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Canada Meet five whistleblowers praised for their role in the Charbonneau commission

Justice France Charbonneau delivers her closing remarks in Montreal, on Nov. 14, 2014, as she sits on the final day of the Charbonneau Commission, a Quebec inquiry looking into allegations of corruption in the province's construction industry.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

They were civil servants, an engineer, a union leader. They resisted intimidation and pressure from their peers and stood by their principles.

So when she tabled her report into corruption in the Quebec construction sector, Justice France Charbonneau singled them out for praise, as courageous people who tried to stop the sleaze around them.

"Whistleblowing should not be seen as an act of betrayal but an act of loyalty towards society," she said.

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Here are their stories:

Karen Duhamel
Freshly out of school, she worked at the Montreal engineering firm Genivar in 2003. She told the inquiry that she once saw a man arrive at the Genivar offices with a pile of cash in his hands.

She said the secretary told him, "You could have at least put it in an envelope."

He walked into the office of a senior engineer, Noubar Semerjian, then left empty-handed.

She testified she later heard the man worked for the construction firm GTS.

GTS was a contractor on a highway project where Ms. Duhamel was the site inspector for Genivar.

She testified the company overcharged by claiming it had used more material than needed. She alerted her superiors but was ordered to go back to work. She also notified the Order of Engineers but was told she had no concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

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The mood at work was hostile. Another engineer testified that Mr. Semerjian made crude remarks, telling Ms. Duhamel, "You're so pretty I could rape you."

She felt intimidated and didn't want to lose her job because she had student debts.

However, she testified, she refused to heed Mr. Semerjian's demand that she tamper invoices. "I was told I was a person with a bad attitude."

She was demoted and eventually quit.

Joseph Farinacci
Mr. Farinacci was a bureaucrat in charge of real-estate transactions at the city of Montreal. For months, he tried without success to stop a move by the city to sell a plot of land for less than it was worth.

The construction boss Paolo Catania wanted to buy the land for a housing project. Mr. Farinacci thought the east-end property, known as Faubourg Contrecoeur, was worth $20-million.

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Frank Zampino, then chairman of the city's executive committee, told him to speed up the sales process. And at a meeting in 2007, Mr. Farinacci was also pressured by Martial Fillion, head of the municipal housing authority, to knock down the price.

That night, Mr. Farinacci went to a bar on Crescent Street and ran into a school friend, Gino Lanni, who worked for an engineering firm.

Mr. Lanni, who thought Mr. Farinacci supported the sale, told him that his firm, along with Mr. Catania and others had planned together the project for several years, and that Mr. Zampino was "part of their setup, their organization."

Mr. Farinacci resigned from his post and the property was eventually sold to Mr. Catania for $4.4-million.

The inquiry heard that officials who helped make the deal possible received cash, wine and hockey tickets and that Mr. Catania paid for Mr. Zampino's $250,000 kitchen renovation.

Mr. Catania and Mr. Zampino are now facing charges. Mr. Fillion was also charged but died in 2013.

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François Beaudry and Jean-Paul Beaulieu
Mr. Beaudry was an engineer advising the deputy transport minister, Jean-Paul Beaulieu. One day in 2002, Mr. Beaudry got a call from an entrepreneur, telling him there was widespread bid-rigging in public construction projects in Montreal.

"For Montreal, he explained that it was 100 per cent controlled by the Italian Mafia," Mr. Beaudry testified before the inquiry.

In February of 2003, his informant accurately predicted nine of 10 eventual winners of a series of bids at the city of Laval. "It was as if I had been given lottery numbers, the good numbers, when the draw is the next day," Mr. Beaudry testified.

He and his superior, Mr. Beaulieu, reported their concerns to the office of then-transport minister Serge Ménard and to his successor, Yvon Marcoux. They also alerted the provincial police. Nothing happened.

Mr. Beaudry said his informant told him he would never speak to the police. "Listen, you cannot imagine the connections these people have," the source said.

After Mr. Beaulieu refused to approve cost overruns for a project at a traffic circle in Montreal, the payments were issued anyway and he was transferred to another department.

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Ken Pereira
A labour leader who had been complaining that executives at the FTQ Construction union were inflating their expense claims, Mr. Pereira was once offered the keys to a Mercedes in return for keeping quiet. He threw back the keys.

He told the inquiry he didn't realize what dangerous grounds he was treading until he was summoned to a meeting in late 2008 or early 2009 at a hotel outside Montreal.

Waiting for him was Raynald Desjardins, a mobster who was a former confidant of Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal Mafia.

"We're not here to intimidate you," Mr. Desjardins, who was accompanied by several husky men, told Mr. Pereira.

Mr. Desjardins said he had heard that Mr. Pereira had been clashing with his union boss, the FTQ Construction's executive director, Jocelyn Dupuis, who had racked up $225,000 in questionable expenses.

Mr. Desjardins said he would settle the problem.

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Mr. Pereira testified he got scared. "At that moment, I discovered that Jocelyn Dupuis, who I thought was the boss, wasn't the boss. Raynald Desjardins was the boss."

Mr. Pereira nevertheless went to the police and showed them the expense receipts. Mr. Dupuis was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 12 months, which he is appealing.

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