Chief suspended amid Montreal police crisis
MONTREAL• Their job is to protect the public from rotten officers within the Montreal police department.
But the internal affairs squad was “a gang of cowboys” who looked out for friends, targeted enemies and smothered complaints of serious wrongdoing, according to a report that has shaken the country’s second-largest municipal force.
Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux announced Wednesday the immediate suspension of Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet for up to a year, pending a further investigation. Coiteux called the revelations about Montreal’s internal affairs division “damning” and said Pichet had not done enough to put things in order since he became chief in 2015.
The government appointed Martin Prud’homme, head of the provincial Sûreté du Québec, as acting chief with a mandate to clean up the internal affairs division.
Coiteux enlisted Michel Bouchard, a former deputy minister of justice, to investigate last March following media reports that internal affairs investigators had fabricated evidence to smear potential whistleblowers within the force.
At the same time, internal affairs investigators were implicated in the surveillance of journalists in order to identify the source of media leaks, a scandal that led to the creation of a commission of inquiry that has not yet submitted its report.
Bouchard writes of a “crisis of confidence of (Montreal police service) members, among themselves and toward their organization, particularly in connection with the internal affairs division and its methods.”
He catalogues 17 incidents in which complaints were filed against police officers alleging such criminal infractions as theft, death threats, assault and organized-crime ties, and nothing came of them.
“It would have been possible to continue listing files that raise serious questions about the system created by the internal affairs division to shield inappropriate behaviour by certain officers from the provisions of the Police Act,” Bouchard writes. Among the tactics he uncovered were:
❚ Neglecting to investigate allegations;
❚ Preferential treatment for high-ranking officers suspected of misconduct;
❚ Removal of information essential to an investigation to avoid the filing of criminal charges; and
❚ Stalling on files so that the complainant would eventually give up.
While some of his revelations point to police officers escaping sanction for their misdeeds, Bouchard also uncovered cases where questionable investigations were launched as part of a clan rivalry within the force.
Bouchard interviewed dozens of current and retired police officers. Many, he said suffered the consequences of seemingly unjustified investigations led by internal affairs — broken careers and tarnished reputations.
He heard allegations of internal investigations “based on unjustified suspicions, or even worse, on biased motives tied to vengeance or a fear of seeing the organization embarrassed if the targeted officers’ desire to denounce irregularities was not neutralized.”
Bouchard writes that a common theme heard during his interviews was “the absence of leadership from the police force’s senior officers in recent years.” He said Pichet has not displayed a will to institute the “radical change” that is required.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who appeared next to Coiteux at the news conference announcing Pichet’s suspension, said the problems are rooted in a lack of transparency that has been allowed to continue for too long. She reassured Montrealers that they can “fully trust the men and women of our police force who keep us safe on a daily basis.”
PROBLEMS ARE ROOTED IN A LACK OF TRANSPARENCY.