It’s worth just taking in the story as a headline: “Former Mayor of Quebec’s Third-Largest City Charged With Gangsterism.” Then you flick on the telly and see that, yup, there he is, Gilles Vaillancourt, the mayor of Laval for nearly a quarter-century, in the back of a police car, wearing a gray suit and a faint smile as he stares straight ahead. Vaillancourt was one of 37 people charged today in a massive sweep by UPAC, the province’s anti-corruption squad.
The charges are harsh and, as far as I know, unprecedented for a Quebec politician. Until now, the charge of gangsterism has been reserved for the likes of bikers and the mafia—organizations that exist solely to enrich themselves through crime. In charging him with gangsterism, the police are effectively alleging Vaillancourt is in league with the likes of the Hells Angels and Montreal’s Rizzuto clan.
Speaking of the arrests, Robert Lafrenière of the anti-corruption police task force UPAC said, “The structure observed and which seemed to have been put in place by the accused corresponds to the criteria contained in articles 467-12 and 467-13 of the criminal code.” It’s a telling statement: these articles of law specifically refer to “criminal organizations,” suggesting police believe Vaillancourt was part of a group that was knowingly enriching itself through criminal actions. The penalties are stiff: up to life imprisonment in the case of 467-13.
To understand what police believe constitutes this criminal organization, take a look at the list of people arrested alongside Vaillancourt. The vast majority of the arrestees are from the construction and engineering domains. (Laval is booming, by the way; its population has grown by nearly 9 per cent between 2006 and 2011.) Construction magnate Tony Accurso, also hauled in by police this morning, did a huge amount of business in Laval, nabbing 25 per cent of the city’s construction contracts between 2001 and 2008, according to La Presse. “It is widely known that Mr. Accurso has direct access to the offices of Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt,” wrote La Presse’s Bruno Bisson and André Noel in 2009.
Also arrested: Rosaire Sauriol of Dessau, the engineering consulting firm. Sauriol, a Dessau executive, testified earlier this spring at the so-called
Charbonneau commission investigating corruption in the province’s construction industry that his firm had forged invoices to the tune of $2 million in order to fund municipal and provincial political parties. Headquartered in Laval, Dessau was also a prolific mainstay on Laval’s many construction sites. Interestingly, Claude DeGuise, a former Dessau executive who became the head of Laval’s engineering division, was also arrested. So was Vaillancourt’s brother Guy.
Here’s the other interesting thing about Gilles Vaillancourt: he knows everyone. He is (or was) close to the Liberal Party of Quebec. Former Liberal cabinet minister Michelle Courchesne, also from Laval, was often in the company of the mayor; a 2008 Le Devoir article quotes a former NMA as saying the two are “very close.” Strangely, the record of the press conferences the two held together appear to have been scrubbed.