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Montréal in the grips of the underworld

The 1950s marked a renewed interest on the part of Montrealers for local political life.  In spite of the wave of conservatism that swept the province during the period dominated by Québec Prime Minister Maurice Duplessis, there were several signs of major changes for the next decade.  The Montréal political scene was shaping up.  In 1949, the mayor gained the right to sit on the executive committee, 28 years after its creation.  Those two factors set the state for the establishment of municipal political parties.

At the beginning of the 1950s, the municipal government was once again in the spotlight.  The integrity of the police department became a controversial issue as a result of a series of reports published in Le Devoir newspaper, between November 1949 and February 1950, under the heading “Montréal sous le règne de la pègre”.  Lawyer Pacifique Plante, better known as Pax Plante, revealed all the sordid details surrounding corrupt and illegal practices within the police department.  The publication of those articles was a real bombshell.

Several groups that had been clamoring for a major cleanup within the police department took advantage of the situation.  On March 19, representatives from 35 business, professional and union groups set up the Public Morality Committee and called for a public inquiry on police activities. In their capacity as prosecutors, lawyers Jean Drapeau and Pax Plante filed a petition of 1095 pages.  They won their case and the board of inquiry presided over by Judge François Caron began its hearings on September 11, 1950.

The inquiry focused on the conduct of police officers during the 1940s, and several members of the executive committee were implicated.  The Caron Report, made public in 1954, listed nearly 5000 charges against sixty or so police officers.

 


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