Dropping the Hammer on organized crime
Published Thursday, October 22, 2009 7:34PM EDT
The Quebec government has formed a special squad to investigate the link between the construction industry and organized crime.
The project, dubbed "Operation Hammer," will include members of the Surete du Quebec, Crown prosecutors and the RCMP, said Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis Thursday.
The announcement of the news squad comes only hours after police handed in their findings after a two-year investigation into the Mafia's relationship with the construction industry.
Reports claim that companies linked to the Italian Mafia have gotten into bed with political affairs and essentially created a construction cartel that works to drive up the cost of building projects by 35 per cent in the Montreal area.
The unit, however, would not be Montreal-centric, and investigations would take place throughout the province.
"We are focusing where the allegations are made. In other words the QPP or the new squad won't discriminate if an allegation is made. Concerning the territory, anywhere in Quebec, the allegations will be taken very seriously," said Dupuis.
The police investigations were made public in early March, and hinged on Jocelyn Dupuis, the director of FTQ-construction, and current and past members of the Hells Angels.
Earlier in the day, the Quebec government brushed off widespread calls for a public inquiry into the murky world where politics, the Mafia, and the construction business allegedly interconnect.
"For the moment, the best way to get to the bottom of things is through police investigations," Dupuis, a former Crown prosecutor, said in the legislature during a raucous question period.
"Let the police do their work and we'll see what they come up with."
His comments came the same day as an online poll suggesting a majority of Quebecers wanted a sweeping public inquiry.
Christian Bourque of Leger Marketing said 76 per cent of respondents indicated support for an inquiry, while only 17 per cent did not.
The survey of 505 Quebecers was conducted over the Internet on Oct. 20 and is considered accurate within four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
"People have the right to transparency and the only way is through a public inquiry," said Stephane Bedard, Parti Quebecois house leader.
"Why refuse to the population the right to the truth, the right to transparency?"
Guy Chevrette, a retired PQ minister who was also part of the Cliche Commission in the 1970s that investigated Quebec's construction industry of the day, says a public inquiry is necessary.
"There (are a) number of subjects that warrant study by experts," Chevrette said.
Without answers and recommendations to change the culture, the problem is likely to persist, Chevrette said.
"Police will de-mask the fraudsters," Chevrette said.
"But (police investigations) don't offer the dimension of finding solutions and alternatives."
Those sentiments were also brought up this week by retired judge John Gomery, who headed the famous inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.
Gomery said large donors wield too much influence in the awarding of municipal contracts and that a public inquiry could serve to explore those ties.
"The need of political parties for large sums of money is a problem for democratic institutions," said Gomery, a former justice of the Quebec Superior Court and is best known for the work he did while leading the inquiry on the sponsorship scandal.
The renewed call for a public inquiry comes after an explosive report last week on Radio-Canada's investigative show "Enquete," which highlighted extensive Mafia control over infrastructure spending.
The report alleged that up to 80 per cent of the road construction contracts in Montreal are controlled by the powerful Italian Mafia.