If what a former senior Mountie says is true, Ontarians can stop looking smugly across the border as Quebec probes the links between organized crime and political corruption in the province.
A joint investigation by the Toronto Star and Enquête, a French-language public affairs program on CBC Radio-Canada, suggests Ontario could be just as tainted by corruption, if not more so.
"We went to Italy to investigate the importance of the Italian Mafia in the world and especially Montreal, and anti-Mafia investigators there told us, 'Forget Montreal. It's about Toronto now, with the most powerful Mafia in the world, the Calabrian Mafia,'" Enquête host Alain Gravel told CBC News.
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Enquête interviewed former RCMP chief superintendent Ben Soave, who led the Mounties' organized-crime unit in Ontario until 2004.
"They're probably more active than in Quebec.… from political figures to law enforcement to people in the criminal justice system, to the manufacturing industries, they've done that," he said.
"They have the same problem, the same corruption. They have the same organized crime groups operating here. Devastating as they are in Quebec, but they're much lower profile."
Gravel said sources told him the Mafia gets less attention in Ontario because "in Quebec, you get the bodies. Here, we get the money."
Quebec's Charbonneau Commission, which is looking into links between the mob-infiltrated construction business, politicians and political parties, resumed hearings this week after a summer break. The taint of possible political corruption was thought to be a factor in the defeat of Jean Charest's three-term Liberal government at the polls earlier this month.
Soave's assertions about mafia power were backed by the RCMP's current investigator.
Supt. Kevin Harrison said an organization called the 'Ndrangheta, based in Metro Toronto, is considered a "Tier 1" national threat, using a specific set of criteria that includes "corruption, scope, violence, infiltration, sophistication, expertise, subversion, strategy, discipline, insulation, multiple enterprises, group cohesiveness, [and] monopoly," the Star reported.
"Part of the reason that they are [so powerful] is because of the influence that they have economically," Harrison said in an interview.
"And that's not something that hits you in the face like a body bleeding on the sidewalk, like you have in Montreal. They are very savvy, they run under the radar in terms of public notoriety but yet they are so pervasive in the economy."
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Harrison noted that in Italy, the 'Ndrangheta, which has roots in Calabria, is considered more powerful than the Sicilian Mafia that's better known here because of its Hollywood profile.
"Certainly in Italy they are the pinnacle," Harrison said. "That translates to their rise and significance here in Canada."
Neither officer gave specifics about what levels of government might be tainted by corruption from organized crime. In fact, Star reported Harrison saying he's seen no evidence of political corruption, unlike Soave.
But the allegations about the presence of Mafia came as a surprise to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said he's never received warnings from the police or any other authorities about the mob infiltrating Ontario politics.
"If there are some serious and warranted allegations they need to be made in a substantive way, not through the media," he told reporters while attending a ploughing competition in Kitchener, Ont.
If the problem exists, McGuinty said, he would expect police to bring it to him at the earliest opportunity.
"I have no reason to believe that they would want to keep this quiet and confidential if, in fact, this is grounded in reality," he said. "I would think they would have approached us in a constructive way some time ago.
"If there's some truth to this, then let's get it on the table. Provide us with the background to this."
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