The Métropolitain

A caution on corruption

Par Beryl Wajsman le 17 d├ęcembre 2013

Last week the City of Montreal and the provincial government announced that the Montreal anti-corruption squad, known by the acronym EPIM, would be folded into UPAC, the provincial anti-corruption unit.. The two are being combined  to better coordinate resources and shared intelligence. EPIM is a select 20-person team created by the city this past January.

Mayor Coderre said,  “What we're looking for is efficiency. What we're looking for is results. I think that as the minister just mentioned, there are no boundaries, saying after Montreal, that's it. So we need the expertise and sensitivity of Montreal, but at the same time we need the intelligence of UPAC. It's clearly in my mind a sign of success and that's only what it's all about.” 

One has no reason to question the Mayor`s sentiments and we can only wish the new squad well and that indeed better co-ordination will not only achieve the law-enforcement goals it seeks but a greater respect for due process . But we do have a word of caution for the words of Quebec Public Security Minister Stephane Bergeron and indeed for the many commentators who have cheered Bergeron`s statements.

The Minister said that the new unit would be completely arms-length between itself and any and all municipal and provincial bureaucrats and elected officials.  

."We want to be sure that there will be a 'Wall of China' between politics and operational questions," said Bergeron. Just how impregnable this Chinese wall would be was clarified by him in further comments that made it clear that even Ministers would not know what the unit was doing.

This was greeted with resounding applause by observers. And herein lies our caution.

There has been too embedded an assumption in our public discourse that somehow bureaucrats and security authorities are less susceptible to corruption than elected officials. And that shutting out elected officials is the only way to assure integrity. We beg to differ.

Sadly, all human beings are capable of corruption. But when that corruption seeps into elected officials, the public generally finds out about it through the fourth estate, the media. Everybody talks and everything leaks. And we the people get to vote the culprits out.

But if a society allows security authorities a hermetically sealed environment, those authorities can protect their own and indeed keep information out of the public sphere because they are answerable to no one. That is why President Kennedy once famously quipped, “War is too important to be left to the generals.”

As if to illustrate this point, within a day of the merger announcement, the Journal de Montreal revealed that Bruno Beaulieu, the retired SQ officer assigned to investigate secret expenditures of the SQ,  was in fact not only a friend but a real estate partner of SQ Directeur-general Mario Laprise and three other high-ranking SQ officials including a commissioner of UPAC. 

Our liberties are protected only by due process of law. Justice must be seen to be done as well as to be done. And the only sure measure of that protection is afforded by the watchful eye of the public and the press. Elected officials should not be in a position of abdicating control over security. The fight against one kind of corruption can lead to another type of institutionalized corruption. Too much power, easily abused, in the hands of state agents. We saw it during the Duplessis years. We don’t need a repetition. And we don’t need elected officials abdicating their responsibilities and when it is too late answering, “But we couldn’t have known.” The judgment of history will be harsh.