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Businessman Martin Carrier testifies at the Charbonneau inquiry looking into corruption in the Quebec construction industry. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Businessman Martin Carrier testifies at the Charbonneau inquiry looking into corruption in the Quebec construction industry. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Corruption and the honest man Add to ...

In a corrupt system, an honest individual stands out as an anomaly. Martin Carrier of Quebec City, owner of a tile company, was just such an anomaly in the foul world of Montreal construction bidding.

His anomalous act was to win a $400,000 contract ahead of a Mafia bid-rigger in 2003-04. He didn’t even make a payoff to anyone. He may not have been unique, but he was rare in that milieu.

He wouldn’t play along or hide behind the rationalization “I did it for my children.” In fact, his daughter took the call, passing the cellphone to him as he received his first death threat while he drove her to her guitar lesson in 2004. As recently as last year, still under threat, he received a chilling condolence card that told him his family would soon receive a similar one if he didn’t back down. “FINAL WARNING,” it said.

It takes courage to be an anomaly. In Mr. Carrier’s case, it took physical courage for years and years, which is a lot to ask.

He persisted. He talked to the police. He talked to the media. Word spread. The Charbonneau Commission began hearings to probe corruption. He spoke publicly to the commission this week.

We need more anomalies like Mr. Carrier. The anomalies are those who, when someone is being bullied, by unjust individuals or unjust laws, refused to stand by. They are the ones who, when everyone else is using performance-enhancing substances to push their bicycle up the mountain faster, are clean. They do not say, as Gilles Surprenant, an engineer employed by the City of Montreal, said, “I did not think it was my role, as a simple bureaucrat, to call the police.” Mr. Carrier said, “We’re supposed to be free in Quebec.”

All the laws and accountability mechanisms in the world don’t work without the anomalies.

They are rare – which is why they’re anomalies.

But maybe they are less rare than we think. After hearing from Mr. Carrier, Madam Justice France Charbonneau, of Quebec’s Superior Court of Justice, who heads the corruption probe, encouraged others like him to come forward to tell their stories. How wonderful it would be if a veritable parade of anomalies were to arrive, pounding at her door.

Sometimes all it takes to bring down a corrupt system is an honest individual, refusing to acquiesce.

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