May. 23, 2003. 01:00 AM

Ban upheld on bio of Duplessis backer


The Quebec Court of Appeal has upheld a publication ban on a biography of Paul-Hervé Desrosiers, a powerful businessman who died 34 years ago and who played a role behind the scenes in the Maurice Duplessis provincial government. The author, Pierre Turgeon, told the Star by e-mail that he now plans to take his case to the Supreme Court of Canada, and if that fails, to go abroad to publish the book P.H. le magnifique: L’éminence grise de Duplessis because it makes an important contribution to Quebec history. The appellate court ruled on May 15 to uphold a lower court’s 1998 decision to disallow publication. Turgeon, a well-known author and publisher, was persuaded to write the book by Pierre and Claude Michaud, owners of Réno-Dépôt, which is Quebec’s version of Home Depot. The Michaud brothers are the heirs of P.H. Desrosiers. However when Turgeon’s research showed that Desrosiers took occasional bribes and peddled his influence over Premier Duplessis, the brothers wound up obtaining an injunction to stop the publishing house Lanctot from issuing the book. In 1993, an amendment to the Quebec Civil Code prohibited the publication of biographies of persons living or dead without permission from the subject or his or her heirs. That law was repealed last year, but not before it was invoked by the Michauds to stop publication of the book, though they had subsidized Turgeon to write it and provided contacts for him to interview. Their agreement specified that once Turgeon produced a manuscript and found himself a publisher, the Michaud brothers would be repaid most of their costs. Turgeon says he never signed away his copyright. The appeal court based its new ruling on the contractual aspects of the case and did not examine the inheritance law that was originally used to suppress the book. Marek Nitoslawki, lawyer for Réno-Dépôt, said by telephone, “Mr. Turgeon was hired and was paid. The court said the contract was freely entered into and the other party had rights over the material.” Turgeon owns Trait d’Union, a Montreal publishing house, and last year started a sister company, Cantos International in Toronto, to publish in English. Cantos is the publisher of the controversial Karla: A Pact With The Devil by Stephen Williams.