12/19/2012 12:16 EST | Updated 02/18/2013 05:12 EST

Anti-corruption squad narrowing in on provincial contracts

After 450 search warrants and 49 arrests, UPAC, Quebec's anti-corruption task force will be turning its focus, at least partially, towards provincial corruption.

Until now, UPAC has targeted municipal collusion. In a year-end wrap up of the squad's activities, Robert Lafrenière, the head of UPAC, said that among the 22 investigations currently underway more than one is focusing on provincial contracts. He would not comment on the specifics of those cases.

In the past year, UPAC has received more than 800 tips online and by telephone, Lafrenière said. In total, the investigations resulted in 177 charges being brought against 13 companies.

Today, Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron said he was satisfied with the results of UPAC.

Under the province's anti-corruption bill, UPAC would be responsible for screening all companies that bid for a government contract. They will only receive a contract if they are approved after being screened.

Bergeron said the construction industry will have to adjust.

"This is a new ball game … the industry will have to adapt to this new situation," he said.

Lafrenière said he isn't surprised by the results of UPAC's investigations and the squad won't be slowing down in 2013.

So far, construction magnates and politicians in Quebec have been the visible targets of anti-corruption raids. All UPAC arrests and investigations made public involved the awarding of municipal contracts.

Most recently, Saint-Rémi, Que. Mayor Michel Lavoie was arrested on Dec. 14 on charges of fraud and conspiracy. UPAC investigators have also raided the home and offices of former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, but no charges have been laid.

With the focus now turning to provincial contracts, it's possible that higher-ranking bureaucrats like could be next.

UPAC investigates Mafia activity outside Quebec

Lafrenière also confirmed that UPAC investigators have looked outside of the province.

"Some stratagems are made in other places, other countries, and exported to us. We're speaking about the Mafia," he said.

While Lafrenière said there are more arrests to come, he also emphasized the importance of prevention.

Since Quebec's corruption inquiry started in September, UPAC has received a significantly higher number of tips from the public, Lafrenière said. He called the Charbonneau commission his most important ally.

He compared the presence of UPAC to a police radar gun. When drivers see a police car on a highway, they typically slow down.

Similarly, Lafrenière said he believes people will be less likely to break the law now that they know UPAC is in operation.