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Quebec cracks down on corruption, white-collar crime Add to ...

Quebec says it is intensifying police efforts to tackle corruption and financial fraud in the province amid a growing public furor over white-collar crime.

The Charest government says a squad of about 20 provincial police investigators will be assigned to probe potential corruption - including the infiltration of organized crime - in the construction industry and municipal affairs.

It will also bolster its police presence to track fraud with Quebec's securities regulator, the Autorité des marchés financiers.

The announcement yesterday, for which the Liberal government mobilized three senior ministers, comes as Quebeckers confront a daily diary of reports of scammed investors and questionable municipal spending.

The public has been outraged over the actions of financial advisers such as Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix, who both face criminal charges, and the perception that regulators were weak and slow in protecting vulnerable investors.

Under yesterday's announcement, six investigators from the provincial police will be assigned to the securities regulator.

Meanwhile, with Montrealers going to the polls this fall, city hall is under a cloud for allegations of fraud, kickbacks and the inappropriate awarding of contracts. Multiple police investigations have been launched.

Last week, a senior civil servant and a computer consultant were charged with defrauding the city of millions in a bogus billing scheme in the city's computer division.

While Quebec rejigs its police manpower, some have called for a public commission into the province's construction industry and possible ties to organized crime.

Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis said the anti-corruption squad was not limited to Montreal and would also look at provincial infrastructure contracts. By his own admission, the new measures against economic crimes aren't new, but Quebec is ratcheting up its efforts. The measures announced yesterday will cost $6-million.

"We are intensifying the fight against allegations of corruption and misspending," he told reporters at a press conference alongside Finance Minister Raymond Bachand and Justice Minister Kathleen Weil.

Quebec says it will also target unregistered financial advisers operating through the Internet.

Mr. Bachand addressed the concerns of investors, many of them elderly, who have seen their life savings disappear. "We cannot remain impassive to such events."

Quebec says it is also pressing Ottawa to toughen sentences and eliminate early parole for white-collar criminals. Ms. Weil said economic crime should be treated as severely as violent crime, and has already addressed the issue with federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

"I think there is a meeting of minds across Canada about getting tough about this kind of crime," she said.

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