Suspect arrested after documents stolen from Quebec immigration minister’s car

Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA Simon Jolin-Barrette responds to reporters questions over the death of a woman who refused a blood transfusion and died after giving birth, Wednesday, October 19, 2016 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

QUEBEC  After a difficult few weeks that saw him forced to publicly apologize for his ill-fated immigration reforms, Quebec’s immigration minister has had documents stolen from his government vehicle.

Simon Jolin-Barrette confirmed the theft Thursday, saying his house keys and electronic tablet were also taken.

He stressed that the stolen papers were working documents and not confidential, and access to his electronic device was disabled as a precautionary measure. Jolin-Barrette wouldn’t say, however, whether his car was locked.

“I also had personal documents there … keys to my house,” he told reporters. “You know, it’s worrying. No one likes to be robbed.”

Opposition parties took the opportunity to pile up on him again this week, with Liberal member Marwah Rizqy saying “the errors keep accumulating” for Jolin-Barrette.

“My mother taught me never to leave my purse in the car and I think we shouldn’t leave working documents in the car,” said Rizqy. “The minister, who is a trained lawyer, knows full well any document could be important.”

Earlier in the day, provincial police said they had arrested a male suspect in connection with the theft, which they say occurred in the parking lot of a government building around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday. The force’s major crimes unit has taken over the case.

Police said the suspect had no ties to the vehicle’s owner, the province’s Public Safety Department, and investigators believe the man had been trying to break into several cars in search of money.

Jolin-Barrette hasn’t had the easiest time in the legislature since last week, when he announced reforms to a popular immigration program for foreign students and workers. Hundreds of foreign students already in the province were shocked to learn they no longer qualified for a fast-track residency program.

He and the rest of the Coalition Avenir Quebec government were hit with such criticism and disapproval that they suspended the reforms entirely last Friday. Jolin-Barrette on Tuesday was forced to publicly apologize for the proposal and faced repeated calls by his opponents to step away from the immigration portfolio.

Premier Francois Legault rejected the opposition’s demands for him to demote his minister, telling the legislature he had complete confidence in the young politician.

On Thursday, Legault once again came to Jolin-Barrette’s aid, downplaying accusations from the opposition that he was negligent for leaving the documents in the car.

The car was parked in a government-controlled lot, the premier said.

“Let’s not exaggerate,” Legault added.