Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Charbonneau commission into Quebec construction industry asks for public's help

By Philip Authier
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

La Commission, pres des gens grace a son Internet
Judge France Charbonneau appears in a video posted to the website of the commission looking into Quebec's construction industry.


MONTREAL - Promising confidentiality and - if necessary - personal security, the head of Quebec’s corruption commission is appealing to Quebecers to blow the whistle on dubious activities and players in the construction industry.


In her first comments since being named to the job last November - available in French and English on a website - Justice France Charbonneau Tuesday declared open season on illegal activities in the province.


Write, email, phone, meet an investigator, "we’ll come to you," Charbonneau said, making it easy for people to step out of the shadows as she sets the stage for what will be the largest inquiry of this nature in years in Quebec, the kind books are written about.


And as with anti-corruption units already set up, the commission is launching another toll-free confidential snitch line too (1-855-333-2342).


“It is vital that everyone contribute openly, fully and without hesitation to our work,” Charbonneau said in a recorded video message posted on the commission’s new website (www.ceic.gouv.qc.ca).


“If you become aware of dubious practices in the awarding or management of government construction contracts in your municipality, hospital, school or school board, a government department, a public or parapublic body, a government corporation or a private firm, it is of the utmost importance that you inform us as soon as possible.”


Charbonneau reaches out to whistleblowers who might fear a backlash if they spill the beans.


“Your identity will remain absolutely confidential,” Charbonneau said.


And for people who have information involving a criminal organization in a construction business, she adds, “your complete security will be assured.”


Officials later refused to give specifics when it comes to security issues.


“There are means which can be taken,” said the commission’s new communications director, Richard Bourdon, who for many years was a Surété du Québec spokesperson before retiring a year ago.


Charbonneau does not reveal the exact date where witnesses will start to be heard from, but said she will make a public opening statement in May.


The first task after that will be hearing from groups and individuals to determine who will be given the status of participant and who will be an intervenor.


The commission will sit three weeks out of four, four days a week. Most of the hearings will take place in Montreal but the commission plans to head into the regions too.


And moving to shore up her credibility, Charbonneau reveals commission investigators have been working behind the scenes for several months gathering information.


“They have met with various stakeholders with a view of uncovering evidence of collusion and corruption schemes,” she said.


Still, the appeal for people to come forward may be a sign of trouble ahead in the form of a reluctance of witnesses to talk - even behind closed doors as the commission will allow.


Le Devoir reported Tuesday that commission investigators have already hit a brick wall in Quebec government offices which, in theory, should be a gold mine of information.


In Quebec City, Transport Minister Pierre Moreau insisted the opposite is true and said he has asked officials to cooperate with the commission.


Meanwhile, the construction industry is firing back. In a speech to the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal Tuesday, Pierre Pomerleau, president of Pomerleau Inc., the largest construction company in Quebec, said the industry is not as bad as some make it out to be.


“Speaking in global terms, the industry is good and well supervised,” Pomerleau said in comments reported by Canoe.ca.


The commission’s work is expected to take for two years and cover the last 15 years. The first year budget of the commission is $14 million.

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