Acquittals in Faubourg-Contrecoeur case don't mean corruption inquiry was pointless: law prof

The acquittal of Frank Zampino and five of his co-accused in the Faubourg-Contrecoeur case wasn't the result Université de Montréal law Prof. Martine Valois was hoping for. Still, she's reassured by the ruling.

Corruption watchdog Prof. Martine Valois says people shouldn't conflate judicial process with inquiry's work

Frank Zampino, a former chair of the Montreal executive committee, was acquitted of charges of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust in relation to the Faubourg-Contrecoeur affair on May 2, 2018. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The acquittal of Frank Zampino and five of his co-accused in the Faubourg-Contrecoeur case wasn't the result Université de Montréal Prof. Martine Valois was hoping for. 

The law professor, who monitors what's happening to the recommendations from the Charbonneau commission into corruption in the construction industry, said just the same, she's reassured by the ruling.

Valois cautions observers not to conflate the two-year-long criminal trial with the corruption inquiry.

"These are two completely different things," she said. " We can't even compare them."

Criminal trial: proof beyond a reasonable doubt

Zampino, a former chair of Montreal's executive committee, was arrested in 2012 and accused of using his political influence to help construction magnate Paolo Catania in a bid to secure the contract to build a housing development on city-owned land in east-end Montreal in 2007. 

He, Catania and several co-accused faced charges of fraud, conspiracy and, in the case of Zampino and Catania, breach of trust.

Quebec Court Judge Yvan Poulin acquitted them all in a ruling handed down Wednesday.

"It's clear that a number of assertions by the prosecution are not supported by the evidence," Poulin said, in his ruling saying at times the Crown's arguments amounted to "speculation" and "conjecture."

Valois said it was prosecution's job to prove its case.

"The burden is to bring evidence beyond a reasonable doubt on all the elements of the crime — so, the actions and the criminal intent," she said.

Inquiry: Lots of finger-pointing, but no formal blame

Zampino was among nearly 300 witnesses who testified at the Charbonneau commission, at its public hearings spread out over three-and-a-half years

The Faubourg-Contrecoeur land deal came up in those hearings.

At times, the testimony was explosive. The inquiry heard from industry insiders-turned-whistleblowers, other politicians, and businessmen with nicknames such as "Mr. Sidewalk." 

Despite the high drama, the mandate of the commission was to examine schemes, systems and practices, not what people did or failed to do.

"It's like a coroner's inquest, know what happened, who did what," said Valois.

"The objective is to file a report and make recommendations, so that the problems that were identified in the report can be prevented from happening again."

Valois said the conclusions of the Charbonneau commission don't single out anyone, nor should they.

More than 20 years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada suggested in a decision that commissions of inquiry preface their reports with a warning to readers that their conclusions shouldn't be taken as findings of criminal or civil liability.

The final report from the Charbonneau commission did not contain that disclaimer.

Where from here?

Provincial politicians have had nothing to say so far about the Zampino verdict, except to say they respect the judicial process.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Thursday the city is studying the verdict and continuing to look at ways to prevent collusion and corruption in the municipal government. 

Valois suggested that is where attention should turn.

"If the population cares about the fight against corruption and collusion, that fight takes place by establishing controls which prevents anyone from committing reprehensible acts to limit competition," she said.

About the Author

Sean Henry


Sean Henry is a journalist and weekend anchor at CBC Montreal.