This morning, Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum was arrested on 14 charges, including conspiracy and corruption, largely in connection with bribes exchanged in two real-estate deals in a borough where he served as mayor for ten years. Though the news has caused a stir, it should not have surprised anyone: Applebaum’s arrest is merely the latest in a series of corruption scandals involving Montreal officials on various levels, not to mention the mafia.
Applebaum was elected last fall—the city’s first anglophone mayor in more than a century—after Mayor Gérald Tremblay stepped down amid corruption allegations. And last month, Gilles Vaillancourt, former mayor of Laval—a close and important suburb of Montreal—was arrested along with 37 others in an anti-corruption sweep by the Quebec police. His charges included fraud, gangsterism, and conspiracy (he pleaded not guilty).
These are just the highest-profile cases. A number of politicians and bureaucrats, mostly in the Montreal area, have been entangled in a corruption scandal over construction contracts. More than a dozen construction companies stand accused of bribing officials for higher-paying contracts that involve less work, and several of the companies have been linked to the mob. More revelations are expected, as the Charbonneau Commission—the official inquiry set up in 2011 to investigate these corrupt contracts—and the Quebec police’s investigations continue.
This is not a single scandal, which makes it less sexy than, say, the allegations that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoked crack. But that is also what makes it worse: There is truly a culture of corruption in Montreal. And while officials are cutting illegal construction deals, the area's infrastructure is crumbling. It’s so bad that a friend and journalist in Montreal told me that the project’s engineers drive exclusively on the inside lane on bridges because they know that “if the bridge collapses, the outside lanes go first.”
Molly Korab is an intern at The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter @mollykorab.