Harold LeBel removed from Parti Québécois caucus following arrest

Parti Québecois MNA Harold LeBel is sworn in at the National Assembly in Quebec City on Friday, October 19, 2018. Francis Vachon/The Canadian Press

Parti Québécois MNA Harold LeBel has been removed from the party’s caucus following his arrest Tuesday morning.

Leader Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon, who confirmed the arrest, says he was in shock to learn of allegations of sexual assault concerning LeBel in different media reports.

After he was informed, the head of the party says he made the decision to exclude LeBel from his caucus amid legal proceedings.

“No one is above the law and we will fully co-operate with authorities,” Saint-Pierre Plamondon told reporters in Montreal.

Saint-Pierre Plamondon says there is an investigation underway and that the party takes allegations of sexual assault “very seriously.”

“We put our confidence in investigators,” he said.

Read more: Quebec tables bill to abolish time constraints for civil cases related to sexual assault

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The Sûreté du Québec would only confirm the arrest of a 58-year-old man in Rimouski in connection with a sexual assault complaint without formally identifying Lebel, who is 58.

Provincial police said they were questioning the man but did not want to release any details about the case.

A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said LeBel will appear in court at a later date, adding that the alleged victim’s identity is being protected by a publication ban.

A provincial police spokesperson said the man arrested in connection with the sexual assault complaint was released on a promise to appear in court on Jan. 11.

LeBel was a longtime political staffer before being elected in the riding of Rimouski with the PQ in 2014, after which he held numerous critic portfolios.

Read more: Wave of online, anonymous sexual assault accusations growing in Quebec

LeBel’s arrest came on the same day an all-party committee of the provincial legislature presented a report on better support for victims of sexual assault.

Fellow PQ member Véronique Hivon said she was shaken by the arrest of her colleague and said the party did the right thing by expelling LeBel and adhering to the principal of zero tolerance.

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She’s hopeful the report and recommendations submitted Tuesday will bring some hope to victims.

“A message of hope to rebuild confidence, and I hope that through what is happening today, the victims will see that there is absolutely no one who is above the law,” Hivon said. “That this phenomenon is very present, too present in our society, that we have to fight it with all our energies, no matter who is involved.”

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Fellow committee member Christine Labrie of Québec solidaire said her thoughts were with the alleged victim.

“It takes a lot of courage to denounce,” Labrie said.

Speaking to reporters in Montreal, Premier François Legault also encouraged victims to come forward.

“No one should be protected,” he said.

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— with files from The Canadian Press

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