Culture & Conversation

Montreal’s Godfather

In recent court testimony by a former Quebec construction entrepreneur, it was revealed that the Rizzuto clan enforced a bidding scheme that inflated prices of all contracts and, in turn, received 2.5% of every single civic construction contract in Montreal and Laval.

Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513) advocated manipulation and exploitation of others, with a focus on self-interest and deception. Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976) purported to explain the evolutionary urges behind altruism, suggesting that self-sacrifices are made in the interest of one’s clan. Take these two philosophies, combine, and stir. The result looks a lot like the power hungry Rizzuto family.

Tyrannical, materialistic, ambitious. But how different are they from, say, the Rockefellers or the Rothschilds, dynastic clans of respectability and wealth? Dispensing with fancy corner offices and fancy lawyers, the Rizzutos conduct their “mergers and acquisitions” in obscure Montreal cafés, relying on nuances of body language and vernaculars – “Did you take care of that thing?” – to get their point across.

Since Vito Rizzuto’s (a.k.a. Teflon Don, Montreal’s Godfather) November, 2012, homecoming, after serving most of a ten year prison term for his involvement in the murders of three Bonanno crime family captains (featured in the film Donnie Brasco), Montreal’s mafia-related murder toll has already reached seven.

For mafia insiders, the connection is obvious between Vito’s armoured car return and the beginning of a long awaited Montreal blood bath. Vito’s imprisonment resulted in challenges to his authority, leading to the murders of his father Nicolo (former patriarch) and son Nicolo Jr. The 67 year old’s attempt to salvage his power clearly demonstrates why he is not only an uomo d’onore (Sicilian mafia self-designation: man of honour), but a man selflessly willing to risk all for his family by selfishly disregarding the morality of others.

Born in the quaint Sicilian town of Cattolica Eraclea, Vito’s bloodline traces his gangsterism back to his paternal and maternal grandfathers, to the Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra. Not to be confused with other southern Italian crime syndicates, the Camorra from Campania; the Ndrangheta from Calabria; Stidda from Gella, Sicily; and the Sacra Corona Unita from Apulia. The origins of all these groups can be understood within the etymology of Mafiosi itself.

Rooted in Arabic mahyas - translated as aggressive, boasting, boldness – the first Mafia clans were ferocious men employed to protect the private properties generated by Italy’s 1860 annexation of Sicily. This rapid transition from feudalism to capitalism relied on racketeering and extortion. Their expertise eventually led to the institutionalization of the Mafia.

“The New York families are nickel and dime guys compared to the Rizzutos.”
– Andre Noel (Mafia insider)

It’s doubtful that eight year old Vito was aware that he would one day “own Montreal” upon first arriving to the city. Nonetheless, like any chess grandmaster’s disciple, he watched his father strategically rise to the top of the underworld. The 1978 “hit” on Paolo Violi helped solidify Montreal’s reputation as North America’s original sin city, a haven for drug traffickers with its port’s close proximity to the U.S. border.

Suave, charismatic, with well-coiffed hair and a keenness for luxuries and beautiful women, Vito’s special talent was his ability to “merge old world Sicilian Cosa Nostra sensibilities with modern-day management methods” (Bon Mckeown, Mafia insider).

His real threat, however, lay in his ability to network and form alliances through a web of clandestine commerce. In addition to numerous Canadian cells involved in money laundering, loan-sharking, and gambling, Vito’s global associations — which include, South American drug cartels, Pakistani Ministers, Lebanese government officials, Saudi princes, Irish mob, Hell’s Angel’s, other Sicilian mafia ties — demonstrate why he’s literally the “international wise guy.” The boss of bosses.

Alongside Montreal’s sexy, creative, enigmatic vibe, there’s also a touch of Gotham city. Surely we have Vito to thank for that.


  • 2 Responses to “Montreal’s Godfather”

    1. Stryker

      What a great article! I really liked the comparison to Gotham, now all we need is a Batman to come and save the day!


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