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Another scandal for Quebec anti-corruption unit after ex-boss accused of media leaks

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s anti-corruption unit has taken another hit to its credibility after details of a court ruling released publicly this week said the former head of the police force derailed a high-profile fraud trial by orchestrating leaks to the media.

Judge André Perreault of the Quebec court wrote that Robert Lafrenière was behind sensitive leaks to journalists in an effort to pressure the provincial government in 2016 to renew his mandate as head of the anti-corruption squad, known as UPAC.

Lafrenière has denied those claims, but in Quebec City on Tuesday, opposition parties took turns criticizing the police force for its latest scandal. Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade agreed with a reporter’s assertion that the anti-corruption unit has turned into a “political police force.”

“It’s extremely problematic everything that we have read in relation to the UPAC,” Anglade said in Quebec City.

“What’s clear is that inside UPAC there really are issues, and you can’t sit in your living room today and watch this and think that (you) have confidence in this institution.”

The details released this week were contained in a September 2020 court ruling involving ex-deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau, who was granted a stay of proceedings along with five other co-accused due to unreasonable delays in their fraud case. Much of the 81-page ruling had been subject to a publication ban until several media organizations were able to have it lifted Monday.

In the mostly unredacted decision, Perreault reproached Lafrenière and other senior members of the police force for “serious misconduct” that he said was largely responsible for delays in Normandeau’s case.

“Those who orchestrated and participated in the leaks of evidence in this case, who helped to protect the authors, should know or should have known that the delays that were going to result from their actions were going to compromise the rights of all the co-defendants of being judged within a reasonable time,” Perreault wrote.

Lafrenière, who resigned on the day of the provincial election in 2018, denied he leaked any information in a recent interview with La Presse, telling the news organization “at no time did I orchestrate any leak whatsoever to advance my personal interests.”

Perreault, in his ruling, endorsed the conclusions of Michel Doyon, an investigator with Quebec’s police watchdog, who found that Lafrenière was behind the leaks “for the purpose of his renewal as commissioner of the UPAC and the creation of UPAC as a specialized police force.”

Doyon’s investigation found that “certain leaks or investigative strategies by UPAC (were) synchronized with key dates on the political agenda” of the legislature.

UPAC launched its own investigation into the source of the leaks. But Perreault said that was a “bogus investigation” that encouraged Quebec prosecutors to follow false leads. Perreault said the police force targeted innocent people to distract prosecutors from the force’s leadership, who he said were responsible for leaking the information.

Quebec’s police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, was also investigating the leaks to the media. The watchdog, Perreault said, had linked 19 leaks to UPAC brass, including six to Lafrenière. The BEI investigation is ongoing, and at the time ruling was rendered in 2020, Doyon was still to meet with 35 witnesses.

Aside from Normandeau, ex-premier Jean Charest — now a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada — was the target of leaks. Details of UPAC’s investigation into alleged illegal party financing involving the Quebec Liberal Party under his leadership were distributed to journalists. That investigation has been closed and no charges were laid.

Aside from this latest scandal, UPAC has been criticized for not building cases leading to successful prosecutions. A government report in 2019 found it lacked officers with the necessary skills to conduct complex investigations into financial crimes.

On Tuesday, Québec solidaire’s Manon Massé said it was time for UPAC to demonstrate it could do what it was mandated to do. “UPAC has not demonstrated that it could … meet its responsibilities, to assure the people of Quebec that corruption is … hunted down and is penalized,” Massé said.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said it was time for UPAC to be scrapped altogether.

“We have an issue of trust now because it says that for years all this was theatre,” St-Pierre Plamondon said. “So, how can you continue with that organization if culturally speaking, the organization as a whole was in a business of theatre? You can’t trust them.”

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault, speaking in Rimouski, Que., reiterated her confidence in the institution, noting that much had changed since the Coalition Avenir Québec came to power and the new head of the unit, Frédérick Gaudreau, was elected by the legislature.

“Let UPAC do its work,” Guilbault said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2022.

— With files from Pierre Saint-Arnaud and Sidhartha Banerjee.

 

The Canadian Press

 

 

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Watergate's 50th Anniversary: A Multi-Media Guide For Today – Forbes

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The January 6th hearings from the House of Representatives Select Committee are unfolding just as we are marking the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and the beginning of the end of the presidency of Richard Nixon. With this remarkable confluence of history, it’s an important time to revisit the deep well of Watergate-related media content not only to enhance our understanding of the stunning events of the 1970s but to contextualize the horrors of what we are watching in real time today.

In sharing these suggestions, I’ll confess I have been a Watergate junkie – ok, nerd – from early on in my life. I don’t know how many young kids were mesmerized by figures such as Senator Sam Ervin and star witness (and current CNN commentator) John Dean, but I couldn’t get enough. Still, you don’t have to be a Watergate addict to find not only lessons of history but entertainment and even humor from a series of extraordinary storytellers about this era. And as we say in the digital age, and for the benefit of my students among many others, they are available in multiple formats.

All The President’s Men (1974 book; 1976 film). Of course, all Watergate roads trace back to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the young reporters who doggedly broke the link between the supposed “third-rate burglary” and the Oval Office. Their book doesn’t read like one of today’s quick retracing of recent events but is more akin to a John le Carre novel with an intricate plot of espionage and corruption. Both the book and the movie also rightfully helped inspire a generation of young journalists and helped bring to life the vital need to expose government wrongdoing.

As for the film, it’s hard to know where to start. How about two of the biggest movie stars of the 20th Century, Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein? How about Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Goldman? And as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, Jason Robards closed the film with the legendary entreaty: “Nothing is riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.” Well said.

Blind Ambition (1976 book). John Dean, Nixon’s White House Counsel, wrote one of many Watergate memoirs, but this book is distinguished for several reasons. Dean was integral to the attempted Watergate cover-up but ultimately told the truth to Congress and the American public and his story resonates as the tale of a young, initially idealistic, brilliant lawyer – part of Washington, D.C. mythology – seeking to make an impact on history. When you see the courage of Cassidy Hutchinson and a group of other young Trump White House aides that have cooperated with the January 6th Committee, this book will give you feel for the alluring power of the White House and the strength it takes to stand up to it.

Slow Burn (2017 podcast). This is one of a series of in-depth “true history” podcasts, and provides a serious, methodical, digestible unfurling of Watergate and the investigation to uncover the truth. I’ll admit to a personal bias with this one as it features in-depth interviews with an old Washington friend Marc Lackritz, who (along with his wife) served as counsels for the Senate Watergate Committee. If you’re looking for an inside understanding of what it is like to serve on a congressional committee in the eye of a hurricane, you can’t do much better.

Frost/Nixon (2008 film; 2006 play). In need of cash after exile from the presidency, Richard Nixon sat for a historical series of interviews with David Frost which became controversial in part for the huge payout Nixon received to do them. Frost, mostly known in the U.S. as the host of an afternoon talk show, ended up drawing out rare candor from Nixon and the film captures the pressures of big-ticket TV journalism and the torturous soul of the ex-President. Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon brilliantly don’t go for impersonations of these historical figures but delve deep into the psyches at play here.

Richard Nixon: A Fantasy (1972 comedy album). I’m heading out to left field on this one, but it’s worth it. David Frye was a comedic impressionist whose career was inextricably linked to his uncanny impersonation of the often-imitated Nixon. Think of Alec Baldwin’s Trump during an era when comedy albums from George Carlin and Richard Pryor were major cultural forces. This album treated Watergate as precisely what it was – a massive criminal enterprise with overtones of a Mafioso playbook. When you’ve got Trump and his acolytes allegedly engaging in witness tampering and myopic paybacks, it’s not hard to see the linkage to the 2020 post-election conspiracy.

Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal (2022 TV series). You’d think that in the last 50 years there would have been a definitive HBO drama series providing the 1970s equivalent of Game of Thrones, but it doesn’t exist. The current Starz series Gaslit covers this ground but I found it mostly slight and unworthy of its topic, despite the presence of Julia Roberts and Sean Penn. So better to head to CNN’s serious documentary treatment featuring the retrospective voices of key players such as Dean, Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holzman.

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Pro-Chinese agents pose as activists on social media to protest Canadian rare earth mine – Financial Post

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Cybersecurity experts say fake accounts created to give China miners competitive advantage

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Pro-Chinese agents posed as concerned local residents on social media to try to spark protests over the opening of rare earth mines in the U.S. and Canada, cybersecurity researchers said in a new report.

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The fake Twitter and Facebook accounts were created to give China, the largest producer of rare earth minerals, a competitive advantage, cybersecurity research company Mandiant disclosed on Tuesday.

Mandiant has reported on a network of thousands of fake accounts across numerous social media platforms, websites and forums since 2019 that support China’s political interests. In one recent campaign Mandiant coined “Dragonbridge”, fake accounts purported to be concerned local residents and environmentalists on Facebook to orchestrate protests at the Texas facility of the Australian mining company Lynas Rare Earths Ltd., according to Mandiant. It was unclear who was behind the campaign, the firm said.

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The fake accounts claimed that the processing facility would spur irreversible environmental damage and radioactive contamination that could cause cancer and deformities in newborns, Mandiant researchers said. The accounts also criticized President Joe Biden’s plan to expedite mining of these rare minerals.

China has used its dominance in the rare earth minerals market, critical for manufacturing mobile phones and other electronics, to threaten the U.S. with export bans.

As a result, the Pentagon has promised to beef up domestic production. It inked a US$30 million deal with Lynas in 2021 to build a facility in Texas, which the Australian company said could help it produce a quarter of the world’s demand.

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Dragonbridge was also behind fake accounts criticizing a new mine in Saskatchewan from Canada’s Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp., which was announced this month, according to the report. In addition, the campaign’s accounts stoked anger over USA Rare Earth LLC’s plans to open a mine in Oklahoma, Mandiant said.

The Department of Defense said it will review the report, adding it would look into “ongoing concerns regarding a lack of transparency and over-reliance on concentrated foreign sources of critical minerals in key U.S. supply chains for essential global civilian and national security applications.”

Dragonbridge has been behind 10 disinformation campaigns targeting Ukraine, according to Mandiant, including claims that the U.S. was storing bio-weapons in labs in the country, according to Mandiant.

“The private sector is now the victim of attacks by Chinese information operations, which are growing increasingly aggressive,” said John Hultquist, vice president for Mandiant Intelligence.

“Information operations are typically a problem for civil society, governments, and platforms,” he said. “They rarely target the private sector so directly and aggressively.”

Bloomberg.com

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Hollywood Enlists Asian Media in US-Led $71 Billion Piracy Fight – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Hollywood studios battling online piracy have enlisted the first Asian members of an industry coalition set up to seek out and shut down illegal streaming sites.

The Hong Kong-based streaming service Viu and True Visions, a leading Thai pay-TV provider, will be the first Asian companies to join the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, whose members include Netflix Inc., Walt Disney Co. and other major media companies.

The alliance is part of the US Motion Picture Association and has 39 members, with plans to enlist other players in Latin America and elsewhere. Dues from the media organizations are used to finance legal fights against the theft of content.

Piracy has been on the rise during the pandemic, costing US entertainment companies an estimated $29 billion to $71 billion in lost revenue annually, according to executives at the organization. And media companies typically notice, and act on, copyright and intellectual property theft before police.

“We now have local partners fighting this local fight, who can connect to local law enforcement,” Charles Rivkin, chairman of the alliance and the Motion Picture Association, said in an interview. “It’s a whole lot more effective when you have a local player come in with the MPA than the MPA just parachuting in on our own and trying to make headway.”

Expanding Ranks

While the organization is mostly made of US companies, including all of the major Hollywood studios and streaming services that form the MPA trade group, it also has international partners. BBC Worldwide and Vivendi SE’s Canal+ are two of its biggest European members. Rivkin said he has long sought to expand the group’s footprint in Asia-Pacific, where some of the largest illegal streaming sites are run.

Viu is one of the biggest streaming platforms in Asia, with 58.6 million monthly active users, according to the company. True Visions is a cable and satellite TV operator based in Thailand, and last month helped the alliance and local police arrest an alleged content pirate and shut down his website.

“We recognize the need to address the piracy that is widespread in our markets,” Marianne Lee, chief of content acquisition and development at Viu, said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring consumers move from illegal piracy sites to legal options.”

While Hollywood has battled film and TV piracy for years, it became particularly problematic after major studios made their content more readily accessible online during pandemic lockdowns. John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in April piracy was so widespread in 2021 that studios scrapped plans to debut their big, new films online rather than in theaters.

The alliance says it’s also looking to partner with major sports leagues across the world, since they are also the target of digital content thieves. In April, ACE added beIN Media Group, one of the biggest international sports broadcasters, to its ranks.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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