Montreal engineer has 'bitter regrets' about role in bid-rigging

Disgraced City of Montreal engineer Gilles Surprenant, who admitted to pocketing thousands in taxpayer dollars, says he will never forgive himself for his misdeeds.

'Past 10 years at the City of Montreal have been catastrophic,' Gilles Surprenant says

Gilles Suprenant says he 'should have never accepted' hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, and he will never forgive himself for his role in the public-contract collusion scheme that operated in Montreal. (Charbonneau commission)

The disgraced City of Montreal engineer who admitted to pocketing thousands in taxpayer dollars says he will never forgive himself for his misdeeds.

Gilles Surprenant, who admitted to being  part of a kickback scheme on public contracts for nearly 20 years of his career with the city, was responding to cross-examination Thursday on what is expected to be his last day of testimony at the Quebec's corruption inquiry.

"I bitterly regret everything that happened," the former bureaucrat said under questioning by the lawyer representing Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay's Union Montreal party.

"I must say, for me, the past 10 years at the City of Montreal have been catastrophic. It should have never existed. I should have never accepted those sums. I should have never done that."

He maintained, however, that he was merely a participant in the alleged collusion scheme, and not the ringleader.

"There was an established system and I was caught up in it," he said.

Surprenant said he never considered giving money back to the City of Montreal. When pressed as to why, he said he simply hadn't thought of it.

Surprenant repeated he put his bribe money back into public coffers the best way he could — by gambling at the Montreal casino. He said his family has forgiven him for his wrongdoings, but said he will never forgive himself.

The former city engineer, who was at one time in charge of planning and budgeting for public works projects, has testified he received about $600,000 in kickbacks from construction bosses over a 20-year period. In most cases, the bribes ranged from a few thousand dollars to as much as $22,000 for each public tender he helped rig. He was also showered with gifts such as tropical golfing holidays, hockey tickets, wine and fancy dinners.

'You stole,' lawyer accuses engineer

Michel Dorval, a lawyer for Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay's Union Montreal party, cross-examined Gilles Surprenant on Thursday. Here's an extract: 

Michel Dorval: "You defrauded your employer, the City of Montreal. Do you agree?"

Gilles Surprenant [hesitant]: "Yes, I agree."

MD: "By manipulating amounts to inflate the estimated cost of projects. That's correct?"

GS: "That's correct."

MD: "And we agree that this fraud cost Montreal residents tens of millions of dollars?"

GS: "I'm OK with saying like that."

MD: "Do you agree that in accepting an amount of $700,000, maybe more, you say maybe less, you stole that amount from Montreal residents? You told my colleague it was theft. Do you agree?"

GS: "Listen, unfortunately I didn't realize that when it was happening. There was an established system. I was caught in it. I said I was corrupt by various methods that included intimidation. But you're surely right, except that..."

MD: "You don't experience it like that. You don't experience it as having stolen money from people. Is that right?"

GS: "Listen, everyone who like me was taking money from the City of Montreal was surely aware somewhere that it was, exactly, that what you're saying is right."