06/27/2014 11:44 EDT | Updated 08/27/2014 05:59 EDT

RCMP in Quebec apologize for anti-Mafia bust code name after complaints

MONTREAL - The RCMP have apologized for using the code name "Clemenza" to describe its latest anti-Mafia bust in Quebec after the moniker was denounced as negative stereotyping by members of the Italian community.

The force's commanding officer in the province said he was sorry in a letter to the National Congress of Italian Canadians Quebec chapter for the federal agency calling the roundup "Project Clemenza."

The group complained in writing more than a week ago after receiving what it says was numerous complaints from its community about stereotyping of Italians by the police.

Police described the alleged criminal organizations that were taken down as being linked to Italian-based organized crime in Montreal.

The project code name refers to Peter Clemenza, a fictional character from the novel and movie "The Godfather," which is the sweeping saga of an Italian crime family.

It prompted a letter from the community organization to the RCMP, calling the link unacceptable, counterproductive and showing a lack of judgment.

"We received a number of complaints from members of our community feeling it was really a lack of respect," said Antonio Sciascia, a past-president of the community organization and head of its anti-defamation committee.

"They felt that using a term like Clemenza was really stereotyping the Italian community once again."

The RCMP has not made the apology letter public, but a spokesman confirmed its existence.

Asked to describe how the RCMP goes about naming its operations in Quebec, a spokesman said he was ordered not to grant any further interviews on the subject.

In the letter, the RCMP's highest-ranking officer in the province offered his sincere apologies.

Francois Deschenes, assistant commissioner and commanding officer for the Quebec detachment, said the police force meant no harm and measures have been taken to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"I can assure you that neither in the choice of the name of the investigation nor in the preparation of our press lines did we intend to convey any negative message whatsoever regarding the community you represent," Deschenes wrote.

Deschenes said he's very sensitive to the issue raised by the community organization and the police force holds diversity in high regard. He said the RCMP is proud to have many members of the Italian community in its ranks.

He added that measures have been taken to "adjust our choice of words in order to reflect our deepest respect for the Italian community" and other communities that make up Canada.

Sciascia said his organization is satisfied with the RCMP response to its concerns and believes the force has understood the code name only serves to reinforce long-standing stereotypes. He would like the police to go a step further and remove the "Clemenza" term from its website.

Sciascia said the complaint is part of a broader move by his organization to implore media to stop associating Italians with the Mafia and organized crime.

In March, Sciascia spoke out against an advertising campaign by the Reno Depot hardware chain which was inspired by Quebec's corruption inquiry. In one of those advertisements, a quote that drew the ire of the community was a reference to "Tony doesn't think we're charging enough.”

Sciascia said that sort of thing has to stop.

"It's insulting and degrading," he said.

"We're 300,000 in Quebec and 1.5 million in Canada and 99.9 per cent of these people are good, honest, working citizens who have contributed immensely to the cultural, social and economic development of this country."

Sciascia said many of the complaints came from members of the younger generations.

The Clemenza anti-Mafia sweep by the RCMP was notable because it involved the interception of more than one million private BlackBerry PIN to PIN messages which were used to take down two organizations.

More than 30 people were arrested earlier this month.

The accused face different charges that include gangsterism, conspiracy, drug importation, trafficking, possession, kidnapping, forcible confinement, possession of weapons and explosives, arson, extortion and assault.

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