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Former police chief Jacques Duchesneau up next at the Charbonneau Commission

MONTREAL – The Charbonneau Commission is expected to start hearing from its first high-profile witness on Wednesday, a former Montreal police chief who made headlines last year in the wake of an explosive report that claimed corruption and collusion were alive and thriving within Transport Quebec.

Jacques Duchesneau may take the stand as early as 2 p.m. His lawyer was already present in the hearing room on Wednesday morning, but Duchesneau himself had not yet arrived.

The former cop was relieved of his duties as head of Quebec’s anti-collusion squad – part of the broader anti-corruption squad known by the French acronym UPAC – last October. His dismissal came just weeks after his damning report on the provincial Transportation Department was leaked to the media and he made public comments about UPAC being ineffective.

Duchesneau’s testimony in front of the Charbonneau Commission, currently scheduled to last through part of Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday morning, will follow that of two high-ranking officials within Transport Quebec.

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Chantal Gingras, an assistant deputy minister who is primarily responsible for the planning of roadworks, and Marcel Charpentier, director of contracts and material resources, both testified for several hours before Justice France Charbonneau and her co-commissioner, Renaud Lachance. Carpentier was still on the stand at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The two department insiders explained in detail how construction projects are planned and contracts awarded in the province, and while some of Transport Quebec’s policies and procedures seemed to raise the eyebrows of the commissioners, both witnesses testified that they had not personally witnessed any instances of influence peddling or attempts by construction companies to curry favour or monopolize contracts.

Duchesneau, however, may paint a very different picture when he takes the stand during the afternoon.

Testifying at a parliamentary hearing in Quebec City last fall, he described a system wherein a small group of companies, mainly based on Montreal, seemed to be dividing the biggest projects among them.

He also said some contractors bid low and then jack up the prices after they win the contract. Any “extras” charged to the government could then be funneled into political party coffers, Duchesneau said at the time.

The Charbonneau Commission has been given the task of exposing systems of corruption and collusion within Quebec’s construction industry over the last 15 years. It will continue hearing from witnesses until the end of June, then take a two-month break from testimony for the summer.

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