The infiltration of organized crime groups into Quebec’s construction industry is far worse than originally feared, Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau said Tuesday as she released her much-awaited report.
“This investigation confirmed that there was a real problem in Quebec and that it was far more widespread than we originally believed,” Charbonneau said.
She said that the Mafia and Hells Angels worked their way deep into the industry, gaining access to public and private contracts and worker’s pension funds.
“A culture of impunity developed,” Charbonneau said, reading from a prepared statement.
The commission heard of bribes, kickbacks, assaults and even murder.
She praised the courage of some of the 300 witnesses who testified since the inquiry began hearing testimony in September 2012.
“Contractors revealed that they were the victims of threats, intimidation and assault,” she said. “Their testimony took us to the heart of our mandate.”
Charbonneau also sounded a hopeful note, and said that one of the five volumes of her report contains 60 recommendations on how to clean up the construction industry.
“This report tries to address the problems with concrete solutions,” she said.
One key recommendation in the 1,600-page report is to set up an independent committee to decide on the awarding of government contracts.
Another recommendation is for better whistleblower protection.
“Whistle-blowing must not be seen as an act of betrayal,” she said.
She noted that New York State’ has a False Claims Act, which makes companies and individuals liable for defrauding the government.
The report was posted online Wednesday. Some of the testimony won’t be made public because of publication bans, Charbonneau said.
She did not take questions after delivering the prepared statement.
Charbonneau and her co-commissioner, former Quebec auditor general Renaud Lachance, did not have the power to assign guilt.
They were allowed to assign “blame” to companies and individuals in their examination of systemic corruption in the province’s building industry.
The report was originally due for release in October 2013.
GTA organized crime expert Antonio Nicaso said that the problems of Mafia infiltration into construction are not unique to Quebec.
Nicaso, who testified before the commission, said he was surprised that the Mafia skimmed 2.5 per cent from construction contracts, according to testimony before the Charbonneau commission.
That meant that mobsters got 0.5 per cent less than crooked politicians.
“That was a bit of a surprise,” said Nicaso, who has studied the Mafia worldwide. “Usually they (Mafia and politicians) share the same percentage.”
Civil servants and engineers made another 1 per cent, Nicaso noted.
Nicaso said that he welcomes the creation of an organized crime task force by the Ontario Provincial Police rather than another corruption commission for Ontario.
Nicaso said he was disappointed that the commission couldn’t compel key criminals involved in construction to testify.
Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto died of natural causes while the commission was ongoing.
Rizzuto’s one-time ally Raynald Desjardins went to prison for an underworld hit and never was forced to testify about his construction dealings.
Nicaso praised the commission for highlighting how the Mafia manages to connect the underworld with the so-called respectable world of politicians, bankers and unions.
“This is what the Mafia is all about,” Nicaso said. “You can’t have a Mafia without the politicians who help out.”
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest created the commission in 2011 after months of intense public pressure, sparked in large part by various exposes by investigative journalists on the construction industry and its ties to organized crime and the financing of political parties.
The inquiry heard testimony over 30 months, beginning in the summer of 2012.
Witnesses described how some construction companies had links to organized crime and that the widespread collusion benefited political parties and corrupt bureaucrats.
The commission heard an Ontario mafia expert from York Regional Police saying that his force may be investigating government contracts that have been awarded to organized crime groups.
York Regional Police Det. Mike Amato declined to talk about any instances he knew of in which mafia groups he had been speaking about were able to win a contract by being the lowest bidder.
“That question there is too close to something that we are working on right now,” Amato told the commission.
“The question that he asked brings something to mind in terms of a link that may exist. I’m not saying it does exist, but it’s a possible theory.”
His testimony came a week after a joint investigation by the Toronto Star and Radio-Canada highlighted the recent rise of the ’Ndrangheta, or the Calabrian mafia, which the RCMP has listed as one of its “Tier 1” threats in the GTA.
The ’Ndrangheta is one of three separate mafia clans active in Canada. The others are the Cosa Nostra, or Sicilian mafia, and the Camorra, originally from Naples.
Amato told the commission that the ’Ndrangheta is “stronger and more prominent” in Ontario and tough to infiltrate because it operates along strict bloodlines.
Amato said they often appear to be legitimate bankers, accountants, limousine drivers, lawyers and operators of banquet halls, nightclubs, garden centres and construction companies.
“There are persons who are criminals, who are suspects in murders, who … go and coach soccer for kids. They’re integrated into the community and most people don’t even know who they are,” Amato told commission lawyer Sonia Lebel.
With files from Allan Woods, Canadian Press