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Now We Know How Dirty Politics Is in Quebec

The long-awaited report looking into corruption and collusion in Quebec’s construction industry pulls back the layers on decades of widespread illegality throughout the province.

by Justin Ling
Nov 24 2015, 5:35pm

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The long-awaited report looking into corruption and collusion in Quebec's construction industry has been released, pulling the layers back on decades of widespread illegality throughout the province.

The report is the culmination of years of investigation by the Commission d'enquête sur l'octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l'industrie de la construction — more commonly referred to as the Charbonneau Commission.

The commission, headed by Justice France Charbonneau, was struck in 2011 following years of allegations of collusion between Quebec's largest construction union, construction magnates, and officials from the Quebec government.

The final report bolsters the once-maligned proclamation that Quebec is Canada's "most corrupt province."

"The inquiry confirmed that there was a real problem in Quebec, and it was broader and more deeply rooted than we imagined," Charbonneau said in releasing her report.

Reverberations from the commission, and the effort to root out corruption through the province, felled the mayors of Montreal and Laval, and a collection of other construction officials and politicians.

Related: Cops 'Decapitate' Montreal Mafia, Hells Angels, and Street Gangs in One Big Bust

The commission heard from numerous construction executives and contractors who reported that a cabal of companies would collude to take turns in winning contracts, thus inflating the cost and bilking the government for millions, and that they ran a system of intimidation, bribery, and blackmail to keep the system in place.

It also found that the mafia had its fingers all over the system. Witnesses reported that the Sicilian mob would collect a 2.5 percent tax from the corruption.

Other witnesses, including construction entrepreneur Lino Zambito — who pled guilty to fraud earlier this year in connection with the inquiry — testified that Union Montreal, the municipal party in charge of Montreal between 2001 and 2009, also collected a 3 percent tax on the rigged contracts. Other city officials also took kickbacks, the commission heard.

"Like the pizzo [extortion payments] for the mafia, or the 1 percent aside for municipal engineer Gilles Surprenant, the 3 percent for Union Montreal 'was paid in liquid, physical cash,'" the report reads.

The commission heard from hundreds of witnesses, many of whom recounted specific allegations of corruption, fraud, and intimidation tactics that linked Montreal's criminal underworld with its oft-maligned construction industry, and officials from various levels of government.

The commission met for 260 days, hearing from more than 300 witnesses, and studying more than 60,000 pages of documents.

The commission found that various aspects of the corruption stretched back into the 1980s, and continued well into the 2000s.

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The report contains an entire chapter on notorious biker gang the Hells Angels, although much of it is redacted.

"From 2006, an influential member of the Hells Angels and his henchmen tried to take control of business involved in masonry. Their goal was to launder the profits of their narcotics trafficking, to find jobs for their members or sympathizers, and to extend their influence in the legal economy," the report reads.

The inquiry also discovered an intricate system of political financing and influence-peddling in Quebec's provincial government. Construction officials would funnel huge amounts of cash into the coffers of one Quebec's major political parties, and would often contribute tickets to hockey games or concerts as added bonus.

The report cited one unnamed witness who testified that Quebec's political fundraising machines have become "monsters." The final report writes that "the witnesses also revealed the hidden face of political financing. They clearly showed the links that unite it with the granting and the management of public contracts."

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling