By Andrew Bailey
A taste of Italy this week for you all, although not the pizza or pasta you were probably hoping for. Whilst on my year abroad in Canada last November, I remember reading in the papers about the assassination of a man named Nicolo Rizzuto: the 86 year-old was shot in the head by a sniper at his luxurious Cartierville mansion in Montréal. I recall the bizarre period of public mourning that ensued and being dumbfounded when I saw pictures of 800 people attending his funeral at Notre-Dame-De-Grâce Church, with Nicolo having the privilege of crossing the Styx in a lavish gold coffin. Who was this man? And why did he merit such luxurious transport? I later found out that he was, in fact, the head of the “Rizzuto Clan”, widely accepted as being Canada’s most powerful mafia family: a family that has wielded influence over Montréal for the past 50 years, one that continues to do so today.
One area of Montréalais and Québécois society that the Rizzuto’s seem heavily invested in is the construction industry: take one look at Radio-Canada’s website on any given day, and something to do with corrupt builders and dodgy contracts is more than likely to come up. Opération Colisée, a 4-year investigation finishing in 2006 led by the Montréal police and the RCMP, exposed the undeniable links between the awarding of public works contracts in Québec and the persuasive powers of the Rizzuto’s. Let’s look at one concrete example of this Italian “persuasion”: in 2006, the Pavillon Jean Coutu of the University of Montréal was unveiled to the public, a drug research and development facility constituting a great asset to the university and to the city as a whole. However, it was in 2005 that construction companies who were legitimately working on the building started receiving mysterious phone calls. For example, the head of one tiling company was told to back away from the project; if he didn’t, he would face grave consequences. These calls were coming from rival construction companies that had been infiltrated by the Rizzuto’s, or ones that belonged to the Rizzuto’s themselves. Their demands were simple: leave it to us, or expect to find yourself sleeping with the fishes.
Other high profile projects influenced by the Montréal mafia include the building of two Metro stations in Laval in 2007, and the refurbishments of Montréal town hall and the parliament buildings in Ottawa: all have used construction companies who only got the job through the Rizzuto’s bullying. This practice, commonplace in Québec over the past 10 years, has apparently affected 5% of all major construction projects in the province.
Nicolo’s son, Vito (known as Montréal’s Teflon Don) was extradited to the USA in 2006 and imprisoned for 6 years due to his involvement in the 1981 gangland shootings of three members of the rival Bonnano clan in Brooklyn, NY. Vito’s son Niccolo (known as Nick Jr.) was shot dead in 2009 whilst in his car in the Notre-Dame-De-Grâce neighbourhood of Montréal.
Whilst many have questioned whether Vito will attempt to reclaim his influence as the head of the clan on his release from prison next year, his freedom may be short lived: his arrest warrant has been out in Italy since 2005, due to his involvement in (guess what?) corrupt construction contracts, this time in relation to the planned Strait of Messina bridge, a project designed to connect mainland Italy with his Sicily homeland, due to open in 2016.
There is no doubt that the position of influence of the Rizzuto clan has taken a bashing. But with companies such as Samara and FTQ Construction still in existence, both having links to the family, it is hard to say whether the issue of fixed contracts, bribery and threats will ever be resolved: corrupt construction is a sticky subject that both the provincial government and the city council are reluctant to confront. The saga highlights the unexpected position of Montréal as an international hub of wrongdoing, and that the Canada can “do mafia” just as well as their more famous friends south of the border.