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Quebec construction boss cries recounting intimidation, violence on work site

MONTREAL - A construction boss cried at Quebec's corruption inquiry on Wednesday as he described a harrowing attack on his own brothers by protesters at a work site.

The tears flowed as Normand Pedneault talked about a personal experience with intimidation and violence on a construction site on the province's North Shore in 2005. He said some 40 or 50 protesters showed up, beat his brothers, terrorized workers and smashed equipment.

Pedneault believes his transgression was not hiring hand-picked workers with labour unions affiliated with the Quebec Federation of Labour.

The incident took place in a region the inquiry has focused on in recent weeks. The North Shore union operated as a sort of "state within a state" with the labour representatives wielding huge power on worksites and operating through intimidation.

Even eight years later, Pedneault sobbed as he told the story to the inquiry.

Pedneault said a union boss had a stern warning for him to send his own employees home and hire local workers referred to him by the union.

Pedneault, who owns Paul Pedneault Inc., a Saguenay-based company, said he was told the alternative was a "storm" on the site a day later.

"If you do not change anything, it's going to snow, the storm will pass," Pedneault testified.

He warned his brothers and the police, but the storm came as advertised.

Pedneault testified he was in another part of the province when he learned the site had been shut down and his brothers Benoit and Daniel, who were overseeing it, had been roughed up and threatened.

Pedneault said his brother described the attackers as beefy men — one of them was apparently a 300-pound brute. They threatened the brother's families as well. Some were drunk.

"They (my brothers) are men, construction workers, fathers," said Pedneault. "They are accustomed to living a rough life. They are not wimps. But they'd been given a rough ride."

Many of his own workers had barricaded themselves inside a trailer. At least one simply fled, never to return.

On the day of the alleged attack, one provincial police officer showed up several hours after the incident. Statements were taken, but no charges were ever laid.

The entire incident lasted 10 minutes, but had a profound effect. Pedneault said his brothers had been broken and that they still carry the emotional scars. Pedneault said his brothers were so traumatized they didn't want to show their bruises a day later.

He tried to bring up the subject recently, but it wasn't a welcome topic.

"Even today, they don't want to talk about it," Pedneault said.

Pedneault's company has been in business for decades. But he has avoided working on Quebec's North Shore when he can.

Describing a sort of North Shore effect, Pedneault said he would routinely have to overestimate the costs of doing business in that region because the union dictated who worked and how many workers were needed for a job. An unwritten collective agreement governed the area.

Pedneault noted that he tried to avoid hiring local because there would often be a slowdown in work. The inquiry has also heard that union brass often pushed the workers to slow down in order to extract as much money as possible from a job.

But the construction boss insisted the average worker is not to blame.

"It's not the workers that are no good," Pedneault said. "It's a small gang who wants to spoil the profession to hang on to power."

Some of those union executives are expected to testify before the inquiry soon.

Pedneault returns to the stand for cross-examination on Thursday.

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