A new book that suggests Montreal's Mafia is deeply entrenched in city affairs and is poised to spread beyond Quebec has sparked a political firestorm, including opposition attacks in the province's national assembly Tuesday.
The purported exposé, penned by La Presse journalists André Noël and André Cédilot, says more than 600 businesses pay Mafia protection money in Montreal alone, handing organized crime leaders an unprecedented degree of control of Quebec's economy.
The construction industry, in particular, is closely knit to organized crime, with many business leaders paying a "pizzo," or fee, equivalent to five per cent of their contracts, wrote Noël and Cédilot in their French-language book called Mafia Inc.
The book also details police testimony given by an RCMP investigator in an Italian court. He told the tribunal under oath that the Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra, controls a major section of Quebec's construction industry.
The book's stunning allegations come as a closely watched provincial commission on corruption, influence peddling and judge appointments wrapped hearings in Quebec City last week.
Quebec's opposition parties have hammered away at the Liberal government throughout the hearings, calling for a wider inquiry into corruption, especially in the construction industry.
A major police investigation launched earlier this year — Operation Marteau — has resulted in dozens of raids on construction industries suspected of collusion.
Opposition wants corruption inquiry
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois attacked Premier Jean Charest on Tuesday, citing Mafia Inc. as the latest reason for a full investigation into corruption.
Marois told the legislature that Charest's refusal to turn a bigger spotlight on the construction industry has stained Quebec's political class and tarnished the province's reputation.
The PQ leader said Charest's reticence reflects the premier's fear of revealing too much about the Quebec Liberal Party. Charest maintains there is no need for a public inquiry, given the ongoing police investigation.
Mafia Inc. describes the RCMP's role in an Italian money laundering case that allegedly involves the notorious Rizzuto Mafia family based in Montreal.
Sgt. Lorie McDougall went to Rome to testify in the case of Benaminio Zappia, who is accused of laundering $600 million for the Rizzuto organization.
Portion of testimony by RCMP Sgt. Lorie McDougall
Question from prosecutor: (translated by Italian interpreter) "Please explain this necessity to meet with the family and give them money."
Answer: "There was times where there was problems under certain contracts, possibly a construction contract, and they had the influence of getting a contract for the other company, for their friends."
Question from prosecutor: "Was it the Rizzuto family that decided which were the companies that would have the contracts for constructing?"
Answer: "Exactly, and they would take often a percentage of the contract. If my memory is right, I think it was five per cent."
Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête has also chronicled McDougall's testimony in a series of television reports to be broadcast this week on CBC's French-language network.
McDougall testified that several Quebec entrepreneurs pay a "pizzo," essentially giving the Mafia important control of the construction industry.
In their book, Cédilot and Noël write that income for organized crime from this protection racket is less important than the control.
"Money is secondary in this domain. What counts for them is to secure businessmen's loyalty. Also to muzzle the population and merchants about their activities and, at the same time, creates a vast network of contacts," Cédilot said.
All kinds of businesses are targeted, from hotels and restaurants to grocery stores and auto dealers. Construction businesses make up the bulk, notes the veteran journalist.
"Mafioso are so rich now that they have many legitimate businesses that operate under a company front."
At least a dozen construction businesses with Mob links were identified during Operation Colisée, a major police crackdown in 2006 that rounded up more than 100 alleged Mafia members, Cédilot said.
Montreal's Mafia runs the same way as its counterpart in Sicily, where "all of the major infrastructure work in Sicily is under Mafia control," he said.
If the government doesn't find a solution to the Mafia in Quebec, Cédilot says, organized crime will conduct the same activities in Ontario and the rest of Canada.
"I hope this book will help government authorities open their eyes to find a solution to these problems, because they have reproduced the Sicilian recipe in Montreal, and eventually will in Ontario and Canada."