MONTREAL – A legal tiff between the RCMP and a high-profile Quebec corruption inquiry over access to Mafia-related evidence will be decided by a judge next week.
Arguments concluded Thursday in Quebec Superior Court in a case pitting the province’s Charbonneau Commission against the RCMP.
The provincial inquiry wants to view documents pertaining to the massive dragnet on Montreal’s Italian Mafia conducted between 2002 and 2006 and is looking for specific information on people and companies.
The inquiry lawyers say the information is necessary for the probe, which will explore allegations of corruption involving the construction industry, organized crime, political parties and the awarding of public contracts.
But the RCMP says the request for information is too vague and imprecise and, furthermore, as a federal agency it can’t be compelled to comply with a provincial inquiry.
Superior Court Justice Guylene Beauge said in a Montreal courtroom that she will render a written judgment on April 27.
Lawyers for the RCMP have argued the mountain of evidence — 1.5 million wiretap intercepts and 1,500 hours of video, among numerous other documents — is protected by different levels of privilege.
The massive amount of information was gathered during Operation Colisee, a police probe that concluded in 2006 and is considered the largest investigation into the Mob in Canadian history.
Inquiry lawyers say they issued a blanket subpoena but insist they are seeking specific information and they don’t actually want every shred of evidence the Mounties collected.
They say they need to see the information compiled after Operation Colisee to determine whether it might be relevant to their case.
“It’s a blanket subpoena (but) it’s designed to be particularized as we go along. It’s very broad in its wording but it is the nature of it,” said Sylvain Lussier, a lawyer for the Charbonneau Commission, outside the courtroom.
Lussier, who represented the federal government during the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, says the RCMP shouldn’t be surprised by the subpoena.
“It’s the same form of subpoena that was used during the Gomery Commission and all of the federal agencies got a similar request,” he said.
Before the judge adjourned, commission lawyers offered to make 24 individual requests for specific information they were seeking about certain people and companies.
The Quebec lawyers say they are puzzled by the RCMP’s refusal to co-operate. The commission announced its intentions last November and didn’t hear any complaint until January, when the RCMP refused to hand over any information.
Federal lawyer Claude Joyal asked the judge to rule on the case to provide clarity should similar disputes occur down the road.
Operation Colisee led to the arrest of the braintrust of Montreal’s powerful Italian Mafia, including the late Nicolo Rizzuto Sr., who was murdered in November 2010.
The charges laid during subsequent trials included gangsterism, drug-trafficking, money-laundering and illegal gambling. Most of the evidence was sealed but the issue of Mob ties to the construction industry have been the subject of various investigative reports.
Commission lawyers have said it’s important to have access to the RCMP evidence as soon as possible if the Charbonneau probe is to complete its mandate by October 2013.
The inquiry headed by Quebec Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau is to begin hearing from witnesses this fall.