On-Site Magazine

Corruption in Quebec construction sector included gangs, mafia: Charbonneau

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November 25, 2015 by On-Site Magazine

Justice France Charbonneau
Justice France Charbonneau

Corruption in the Quebec construction industry was far more widespread than originally feared, with organized crime, including biker gangs and the Mafia, infiltrating much of the sector, a long-awaited report from the Charbonneau Commission
revealed on Tuesday.

The 1,600 page report on corruption and collusion in Quebec’s construction industry included 60 recommendations to fix the problem, but is just “the first step in a job that will never end,” Justice France Charbonneau told Rueters and Canadian Press during a news conference.

“No single law or measure will be enough on its own to overcome this phenomenon (corruption),” she said. “The collaboration of everyone is primordial. Only collectively will we able to make Quebec a better society, where ethics, integrity, honesty and rigour are at the forefront.”

Charbonneau recommended better protection for whistle-blowers as well as public consultations on whether the number of mandates for municipal politicians should be limited.

“Whistle-blowing must not be perceived as an act of betrayal but as an act of loyalty toward society,” Charbonneau said.

The inquiry on corruption, bribes, kickbacks and violence in Quebec also found links between political donations and awards of public construction projects by Montreal city official and other municipalities.

Charbonneau said organized crime, including the Mafia and Hells Angels motorcycle gang, had infiltrated so deeply into the industry that they had become “untouchable,” wielding influence through “intimidation, threats, vandalism, racketeering, prostitution and pimping.”

While Quebec’s Liberal government indicated it would adopt the recommendations, the inquiry’s mandate did not include assigning guilt or recommending criminal charges. Several pages of the chapter on the Hells Angels have been blacked out because they deal with ongoing criminal cases.

In response to the report, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters the recent lowering of the maximum party contribution to $100 from $3,000 has eliminated problems with party financing.

“There is no significant part of my time that is spent on party financing,” Couillard, who took office in 2014, told reporters.

Charbonneau and her team heard some 300 witnesses in more than 260 days of hearings since 2012 before concluding that organized crime had gained influence in the Quebec Federation of Labour and its construction wing, as well as its investment arm and real estate subsidiary. The widespread collusion benefited political parties and corrupt bureaucrats.

A former construction entrepreneur, Lino Zambito, became a star whistleblower at Quebec’s corruption inquiry and pleaded guilty earlier this year to six charges including fraud, conspiracy and intimidation stemming from contracts awarded in Boisbriand, north of Montreal.  

He is best known for his 2012 testimony at Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission where he described a cartel-like structure that drove up the cost of projects in Montreal and Laval. Zambito told the inquiry that businessmen were paying kickbacks to municipal parties and paying a cut to the Mafia.

Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest created the commission in 2011, two years after the first allegations of corruption unearthed by journalists investigating ties between the industry, organized crime and political financing.

The report called for creation of a body independent of the political process for the awarding of road works and other public contracts “without political considerations.”

Charbonneau said that while the vast majority of Quebec public servants are blameless, officials of Quebec’s transport department did take bribes. 

The report included a dissenting opinion from Renaud Lachance, Charbonneau’s co-commissioner and former Quebec auditor general, who said testimony had not proven a link between political contributions and the awarding of public contracts.

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