Underworld focus of Quebec corruption inquiry

Montreal — The Canadian Press

Madam Justice France Charbonneau attends the first day of the commission investigating collusion in Quebec's construction industry in Montreal, May 22, 2012. (OLIVIER JEAN/OLIVIER JEAN/REUTERS)

The underworld will be placed under the microscope this fall when Quebec’s corruption inquiry begins probing links between the construction industry and organized crime.

The inquiry head also hinted that there will be testimony about political corruption, as she made her opening statements Monday upon returning from the summer break.

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France Charbonneau said most of the work this fall will focus on the infiltration of organized crime into the construction industry.

“We will hear from experts who will describe how organized crime infiltrates the legal activities of the construction sector and puts them in danger,” she said in a statement Monday, following a three-month hiatus.

“We will also focus on violence and extortion which is present on certain construction worksites.”

The commission has already heard explosive testimony from the likes of Jacques Duchesneau, the former police chief who said more than two-thirds of political party funding was done improperly. The province’s former anti-collusion investigator, Mr. Duchesneau is the author of a report tabled one year ago that forced outgoing premier Jean Charest to call a corruption probe.

Mr. Duchesneau has since become a provincial politician himself. Mr. Charest is out of politics.

Ms. Charbonneau said witnesses this fall will testify about corruption related to the awarding and management of public contracts.

In particular, the witnesses will discuss contracts awarded in Montreal and nearby Laval for projects like sidewalks, sewers and asphalt.

They will also testify about the financing of municipal and political parties. Elected politicians from Montreal and Laval will be named by witnesses, she said.

Ms. Charbonneau noted that because the commission’s mandate covers the entire province, inquiries are underway in a number of areas outside Montreal.

Ms. Charbonneau said more than 1,600 tips have been received so far from different parts of the province.

She said investigations are taking place on Quebec’s North Shore, the Abitibi region, Trois-Rivieres, the Eastern Townships and Quebec City.

First up on Monday was an economist, Louis Delagrave, who authored a book about the history of Quebec’s construction industry and its powerful unions.

Commission lawyer Sonia Lebel told Ms. Charbonneau that she intends to call about 50 witnesses who will testify about the impact of organized crime within the industry.

“Our investigation to date has allowed us to identify two groups linked to the construction industry — the Mafia and criminal biker gangs,” Ms. Lebel said.

Three law-enforcement witnesses are scheduled: an officer with Quebec’s provincial police who specializes in biker gangs; a police officer from York Regional Police who will discuss the Mafia in Ontario; and an RCMP analyst who specializes in the Mafia in Quebec, including the powerful Rizzuto clan.

“Organized crime is not attacking the system. Rather, they are using the system and taking advantage of its weaknesses,” Ms. Lebel said.

Also expected to testify is a criminologist from Italy who is considered an expert on the Italian Mafia. She will paint a portrait of how the Mafia works in Italy.

“These witnesses will seriously set the table for the rest of the commission’s work,” Ms. Lebel said.

Others are also expected to testify — either behind closed doors or with a publication ban on their identity, for security purposes.

Some of those testifying this fall are people facing charges.

The public prosecutor’s office has received intervenor status and could alert commission lawyers in the event that ongoing police investigations or criminal prosecutions are at risk of being compromised by testimony.

Meanwhile, the man that media had hoped to catch a glimpse of on Monday, an FBI legend who was reportedly set to testify, was nowhere to be found.

There were reports late last week that the FBI officer who famously passed himself off as “Donnie Brasco” would testify Monday. Inquiry officials have still not confirmed or denied Joseph Pistone’s anticipated appearance.

Mr. Pistone is the man who decades ago infiltrated the New York Mafia in an operation immortalized in a 1997 Hollywood film.

A crush of reporters, photographers and videographers crammed into the commission’s modest media room hoping to capture his appearance, but Mr. Pistone’s name was not mentioned Monday on the witness list nor was his presence at a later date confirmed.

Ms. Charbonneau, without naming names, delivered a stern warning to the media, asking them to stop releasing names of witnesses in advance.

“Publishing in advance the names of people you’ve heard that will be heard ... can seriously hinder investigations,” Ms. Charbonneau warned.