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Montreal mayor says no conflict in taking $25,000 cheque to pay legal fees

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre speaks with the media on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 5, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says he should have disclosed a $25,000 cheque he received while he was a Liberal MP that he says helped fund his legal feud with an NHL hockey player.

But Mr. Coderre insisted there was no conflict of interest or even appearance of conflict of interest in having received the money from Montreal businessman Jean Rizzuto – a transaction now reportedly under police investigation.

In 2006, Mr. Coderre became embroiled in a lawsuit with Phoenix Coyotes star Shane Doan, who the politician had publicly accused of uttering a slur against a francophone NHL official years earlier. Mr. Coderre had demanded Mr. Doan be barred from playing for Canada during the 2006 Turin Olympics.

The lawsuit was settled in 2010 but Mr. Rizzuto wrote the cheque to Mr. Coderre in 2012. The mayor maintains the money was used entirely to settle outstanding legal fees.

“It wasn’t a gift, it was for a private lawsuit,” Mr. Coderre told Radio-Canada. “I was an opposition MP, I had no official function, I wasn’t even thinking about running for mayor. [Mr. Rizzuto] wanted to help.”

Mr. Coderre conceded he perhaps should have declared the money under federal conflict of interest guidelines to avoid trouble but he had simply passed the money on to the law firm that represented him in the lawsuit.

The story of the cheque was first leaked to the Journal de Montréal ,which reported that the province’s anti-corruption squad and the RCMP are looking into it. The newspaper said it first contacted the mayor about the cheque three weeks ago but he denied its existence.

Mr. Coderre said he was medicated and recovering from an infected prostate when he was first asked about the cheque. He said police have not contacted him about the cheque.

Valérie Plante, opposition leader at Montreal city hall, said Mr. Rizzuto remains an influential figure in Mr. Coderre’s administration and in real estate development in Montreal.

“It’s very troubling to see him minimizing this affair, finding all kinds of excuses, when the federal guidelines are clear he not receive any gift or advantage of the kind,” Ms. Plante said. “He should be showing an example.”

Mr. Coderre said Mr. Rizzuto is a longtime friend and political organizer who wanted to help his cause against Mr. Doan. He said he was never involved in awarding business to Mr. Rizzuto, a real estate promoter and longtime federal Liberal fundraiser.