CANADA

Showdown in Quebec

MICHAEL ROSE June 29 1987
CANADA

Showdown in Quebec

MICHAEL ROSE June 29 1987

Showdown in Quebec

CANADA

The showdown had been years in the making. On one side is the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU)—one of Quebec’s most powerful and militant labor organizations. On the other is the Quebec Police Force (QPF), which has rocked the 220,000-member CNTU with a series of spectacular raids, arrests of union leaders and disclosures of damaging information to the news media. The confron-

tation, said the head of Quebec’s largest employers’ group, may be a watershed in the turbulent history of labor relations in the province. Declared Ghislain Dufour, president of the Conseil du Patronat: “If the CNTU loses, it will be a much weaker organization. If it wins, it will be tougher than ever to deal with.” Another arrest by the QPF on June 16 brought to four the number of senior union officers charged in connection with the May 23 bombing of a Chicoutimi, Que., motel owned by a businessman with whom the CNTU had been feuding. A fifth union officer, Marc Boivin, was arrested on June 5 but was not charged. Boivin has since disappeared from public view, amid repeated allegations that he was a paid police informer for much of his 15-year career in the union. Indeed, CNTU president Gérald Larose charged in an open letter to the provincial government last week that he and his organization were victims of an elaborate police campaign to discredit them. The charges raised concerns

among civil libertarians that police may have exceeded their authority in dealing with the CNTU.

The long-standing animosity between the CNTU and provincial police came to a head last fall during a bitter labor dispute at the scenic Manoir Richelieu hotel in Pointe au Pic, Que. After businessman Raymond Malenfant bought the hotel in 1985, he replaced 306 CNTU-affiliated workers

with nonunion workers at reduced wages. Union members picketed the hotel for months; during one protest last October they clashed with QPF officers, and one unionist, Gaston Harvey, died after a policeman applied a choke hold to him. Union president Larose charged at the time that Harvey had been murdered— _

a victim of police brutality. A provincial coroner later found that the choke hold contributed to Harvey’s death, but government and police inquiries concluded that the incident did not warrant criminal charges.

The May explosion at Malenfant’s Chicoutimi motel was followed on June 4 by a series of QPF raids on the homes of CNTU officials around the province; the police seized 22 sticks of dynamite,

detonators and assorted weapons. Boivin and three other union leaders were arrested the next day. But Boivin quickly disappeared, and Montreal media reports —quoting unnamed sources—said that he was an informer working for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which replaced the RCMP security service in 1984. And on June 9 police raided CNTU headquarters on Delormier Street in Montreal, while TV cameramen who had been tipped off to the raid recorded the proceedings.

In his open letter, Larose charged that the police had put the CNTU on trial. And later in the week the angry union leader said that the QPF “sees union organizations in the same way as motorcycle gangs.” That concern was echoed last week from several quarters-including the Quebec Civil Liberties Union, which is watching the conflict closely. In a statement, the group called on Premier Robert Bourassa to “call the Quebec Police Force to order.” Other observers were even more concerned that police might have placed agents inside legitimate labor organizations. McGill University labor economist Sidney Ingerman told Maclean's that such tactics were “a throwback to a thing of an ugly past.” Said Ingerman: “It’s totally unacceptable. If they are doing it in one organization, there is no reason to believe they are not doing it in other places.” But Dufour, the employers’ spokesman, maintained that groups with nothing to hide should not be concerned. Said Dufour: “If people in my organization were found with sticks of dynamite, I would welcome the arrests.”

Provincial and federal officials would neither confirm nor deny last week that Boivin was a CSIS agent. But a report to be tabled in Ottawa this week by the civilian committee that oversees the agency’s activities will voice concern about its growing emphasis on infiltrating groups that it considers subversive. Maclean's has also learned that the five-member _ committee, headed by former Conservative MP Ronald Atkey, will be briefed by senior CSIS officials on June 23 about the CNTU and Boivin. Said Atkey: “CSIS is having difficulty distinguishing between subversive activity and lawful dissent, protest or advocacy.” As additional details of the affair come to light, that view may gain greater currency.

— MICHAEL ROSE in Montreal with HILARY MACKENZIE in

Ottawa

HILARY MACKENZIE