Exposing corruption in Quebec: Enquête

Photo: Monic Richard
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Enquête is the recipient of our 2012 Tara Singh Hayer award. The Radio-Canada program will be honoured at our CJFE Gala: A Night to Honour Courageous Reporting on December 5, 2012.

by Carol Off

In the spring of 2009, the Radio-Canada program Enquête began a series of hard-hitting documentaries that revealed the disturbing truth of something Quebecers had suspected for many years: organized crime bosses worked hand in glove with both the construction industry and government bureaucrats who awarded highly lucrative contracts. Enquête revealed the details of what became known as the Fabulous 14—a group of construction magnates who colluded to ensure all public works pro- jects in Montreal, or indeed most parts of Quebec, were awarded to their members. The cost to Quebec taxpayers was enormous—they were paying 35 per cent more for construction than taxpayers did in other provinces.

Quebec’s former deputy minister of transport, François Beaudry, summed up the cold, hard truth in an interview: “It’s the Montreal Mafia, the Italian Montreal Mafia, that controls what happens at the city of Montreal relating to the construction of roads.” Beaudry was one of the whistleblowers and witnesses who agreed to reveal to Enquête what they knew about the inside workings of Quebec’s construction industry. What journalists Alain Gravel and Marie-Maude Denis—along with the researchers of Enquête—revealed over several years of digging and reporting was the complex network of criminals, construction industry companies, union bosses, bureaucrats and even politicians at the highest levels of Quebec’s municipal and provincial governments who conspired to profit from the big money involved in municipal infrastructure contracts.

Gravel and Denis coaxed testimonies out of people who said they feared for their jobs and physical safety. But the threats were not confined to Enquête’s sources. The Radio-Canada program fended off attacks from those who would shut down the broadcasts with lawsuits and court injunctions.

But the darkest moments for the reporters were when they faced physical threats. Jean Pelletier, Enquête’s executive producer, told CJFE that Gravel was warned to “behave.”
“We had to take protective measures like installing alarm systems and hiring security personnel.” Two years have passed since the initial threats. When asked about them, Gravel always says: “I am not afraid, but I am not taking useless risks.”
The fallout from that often fraught and sometimes dangerous reporting was spectacular: more than a dozen arrests, political careers in tatters, people removed from their jobs, and a public inquiry that exposed the extraordinary scale of the corruption in Quebec’s mafia-run construction industry.

For its determination to report on this story despite legal threats and intimidation, CJFE is honouring Enquête with the Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award.

Carol Off is Chair of the CJFE Gala Steering Committee, and co-host of CBC Radio's As It Happens.