Trash collection firm was charging Montreal for off-island garbage pickup

Montreal has cancelled two contracts worth nearly $35 million after the city's inspector general found the company had violated key parts of its agreement, including collecting off-island trash while billing the city.

City investigation showed Service Environnementaux Richelieu violated several contract terms

The inspector general's office set up surveillance after a tip came in that the company wasn't meeting the obligations of its contract with the city. (CBC)

Montreal has cancelled two major trash collection contracts after the city's inspector general found the company violated key parts of its agreement, including billing the city for collecting off-island trash.

The two contracts held by Service Environnementaux Richelieu (S.E.R.) are worth nearly $35 million.

The company was awarded a 10-year contract for garbage collection in Verdun in 2008 and another four-year contract in the Southwest borough in 2017.

Both contracts laid out rules including not mixing garbage and recycling and not collecting private trash during periods reported as municipal collection.

Filling trucks with private trash

The findings were laid out in a 40-page report by Denis Gallant, the city's inspector general.

The investigation was launched in February 2017 after officials in Verdun found the company was collecting waste from private companies and billing the city for its time.

Surveillance showed that, in addition to mixing trash and recycling, the company was collecting garbage from restaurants, commercial businesses and private residences in Brossard, Longueuil, Saint-Basile-le-Grand, and Carignan, mixing it with the municipal garbage, and charging the city after it was dumped.

Investigators also witnessed drivers picking up construction debris from a private business in Verdun and adding it to its municipal collection. 

The inspector general's report states that, because the company was required to give the city a rebate if it did not collect the tonnage laid out in the contract, the action amounted to a "willful evasion" of its obligations.

It also found drivers were falsifying time cards to account for the time taken to drive to off-island sites to pick up trash.

"In terms of the gravity of the [contract] breaches, it is particularly of note because they are recurrent, they contravene a wide range of obligations imposed on [Service Environnementaux Richelieu], and they demonstrate clear involvement on the part of the company's supervisors," the report notes.

Jeremy Watt, the South Shore site manager of S.E.R.'s parent company, told Radio-Canada that the company is reviewing the report "and will respond in due process."

Surveillance from the investigation showed workers Service Environnementaux Richelieu collecting garbage from a restaurant in Brossard while the company was supposed to be doing municipal pickup in Verdun. (Bureau de l’inspecteur général de Montreal)

Lax monitoring

The report also points to lax monitoring on the municipality's part that allowed some of the company's actions to go unchecked.

Neither borough regularly verified that the trucks were empty when they started their municipal pick up, the GPS data from the trucks was rarely accessed by the city and Verdun's weigh scales were often broken.

Jean-François Parenteau, the mayor of Verdun and the executive committee member in charge of citizen services, said the inspector general's findings were "very, very shocking." 

He said changes are already in the works to ensure better monitoring of outside contractors and that city equipment, like scales and GPS trackers, are being used as they should be. 

The city is looking at newer technology that will better monitor the collection and transport of trash, he said.

The city said the company is obligated to continue collection for 45 days after the contract is terminated. 

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante also wants tighter rules to track work done by private contractors.

"We need to make sure that it doesn't happen again. There is no way we're going to make Montrealers pay for the garbage of other municipalities," she said.
 

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