RCMP refuses to hand over Mafia tapes

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Charbonneau Commission says evidence could tie mob, Quebec construction firms

William Marsden – March 20, 2012

From June 2003 to November 2006, police from the RCMP-led Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, who had been investigating the Mafia since September 2002, recorded thousands of conversations at the Consenza Social Club, a small, unassuming café tucked inside a strip mall in St. Léonard.

Police bugged an office behind the main café where Mafia bosses met daily to discuss business and divide the cash profits that flowed like a river of gold from their extensive drug, loansharking and gambling networks.

On Nov. 22, 2006, Project Colisée ended with the arrest of all four major Mafia bosses - including reputed godfather Nicolo Rizzuto (later shot dead in his home) - and a further 86 underbosses, Mafia soldiers and associates.

Many of them are still serving time in jail.

Among the cornucopia of evidence gathered by the RCMP is proof of direct links between the Mafia and construction firms throughout Quebec, according to the Charbonneau Commission into corruption and collusion in the construction industry.

So the commission wants those tapes and all other information gathered by Project Colisée before the commission's public hearings begin either in the spring or early summer.

But the RCMP has refused to answer a commission subpoena to hand them over, claiming they would violate federal law on the confidentiality of evidence gathered in the process of a criminal investigation, but never made public.

Commission lawyer Sylvain Lussier said Monday the commission has been seeking access to the RCMP files since Nov. 28.

On Monday, the two sides ended up before Superior Court Judge Guylène Beaugé.

But despite pleas from Lussier that the commission's two-year mandate means it is operating on a "very tight deadline," the judge ordered a delay on hearing the merits of the case until April 18 because the federal government was not ready to proceed.

Outside the courtroom, Lussier said: "We are convinced that in the Project Colisée there is proof that is pertinent to our mandate. We want that information."

He admitted, however, that he has never seen any of the RCMP files.

He charged that the police's refusal to hand over the files is "delaying our work."

"We are losing time with this kind of exercise," he said. "I have to say that we are to a degree surprised at the attitude of the RCMP."

Lussier said the RCMP cannot make a blanket decision not to turn over the files.

"It has to be specific to certain items that might endanger, for example, national security," he said.

"But you can't just say I'm not turning it over and I'm not subject to your jurisdiction. You have to be very specific about what privilege concerning what document or what piece of evidence."

Formerly located in a strip mall at 4891 Jarry St. E., the Consenza Social Club club no longer exists. But 5½ years after the Mafia roundup, its legacy reverberates through Quebec's judicial and political corridors.

Original article on Montreal Gazette website