The Quebec government has announced the creation of a new specialized squad to investigate alleged collusion and corruption in the construction industry.
Opération Marteau, French for Operation Hammer, will include 60 provincial police officers, seven new Crown prosecutors and two members of the RCMP, Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis said Thursday.
Quebec's labour and revenue ministers announced they would also table legislation aimed at blocking the access of criminal organizations to the industry.
The move comes following media allegations that a small number of construction firms have colluded, with the assistance of the Mafia, to drive up the price of public works contracts.
The squad would be similar to Opération Carcajou, or Operation Wolverine, created in 1995 to bring an end to the war between the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine biker gangs, and Opération Shark, which led to the arrest of more than 150 associates of the Hells Angels in April, the minister said.
'A strong response is needed and that is what we’re doing.'— Jacques Dupuis, public security minister
"The government is determined that everyone who works in that domain should follow the rules — that competition should once again be fair," Dupuis said.
The province will order a background check of all people seeking to obtain a construction licence in the province, Labour Minister Sam Hamad said.
The province’s building safety board, the Régie du batiment, would be able to revoke the licences of entrepreneurs if any of their shareholders or lenders had been convicted of a criminal offence within a period of five years, Hamad said.
"You will hear tomorrow people saying that this [measure] is exaggerated," Dupuis said. "But given the allegations that have been made, a strong response is needed and that is what we’re doing."
No inquiry for now
The government has rejected calls for a public inquiry into allegations of widespread collusion and the alleged involvement of politicians.
The government would wait for the results of investigations already underway by provincial police, Premier Jean Charest has said.
Dupuis said provincial police have ensured him this new operation would provide the force with the resources it needs to address the situation.
Should that change, all options would be on the table said Dupuis.
The director of the provincial police force said the force is making progress with its investigations.
"There are many people who are talking to us … we have a lot of information," Richard Deschênes said.
Dupuis encouraged others with information to contact Opération Marteau, assuring their security would be guaranteed.
The squad has created a special hotline - 1-888-444-1701.