Quebec launches permanent anti-corruption squad
The province of Quebec is creating a permanent anti-corruption squad that will use the expertise of police officers, prosecutors and public servants to carry out its investigations.
The squad is being modelled after New York City's Department of Investigation and will be staffed with 189 people. The squad's job will be to root out corruption and to investigate allegations of influence-peddling and collusion.
Quebec is billing the squad as the first of its kind in Canada and the provincial government says the initiative sends a message that corruption is not tolerated in Quebec.
The anti-corruption squad will have an annual budget of $31.5 million. It will be led by a commissioner who will report to Quebec's public security minister.
Quebec politics has been rocked by allegations of corruption over the past year, and Premier Jean Charest has made it a major priority of his administration to crack down on the problem.
However, the province's crown attorneys are currently in a labour dispute and striking. Without the crown attorneys, the unit is essentially useless, according to prosecutor Christian Labelle.
"Without any crown attorneys it will not work," he said.
Plus, the province's opposition parties feel that the new unit won't rid construction contracts of corruption, which has been a long-festering issue in the province.
Parti Quebecois MNA Stephane Bergeron said the squad is simply a tactic aimed at diversion.
"It's another tool that the government uses to try to divert the public attention to what is going on," he said.
The ongoing Operation Hammer -- the group looking into corruption within Quebec's construction industry -- will be folded into the new squad. Additionally, the Transport Department's existing anti-collusion unit will be incorporated into the new organization.
CTV Montreal's Tarah Schwartz said the province emphasized the fact that the squad will be fighting corruption on a daily basis.
"It's a permanent anti-corruption squad that will be working every day, around the clock, all year long, every year," Schwartz reported.
With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV Montreal's Tarah Schwartz