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Prostitutes were line-in-the-sand for Montreal bureaucrat

Gilles Vezina testifies before the Charbonneau Commission Nov. 12, 2012 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec's corruption probe has heard evidence that Montreal bureaucrats were at ease accepting everything from free golf junkets to NHL tickets and posh restaurant meals from businessmen. But one civil servant testified on Tuesday that he drew his moral line-in-the-sand at hookers.

Offering a glimpse into the way business was conducted for years in Montreal, engineer Gilles Vézina told Quebec's corruption probe that building contractors twice offered him the services of an escort at a hotel.

Mr. Vézina declined, noting to the commission that at that point in his life, he was in his 20s and had been married only a few years. "It's not a game that interested me," he said.

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Mr. Vézina, who was suspended by the city last week, had shown no such restraint with other giveaways from the very contractors who dealt with him on city hall business. He told the commission he annually received about 30 bottles of wine from more than a dozen entrepreneurs, who almost always had them delivered to his house.

He was not familiar with the bottles' value or vintage, but said the wines were generally Italian.

He also received cognac and rum, along with other perks such as fancy meals at private clubs. Such gifts were part of the "traditions" at the city, he said.

As for why he accepted the wine but refused the escorts, he said: "Offering a bottle of wine and offering a woman isn't the same."

The commission is focusing this week on the city of Montreal, whose mayor resigned amid the disclosures of corruption and collusion last week. The inquiry has heard testimony since September that has drawn links between construction firms, corrupt public servants, political parties and the Mafia.

Two Montreal city engineers, Gilles Surprenant and Luc Leclerc, have admitted to participating in a scheme to artificially inflate public-works contracts by allowing firms to bill bogus "extras" in exchange for a kickback. Although Mr. Vézina was their boss, he professed to know nothing about the arrangement, which came out of taxpayers' pockets.

"I never asked anything, I never knew anything," he said.

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In the afternoon, another senior Montreal engineer named Yves Themens contradicted the testimony of former construction entrepreneur Lino Zambito. Mr. Zambito testified that Mr. Themens leaked him confidential information about lists of bidders on contracts. Mr. Themens testified that whenever he divulged information to firms, the content was public and he was acting legally.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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