Charbonneau Commission

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The Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry (French: Commission d'enquête sur l'octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l'industrie de la construction, also known as the Charbonneau Commission) was a public inquiry in Quebec, Canada into potential corruption in the management of public construction contracts.

The commission was enacted on 19 October 2011 by the provincial Liberal government of Jean Charest, and was chaired by Justice France Charbonneau.[1] The mandate of the Committee was to:

  1. Examine the existence of schemes and, where appropriate, to paint a portrait of activities involving collusion and corruption in the provision and management of public contracts in the construction industry (including private organizations, government enterprises and municipalities) and to include any links with the financing of political parties.
  2. Paint a picture of possible organized crime infiltration in the construction industry.
  3. Examine possible solutions and make recommendations establishing measures to identify, reduce and prevent collusion and corruption in awarding and managing public contracts in the construction industry.[2]

The commission completed its work on 25 November 2015. It led to the resignation of Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, as well as the arrests and respective convictions and guilty pleas of interim Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum and Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.


At the Charbonneau inquiry, an "ex-construction boss said that for years, three per cent of the value of all contracts he received from the city of Montreal went to the mayor's party, and another one per cent, known as "la taxe à Surprenant," went to a city official."[3]

In 2009 the president of the construction division at SNC-Lavalin (SNC), was told that his firm's proposal to build McGill University's new super-hospital was faulty. However, someone on the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) had illegally given him a copy of the OHL consortium architectural drawings, which were favoured by the clinicians. Charles Chebl, who at the time was working under Ben Aissa and has since replaced him as head of construction for SNC, testified in May 2014 that Riadh Ben Aissa told him to incorporate the OHL design into a hasty revision of SNC's plan. Chebl apparently demurred, and then was called to a meeting by then-CEO Pierre Duhaime where he claims to have been instructed to plagiarise the OHL design. Ben Aissa and Duhaime allegedly arranged payments of $22.5-million to MUHC CEO Arthur Porter and his right-hand-man Yanai Elbaz in exchange for ensuring SNC won the $1.3-billion contract.[4] The contract was awarded to SNC in July 2010 and by the end of 2011, Porter had resigned all of his positions of public trust, and in February 2013 the police issued a warrant for his arrest.[5] Porter has since absconded justice for "fraud, conspiracy to commit government fraud, abuse of trust, secret commissions and laundering the proceeds of a crime" related to the construction of the super-hospital, but he is fighting extradition from a Panama jail cell.[6]

In September 2012, American FBI agent Joseph Pistone, known for his undercover work with the Bonanno crime family, testified at the Charbonneau Commission as an expert witness regarding Mafia infiltration of U.S. labor unions in the construction industry.[7]

Witnesses detailed a system of bid-rigging that saw a cartel of engineering and construction firms obtain public contracts from the city of Montreal in exchange for political donations. Collusion in the construction industry extended across the river to the city of Longueuil, testified Yves Cadotte, who was in 2014 senior vice-president and general manager of SNC's transport, infrastructure and buildings division. The trick was for the politicians to solicit envelopes and briefcases of cash that were not directly related to the contracts for which tenders were requested, in order by that artifice to be able to skirt anti-bribery laws. Cadotte said the other engineering companies that were part of Longueuil's system at the time were Genivar Inc., Dessau, Groupe SM and Cima+. In one instance the politicians requested $200,000, and Cadotte delivered $125,000 in cash to Liberal party fundraiser Bernard Trépanier, who stashed it in a briefcase. For the remaining $75,000, he said SNC agreed at the party's request to pay an invoice from a Montreal communications firm for services that were largely never rendered. Cadotte was asked whether he ever thought about denouncing the collusion to the Competition Bureau of Canada, which has a policy of clemency for whistleblowers. Cadotte answered "No."[8]

Julie Boulet, the Quebec Minister of Transport during the Liberal government of Jean Charest, contradicted herself when she denied her previous day's testimony that she was well aware of the requirement that cabinet ministers needed to raise funds annually in the amount $100,000. That is, in order to obtain and maintain a cabinet-level job in Quebec one must be able to provide or shepherd $100,000 in campaign contributions.[9]

Unité permanente anti-corruption (UPAC)[edit]

By July 2018, Quebec's Unité permanente anti-corruption (UPAC)—anti-corruption police force—which was established in 2011, had 114 convictions. UPAC prosecutors had laid "criminal charges against 331 people and companies".[10] The UPAC undertook investigations stemming from testimonies from the Charbonneau Commission. Convictions from these investigations included those related to "operation Lauréat", former-Mayors Gilles Vaillancourt, Gérald Tremblay, and Michael Applebaum.

According to a November 28, 2018 Global News report, UPAC Officer Jean-Frédérick Gagnon, told the inquiry in 2014 that "operation Lauréat" was an investigation into "the biggest corruption fraud in Canadian history"[11] implicating SNC-Lavalin in bribery for the construction of the MUHC.

In October 2012 police searched two residences owned by then-mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, as well as municipal buildings, and safety deposit boxes rented by Vaillancourt. On 24 October Vaillancourt announced that he would be temporarily leaving his function as mayor for health reasons. On 9 November he resigned as mayor, denying all of the corruption allegations against him. On May 9, 2013 he was arrested at his home by the police and charged with gangsterism.[12]

Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay resigned on November 5, 2012 as a direct result of revelations made in the Commission.[13]

As a result of the testimonies by witnesses at the Charbonneau Commission, on June 17, 2013 Montréal interim mayor Michael Applebaum was arrested on charges of fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust, and corruption in municipal affairs.[14] On January 26, 2017, Québec Court Judge Louise Provost found Applebaum guilty of eight of the 14 corruption-related charges against him stemming activities that took place between 2006 and 2012 when he was serving as borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.[15][16]

In popular culture[edit]

Charbonneau (portrayed by Claudia Ferri) and the commission was portrayed in the television drama series Bad Blood, which debuted in 2017, surrounding the Rizzuto crime family.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Commission d'enquête sur l'octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l'industrie de la construction: La Commission". Gouvernement du Québec. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
  2. ^ "Commission d'enquête sur l'octroi et la gestion des contrats publics dans l'industrie de la construction: Mandat". Gouvernement du Québec. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
  3. ^ Saint-Martin, Denis (2015-09-04). "Systemic Corruption in an Advanced Welfare State: Lessons from the Quebec Charbonneau Inquiry". Osgoode Hall Law Journal. 53 (1): 66–106. doi:10.60082/2817-5069.2973. ISSN 2817-5069.
  4. ^ Hamilton, Graeme (May 22, 2014). "SNC-Lavalin VP says he was given 'no choice' but to cheat on hospital proposal". National Post.
  5. ^ "Arthur Porter: timeline of a corruption scandal by Roberto Rocha". The Gazette. 2011-11-10. Archived from the original on 2014-03-04. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  6. ^ "Arthur Porter wants out of prison" 27 Mar 2014
  7. ^ "'Donnie Brasco' testifies at Quebec corruption inquiry". CBC News. Archived from the original on 2023-04-22. Retrieved 2023-12-02.
  8. ^ Van Praet, Nicolas (March 18, 2013). "SNC-Lavalin bid-rigging scam extended beyond Montreal, exec tells inquiry". Financial Post. Archived from the original on 2020-09-25. Retrieved 2023-12-02.
  9. ^ "Boulet maintient qu'elle ignorait l'objectif de 100 000 $". La Presse Canadienne (in French). 2014-05-15. Retrieved "Boulet maintient qu'elle ignorait l'objectif de 100 000 $" 15 May 2014
  10. ^ Perreaux, Les (July 4, 2018). "Quebec's anti-corruption crusade has resulted in many arrests but few convictions. Here's what has happened so far". The Globe and Mail. Montreal. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  11. ^ Valiante, Giuseppe (November 28, 2018). "MUHC deserves the millions in criminal's bank account: lawyer". Global News. Montreal. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  12. ^ "Laval mayor resigns amid corruption allegations". Montreal: CBC News. 2012-11-09. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
  13. ^ "Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay resigns amid Charbonneau Commission corruption allegations". National Post. November 5, 2012.
  14. ^ "Mayor of Montreal arrested". Associated Press. June 17, 2013. Archived from the original on June 20, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  15. ^ Bernstien, Jaela; Shingler, Benjamin (January 26, 2017). "Ex-Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum found guilty of 8 corruption-related charges". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  16. ^ Woods, Allan; Sher, Julian (June 17, 2013). "Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum charged with 14 offences". Toronto Star. Retrieved February 21, 2019.

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