Irwin Block on the SQ Probes into the Construction Industry

I’m not sure it sits right with me that the head of a newspaper union is telling us that now is not the time for public inquiries into the construction union:

Construction raids recall ’70s corruption
Time for another cliche probe?; SQ investigating suspected sales-tax fraud

BY IRWIN BLOCK, THE GAZETTE APRIL 3, 2009

Some 35 years ago, a union goon named Yvon Duhamel mounted a bulldozer and smashed generators at the LG-2 site of the James Bay

hydroelectric project, causing $33 million in damages.

That sparked a year-long inquiry into construction industry violence under Judge Robert Cliche, which revealed widespread corruption among building trade unions affiliated with the Quebec Federation of Labour.

Its drive for a monopoly on James Bay and other lucrative job sites, to the exclusion of workers affiliated with the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), was run like a take-no-prisoners war.

A recent series of police raids, including 18 yesterday targeting construction companies suspected of sales-tax fraud, has led some to ask whether Quebec needs a new Cliche commission.

Those who oppose a public inquiry say the Sûreté du Québec is actively investigating signs of corrupt activities among employers, in parallel with strong investigative reports by Radio-Canada and La Presse. Some say the signs are far removed from the situation back in the construction boom of the early 1970s.

Lucien Bouchard, who was chief counsel at the commission, described its findings in his autobiography, On the Record: “Union loan sharks lending members money at 256 per cent interest, recycled wrestlers and boxers on union staffs, habitual criminals doing union business with baseball bats, revolvers and sub-machine guns.”

André (Dédé) Desjardins, then the boss of the Building Trades Council, was forced to resign, then was later gunned down in a professional hit on Metropolitan Blvd.

This time, the Sûreté du Québec is not waiting for matters to deteriorate.

As one seasoned observer, who insisted he not be quoted by name, suggested, the police probe is surely linked to the fact that much of the construction investment over the next years – including billions for two superhospitals and infra-structure upgrades – is by the public sector, and Quebec is wary of cost overruns.

Last year, $41.3 billion was invested in construction in Quebec, says the Association de la construction du Québec, representing 15,000 employers. Events are moving swiftly on the investigative front.

Tuesday, the SQ raided 12 construction firms in several cities, including the headquarters of Guay Inc., the crane rental giant, in connection with money laundering by biker gangs. It is alleged that some workers had to take overtime in cash, rather than by cheque, which allowed dirty money to enter the clean-money stream.

Last fall, Jocelyn Dupuis was fired as general manager of the building trades council over his racking up $125,000 in expenses over six months. Dupuis’s name also came up in the money-laundering probe. He is an alleged friend of Normand Marvin (Casper) Ouimet, a Hells Angels member. La Presse said Ouimet’s Trois Rivières home was searched on Tuesday. Dupuis’s former boss, Jean Lavallée, has also been canned as head of the Building Trades Council, and he’s back in his former job as Quebec director of the Fraternité Interprovincial des Ouvriers en Electricité.

Dupuis had worked as a business agent for the Union of Operating Engineers, and represented crane operators at Guay Inc. Coincidentally, or not, the union was among four placed under trusteeship, later lifted, as a result of the Cliche recommendations.

Michel Grant, who teaches labour relations at Université du Québec à Montréal, notes big differences between the Cliche commission, aimed at uncovering corrupt and violent union practices, and now.

“These probes are not about union practices, they are about management practices and money laundering and even infiltration of Hells Angels members,” he said.

In these money-laundering cases, union officials might have been “secondary players,” while in the Cliche probe union officials were prime targets.

At some point there might be grounds for an inquiry into the construction industry as a whole, but not on union practices, Grant said.

Pierre Hamel, in charge of government and legal affairs for the construction associaton, said a public inquiry now would be premature.

iblock@thegazette.canwest.com

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