It seems there was a worse mayor in Quebec than Montreal’s own former leader, Gérald Tremblay. Where Tremblay appeared witless, gutless, and naïve during his testimony before the Charbonneau Commission, he’s been trumped by Gilles Vaillancourt. The latter, who was first elected mayor of Laval in 1989, and stepped down last November, was one of thirty-seven men arrested earlier today—politicians, bureaucrats, and construction bosses who all stand accused of conspiracy, fraud, abuse of trust, gangsterism, and other bad things.
I know. Gangsterism? The federal government introduced the charge back in 1997, after a bloody turf war between Quebec biker gangs, to impose longer sentences on members of organized crime. And now it’s been laid on the man who was once called Laval’s “Mayor for Life.”
Vaillancourt’s problems began last October 4, when members of the province’s anti-corruption squad raided Laval’s city hall and his home, leaving behind microphones to pick up incriminating conversations. Two days later, the squad paid a visit to Vaillancourt’s cousin, who was living in a luxury apartment that the mayor reportedly owned. Stories circulated that this cousin was caught trying to flush cash down the toilet—new polymer bills that clogged the drain.
The squad went on to seize bank accounts and the contents of safe deposit boxes that Vaillancourt and his right-hand guy, lawyer Jean Bertrand, used to conduct their business. Then, former construction entrepreneur turned restauranteur Lino Zambito dropped the mayor’s name before Justice France Charbonneau’s commission. In frank and startling testimony, Zambito claimed that Vaillancourt pocketed 2.5 percent of every city contract in Laval.
Two weeks after those revelations, Vaillancourt went on sick leave. Sixteen days after that, he stepped down altogether. But his disappearance from public life did not deter investigators. It all led to this morning, when Vaillancourt was led out of a luxury condo tower in Laval—where he has been living in a two-storey penthouse with a private elevator and panoramic views—and stuffed into a police car.
The names of other people arrested are familiar to those who follow the commission, including former construction magnate Tony Accurso, and Rosaire Sauriol, the former vice-president of Dessau, a major engineering firm.
Restez à l’écoute. This isn’t over.
Lisa Fitterman is a National Newspaper Award winner and the author of two children’s books.