-speaking province has
heard allegations of municipal contract rigging, kickbacks to
politicians and illegal financing of elections.
The Montreal scandal is also an uncomfortable reminder of a
separate controversy surrounding Toronto's Rob Ford, who is
resisting calls to quit as mayor of Canada's largest city after
two media outlets said they viewed a video that appeared to show
him smoking crack cocaine. Ford says he does not use crack
cocaine, and Reuters has not been able to verify the existence
of the video.
Applebaum, the first anglophone mayor in Montreal in more
than a century, faces 14 charges linked to two real estate
deals, police said. His alleged infractions include fraud,
breach of trust, conspiracy, municipal corruption and secret
payments involving several tens of thousands of dollars.
The former real estate agent was appointed after his
predecessor, Gérald Tremblay, stepped down in the wake of
allegations he had ignored corruption and illegal spending by
his political party. Tremblay denies wrongdoing.
"The message is clear - all actions that compromise the
integrity of the state are unacceptable to the public,"
Robert Lafreniere, head of the Quebec police's special
anti-corruption squad, said at a televised news conference in
"No one is above the law and you can't hide from the law,"
he added, insisting that Quebec could "no longer tolerate...
reprehensible acts" such as corruption and collusion.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said Applebaum should resign
but brushed off calls to put Montreal, the province's largest
city, into trusteeship, which would empower an outside
administrator to run municipal affairs.
Applebaum's spokesman, Jonathan Abecassis, did not respond
to messages left on his work and mobile phones.
Applebaum was arrested at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT). He left police
headquarters at 4 p.m. without commenting. Broadcaster
Radio-Canada said Applebaum had told one of its reporters he
would speak to the media on Tuesday.
Montreal, with 1.7 million people, is one of Canada's most
picturesque cities. But political scandals, crumbling
infrastructure and rowdy student strikes last year sullied its
reputation as a peaceful and mildly exotic vacation destination.
The charges against Applebaum cover the period from 2006 to
2011, when he was mayor in Montreal's
The mayor of Laval, another Montreal suburb, resigned in
2012, but denied allegations of corruption. Gilles Vaillancourt
was arrested last month and charged with gangsterism, fraud and
corruption. Laval has since been placed under trusteeship.
The scandals reflect a decision by the anti-corruption squad
and the special inquiry to focus on municipal politics, Pierre
Martin, a political scientist at the University of Montreal,
"It would be unfair to say these kinds of situations are
unique to (Quebec)," he said. "A lot of what we see now has to
do with the fact Quebecers are taking the matter in their hands
and investigating and trying to lance the boil."
Other Canadian mayors in trouble include Joe Fontana in
London, a city between Toronto and Detroit. He was charged last
November with fraud, breach of trust and issuing forged
documents. He denied wrongdoing and refused to quit as mayor.
Toronto mayor Ford, a larger-than-life figure who has
polarized opinion in the city, was previously found guilty of
conflict of interest, but an appeals court reversed a lower
court ruling that he step down because of this.
The alleged video has done little to hurt Ford's popularity,
especially in the Toronto suburbs, where his promise to rein in
municipal spending is widely supported.
(With additional reporting by Peter N. Henderson in Toronto;
Editing by Janet Guttsman and Claudia Parsons)