In the midst of all the drama surrounding the Quebec corruption inquiry, a former Montreal city engineer has brought some comic relief to the witness stand.
Gilles Surprenant, now retired, was on the stand for much of this week, and some of things he said were so outlandish, you couldn't help but laugh.
According to the Canadian Press, Surprenant received about $700,000 in illegal kickbacks during his tenure as a city engineer in Montreal.
On Wednesday, he told the public inquiry that he never reported the corruption he witnessed because apparently reporting a serious crime wasn't in his job description.
"I don't think it was my role, as a simple functionary, to call the police about it," he said, according to CP.
"My bosses were aware of the situation and, as I've said, for nine years there was not much that was done."
Surprenant also made a point of reminding the inquiry that he returned just over half the money that he allegedly stole: $123,000 was returned to authorities in cash while another $250,000 was spent at the casino.
That's right — according to the Canadian Press, Surprenant actually suggested that losing a quarter of a million dollars at provincially run casinos was akin to 'reimbursing the state.'
The former engineer was also the subject of a quip from Lino Zambito, the former construction boss who preceded Surprenant on the witness stand. When talking about the 1 per cent kickback paid to Surprenant, he said it was jokingly referred to as the GST (ie: the Gilles Surpenant Tax).
Taxpayers aren't laughing.
Over the past several weeks, Quebecers have heard scathing allegations about how costly and how deep the corruption went.
On Wednesday, Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt stepped-down — temporarily — after a witness accused him of pocketing kickbacks and the subsequent RCMP raids of his homes, his office and safety deposit box.
Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay is also feeling the heat from the media with regards to allegations about illegal donations to his political party.
And on Thursday, according to the Montreal Gazette, Surprenant admitted to selling his house last month — which was valued at about $350,000 — to his daughter for only $1.
"Asked if this wasn't another way to defraud Montreal residents out of the money he owes them," the article notes, "he said he never thought of it that way."
Something tells me that Quebec taxpayers won't be in the mood to laugh for a very long time.
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