03/18/2016 05:00 EDT | Updated 03/19/2017 01:12 EDT

Boisbriand cleaning up its corrupt past

Once a hive of political corruption, the bedroom community of Boisbriand has in recent years been actively seeking to remake its image and to recover millions of dollars in stolen public money.

Two of Boisbriand's previous mayors — Robert Poirier and Sylvie Berniquez Saint-Jean — have been found guilty of fraud in connection with municipal contracts. Since 2011, engineering and construction firms have also been charged in connection with work they carried out in the municipality north of Montreal.

But Boisbriand's current mayor, Marlene Cordato, said the community is now trying to turn the page on its criminal past. 

"The best thing for the citizens of Boisbriand is that since then we have cleaned up a lot," said Cordato.

"We have changed things in Boisbriand. We have changed the way management is being done and the way the city is being driven." 

Centre of intrigue again

But Boisbriand is once again at the centre of intrigue after a string of arrests Thursday by the province's anti-corruption unit, UPAC.

The unit didn't specify which events were behind the charges — court documents refer to a period stretching from 2000 to 2012 — but many of the suspects have been linked in the past to alleged corruption schemes in Boisbriand.

The best-known of these was the decision to award an $11-million contract to engineering firm Roche to build a water-treatment plant. 

Provincial bureaucrats initially decided to award the contract to a different firm, but then-municipal affairs minister Nathalie Normandeau overruled that decision, according to publicly available court documents.  

Normandeau was arrested Thursday, along with her former chief of staff Bruno Lortier, Roche executive Marc-Yvan Coté and former executive France Michaud. 

Michaud has already been found guilty of fraud in connection with the water-treatment plant contract.

More transparency

Since the initial round of arrests in 2011, Boisbrand has taken a number of steps to introduce more transparency in its contract tendering process. That has already resulted in significant savings for the city. 

"We have seen that all our public works costs have been going down from 30 to 50 per cent," Cordato said. 

"We have separated politics and administration a lot, and we have put new methods in place."

Boisbrand is also hoping to take advantage of new provincial laws that allow victims of fraud to recoup some of their losses. Cordato estimates the municipality could recover as much as $10.6 million from fraudulent billing.

"We're happy to see that at last justice is being done," Cordato said of the latest charges.   

"But what we want now for the citizens of Boisbriand is to get back the money that they have paid when it wasn't necessary. They've been robbed for a lot of millions of dollars."