Construction corruption inquiry gets underway in Quebec
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2012 9:17PM EDT
The chief commissioner of a long-awaited public inquiry into allegations of corruption within Quebec's construction industry promises a thorough and "totally impartial" probe.
At the inquiry's official launch Tuesday, Quebec Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau said she will focus on public contracts involving organized crime, and possibly political figures in Quebec.
A previous call for alleged victims of corruption to come forward was well-received, she said.
Local and provincial politicians are expected to testify at the hearings, which begin next month.
In her opening remarks Charbonneau stressed that the hearings will be free of government interference and said no one can tell the inquiry whom to interrogate or how to investigate.
"The Quebec government created this commission of inquiry -- which is totally impartial and independent, well removed from any political considerations," she told a room crowded with journalists and inquiry staff.
Charbonneau said she'll look at how construction corruption is dealt with in the United States and Italy. The inquiry will probe every facet of public procurement and examine how organized crime has infiltrated the process.
"The inquiry will look at Transports Quebec and Hydro-Quebec and various other government departments to see how contracts are handed out in cities and at the provincial level," said Lurie.
The probe aims to correct the flaws in Quebec's public-procurement process following allegations that elected officials benefitted from kickbacks from the construction industry. Part of the commission's mandate is to interview experts and examine international practices. While Charbonneau said the inquiry cannot examine Government of Canada agencies, she pointed out that it can explore projects that received provincial and federal funding.
She said the hearings will be as transparent as possible.
"Except for certain exceptions the hearings will be public," Charbonneau said. "This is a fundamental principle of our legal tradition."
The Charbonneau Commission will probe dozens of businesses, government agencies and political parties as it explores possible links between the province's construction industry and organized crime.
Lurie said the inquiry could be a distraction from the highly-publicized student protests that have gripped Quebec for months. He said since the provincial government enacted Bill 78, which aims to limit student demonstrations, Premier Jean Charest's support has decreased by nine per cent while support for the students has increased by nine per cent.
"This could be a welcome distraction because he put the commission in place. But his opponents are going to argue it took him two years to put this commission in place," said Lurie.
A final report on the inquiry is anticipated for October 2013, around the same time Charest is expected to call an election.