The husband of Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has sent The Gazette a letter threatening a lawsuit unless it retracts a story published Saturday about Marois's estate on Île Bizard.
In his letter, which was delivered late yesterday afternoon, Claude Blanchet claims the story implies that he "paid a sum of $1,600 to obtain ... false testimony by way of an affidavit from (Marcel) Turcotte."
The letter goes on to say that both the facts and the inferences in the story are "grossly erroneous."
"The suggestion that Mr. Blanchet would have thus acted is the same as accusing him of a criminal act," the letter states.
The letter also claims that the title (headline) of the article implies that he built his chateau on public land.
"Again, this fact is clearly erroneous because the house rests totally on land belonging to (Mr. Blanchet)," the letter states.
The Gazette headline read: "How estate was built on public, farm lands; Sprawling Chateau; Man says he got cash 'gift' after zoning was changed."
The letter adds that unless The Gazette prints a retraction Blanchet will launch legal proceedings.
Managing editor Raymond Brassard said The Gazette is studying the letter and will decide on a response today.
Marcel Turcotte, 86, the man whose affidavit was instrumental in getting permission to build a mansion on agricultural land, told The Gazette last week on two occasions that he received a gift of $1,600 from Blanchet.
Now, however, he says The Gazette misunderstood and got the figure wrong in its Saturday story. He claims it was really $500.
Turcotte yesterday told two reporters with CTV and TQS that Blanchet gave him a "Christmas gift" of $500.
Turcotte told The Gazette in a telephone interview yesterday that he spoke to Blanchet on the weekend about the story. He refused to say what was discussed other than to say that "I (Turcotte) wanted to defend myself."
CTV reporter Rob Lurie told The Gazette yesterday that while he was interviewing Turcotte, Turcotte called Blanchet and Blanchet passed him to an aide to Pauline Marois.
"He (Turcotte) picked up the phone and he called Blanchet, and Blanchet immediately passed the phone to Christiane Miville-Deschênes - and we heard this on the phone - and she was saying, 'you don't have to speak to them,' " Lurie said.
The Gazette on Saturday reported that in the 1990s, Marois and Blanchet purchased 41 acres of agricultural land in Île Bizard.
They built a multimillion-dollar, seven-bathroom mansion on the property and fenced in the entire estate, including a section of government-owned land totalling about six acres at the entrance to the property.
The government had expropriated the land in 1978 for the extension to Highway 440, which has yet to be built.
Blanchet had purchased the land from Henry Walsh, a friend and business partner of Blanchet.
Walsh told The Gazette he was acting for Blanchet when he bought the land in 1990 and obtained approval from the Commission de protection de territoire agricole to build on the property.
He obtained the approval on the basis of an affidavit from Turcotte, who claimed he was living in a small cabin on the land when the law was enacted in 1978. This gave Blanchet and Marois an acquired right to build on the land, the commission ruled.
Turcotte told The Gazette, however, that he had moved to a nearby house on Joly St. but could not remember exactly when. His wife said it was in 1975.
He claimed he never read the affidavit, which, he said, he signed in a notary's office.
Blanchet has stated that he has a right of passage over the government land.
Robert Alain, a Montreal notary, said that even if Blanchet and Marois have a right of passage it would not normally give him the right to include any of the land in his private estate.
Blanchet has essentially fenced off the land with an iron gate and a large cedar hedge. A sign on the gate reads "privé.''
Blanchet has stated that he has spent his own money landscaping the property and will surrender it when the government wants it back.
Alain said that in the case of expropriated land the government occasionally will give a landowner a letter allowing the person to cross government land on a temporary basis.
Blanchet has claimed he has a document giving him a right of passage through the government land. He has not released the document, stating the matter might eventually end up in court.
Prior to publishing the story on Saturday, The Gazette attempted to reach Blanchet at his mansion.
A message was left at his house. Blanchet phoned The Gazette last Wednesday evening and left a message but did not leave a phone number. The Gazette returned to Blanchet's house and left more messages on his intercom at the gate. He did not respond to these messages.
Blanchet threatens lawsuit over report on Île Bizard estate
Story 'grossly erroneous,' PQ leader's husband says