The grieving parents were asked to pay $100 each to speak with CAQ Minister Geneviève Guilbault.

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A distraught West Island couple pushing for stricter anti-drunk driving legislation say they were told to pay $100 each to meet Geneviève Guilbault, Quebec’s transportation minister and deputy minister, at a cocktail party.

Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec has faced accusations for weeks that its members tried to sell access to ministers in exchange for $100 donations to the party’s election fund.

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On Thursday, Antoine Bittar and Elizabeth Rivera told a committee of the National Assembly about their experience with the CAQ.

The story emerged as they explained their efforts to convince Quebec to lower its legal blood alcohol threshold for impaired drivers to 0.05 mg per 100 ml of blood from the current 0.08. Quebec is the last jurisdiction in Canada to maintain the .08 limit,

The couple’s 26-year-old daughter, Jessica Sarli-Rivera, died in a car accident involving alcohol and speeding in 2017.

Bittar and Rivera said their campaign to toughen Quebec laws led them to a meeting last summer with Marilyne Picard, a CAQ MNA who represents Soulanges, a city on the western tip of the island of Montreal.

They said they approached Picard because she, too, knows what it’s like to lose a loved one in a collision. Two of Picard stepchildren have died in car accidents. Last year, a man was charged with dangerous operation of a vehicle in one of the deaths.

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In October, the couple said, an official from Picard’s office called them to tell them that Guilbault would be at a CAQ fundraising cocktail party in the riding.

To meet her, they would have to pay $100 each, registering through Facebook, they were told.

“It was at a restaurant,” Rivera said of the Oct. 12, 2023, event. “There was a fundraising activity. They told us: you buy the tickets and meet with the minister; You have two minutes each.’”

Rivera said the request made her uncomfortable.

“We had our two minutes and, honestly, when I left the place, I felt very disappointed,” she said. “I found it unacceptable that they asked us to pay $200 to meet with the minister.”

Bittar told reporters that the couple felt obligated to pay.

“We didn’t understand why we had to pay,” he said. But “I told myself it was the only way to talk to Madame Guilbault.”

Bittar said he didn’t remember if they ever made an official request to meet with Guilbault.

MNA Monsef Derraji, a critic of liberal ethics, condemned the behavior of the ruling party.

“I find it unacceptable that in Quebec the anguish of a couple is used to help fill the CAQ’s election campaign fund,” he said. “No grieving couple should have to pay to meet with a minister.”

Elizabeth Rivera watches her husband Antoine Bittar place a rose on the memorial bench that was dedicated in honor of their daughter Jessica Sarli-Rivera.
Elizabeth Rivera watches her husband, Antoine Bittar, place a rose on the memorial bench that was dedicated in honor of their daughter Jessica Sarli-Rivera in Jacynthe Fyfe Park in the Pierrefonds-Roxboro district of Montreal on September 8, 2021. Jessica Rivera She was killed when the car she was traveling in, driven by a drunk driver, was involved in a collision in 2017. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

Speaking to reporters, Guilbault said she knew nothing about the couple being asked to pay to meet her at the fundraiser. She said the party would investigate the matter.

“I’m sorry if you felt uncomfortable, if there was discomfort,” he said. “Under no circumstances should a Quebec citizen pay to speak with me.”

Picard “was not obligated to deal with this file” since the couple did not live in her home, Guilbault said, “but she decided to do it because the matter is important to her.”

Guilbault said they could have simply asked to meet with her and her request would have been considered.

He accused opposition parties of using the couple’s story for partisan purposes.

Guilbault did not respond when asked if the CAQ would reimburse the couple for their $200 donation.

Stung by accusations of ethical transgressions, Prime Minister François Legault announced last week that the CAQ will, for now, stop accepting private political donations.

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