Charbonneau sets the truth bar

“I’m not going to lie to you.”

I don’t know about you, but it always makes me a little nervous when people begin with a statement like that. It’s like they’re telling you: “Normally, I’d lie about this kind of thing, but I’m going to make an exception today ’cause you’re such a nice guy.”

Like a garage mechanic telling you: “I’m not going to lie to you. There’s nothing wrong with your car.”

Or an exotic dancer:  “I’m not going to lie to you. You’re a complete asshole and disgust the hell out of me, but I’m going to stick around as long as you’re willing to pay me money to pretend otherwise while I dance naked in front of you.”

Martin Dumont didn’t exactly begin his testimony before the Charbonneau Commission last fall by claiming he wasn’t going to lie to us, but he did swear to tell the truth. That’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?

But it turns out that Dumont, a former organizer for Union Montréal whose testimony about Gérald Tremblay helped push the mayor out of office, was lying in at least one of his statements — specifically his story about receptionist Alexandra Pion having to hand-count $850,000 in cash donations to the party.

Although Pion admitted to having seen a suitcase of cash, she refused to count it and walked out, she said yesterday. Nor did she talk about it to Dumont, she added. But Dumont — called back by the commission to defend his testimony — stuck to his guns, pushing commission council Denis Gallant to enter a video into evidence in which Dumont admitted to investigators that the story was false.

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Photo via Flickr

Okay. Briefcase full of cash, true. The rest, who knows? But lies are like lice: when you find a few, you pretty much have to consider everything around them as suspect.

Although some argue that airing the commission’s dirty linen  — admitting it had been duped — has weakened its credibility, I’d argue the opposite is true. After all, much of the municipal corruption we have seen uncovered so far was only able to exist in a system in which people refused to challenge the charades and lies around them. By tackling the embarrassment of a star witness’s possible perjury as the first order of business in 2013, Justice France Charbonneau set the bar for the remaining months of the corruption inquiry.

If Dumont ends up being charged, he’ll be the second person to face potential legal repercussions for allegedly misleading the commission. After that, future witnesses might take their oaths a little more seriously. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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