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Quebec surprised, skeptical of Montreal’s new fraud squad

Quebec Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron responds to questions as he walks to a cabinet meeting on Jan. 16, 2013, at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec Minister of Public Security Stéphane Bergeron says he was never consulted by the City of Montreal over the decision to create the city's new fraud squad but informed after the fact.

And he is concerned that the new unit set up to root out corruption in the city will only duplicate the work of the province's existing anti-corruption unit and create a turf war between the two police agencies.

"We have had situations like this before where we find ourselves with jealously guarded turfs and where information doesn't easily flow. That's what worries me," Mr. Bergeron said. "The Montreal police seem preoccupied with the need to co-operate with the existing permanent unit."

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Last week, interim Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum announced the creation of the $3-million-a-year unit that will investigate the majority of contracts awarded by the city. Mr. Applebaum was determined to convince the public that there will be zero tolerance for the kickback schemes and corrupt practices unveiled at the Charbonneau commission last fall that led to the resignation of former mayor Gérald Tremblay.

Mr. Applebaum's announcement was overshadowed by reports that the new mayor himself had been the target of the Charbonneau commission investigators. They questioned him for an hour and 40 minutes about his knowledge of corrupt practices that were going on at city hall while he was a key member of the former mayor's administration.

Mr. Applebaum refused to reveal the nature of the questions put to him. He denied news reports that investigators were probing a questionable real-estate transaction in the Montreal borough where Mr. Applebaum was mayor between 2002 and 2012. The mayor also denied a report that suggested the commission questioned him about possible ties with organized crime figures. He insisted he had no knowledge of ever meeting mob figures.

"I meet citizens … I meet businessmen. But when we learn there are doubts about anyone, we take care," Mr. Applebaum said last week.

Mr. Bergeron refused to comment when asked whether Montreal's decision to create its own anti-corruption unit amounted to a public-relations campaign by the new mayor to revamp the city's tainted image.

With little enthusiasm, he expressed hope that the new squad may produce positive results but insisted that it will have to communicate and co-operate with the existing anti-corruption unit.

The minister added that he has no reason to believe that the new Montreal anti-fraud squad wouldn't co-operate with the permanent anti-corruption unit. However he was concerned that police squads may find themselves competing against each other, hindering the fight against corruption.

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The Charbonneau commission resumes public hearings on Monday into corruption and collusion at the municipal level before tackling provincial government contracts.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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