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Coroner launches public inquiries into fatal Old Montreal fire, police officer's death

The Chief Coroner of Quebec has agreed to launch public inquiries into the deaths of seven people who died in a fire in Old Montreal and the unrelated death of an on-duty provincial police officer.

Coroner Pascal Descary said both inquests would be held following a request on Tuesday from the province's public safety minister.

François Bonnardel called for the inquiries during a media scrum in the national assembly, saying both incidents  were "two enormous tragedies."

"Families need answers concerning the fire in Montreal," the minister told reporters in Quebec City.

"The family of Sgt. Breau — all police officers — need answers concerning this tragedy, the death ... of Sgt. Breau. We'll see what will be the recommendations of the [chief coroner] after that."

His request comes while Montreal police are still investigating the fatal fire. No charges have yet been laid.

The coroner's office confirmed in a news release Tuesday afternoon that coroner Géhane Kamel will chair both investigations. Kamel had already been investigating the deaths of the fire victims.

Quebec Public Safety Minister Francois Bonnardel speaks to reporters at the national assembly on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (CTV News)

Seven people died in the March 16 fire at the Place d'Youville building where many of the victims were staying in short-term rentals.

The opposition at Montreal City Hall had written a letter Monday to Descary and Bonnardel to publicly call for a coroner's inquiry into the fatal fire. The letter followed reports of alleged safety hazards in the building, including a lack of windows in at least one unit and issues with smoke alarm equipment.

"A public inquiry will shed light on the circumstances of this tragedy that mourns all Montrealers to understand the chain of events that led to such a tragedy," reads the letter from Ensemble Montréal leader Aref Salem.

On Tuesday, the opposition said it welcomed the public safety minister's decision to request an inquiry.

"We mentioned it yesterday: it is in the collective interest to understand what happened, to ensure the greatest transparency to prevent future incidents," Ensemble Montreal wrote in a tweet.

Randy Sears, the father of one of the victims, has launched a $22-million class-action lawsuit against the building's owner, the man believed to have rented out several units, and Airbnb, alleging three defendants were negligent.


The minister also called for a public inquiry into the stabbing death of Sûreté du Québec officer Maureen Breau.

Sgt. Maureen Breau, killed during an arrest, had been on the force for 20 years.

Sgt. Breau, a 20-year veteran of the SQ, was responding to a call of a person uttering threats on March 27 in the Louiseville, Que., a town between Montreal and Quebec City.

The death is currently under investigation by the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI). The police watchdog said Breau was stabbed while reading the alleged perpetrator his rights. Her colleague was also injured but survived.

Two police officers who were called to the scene shot and killed the man, the BEI said. He was identified as 35-year-old Isaac Brouillard Lessard.

Court records showed he had a history of violence and mental health issues, and between 2017 and 2018, he was found not criminally responsible for two assaults and uttering death threats.

The association representing Quebec provincial police officers has said it planned to launch a petition calling for a host of new measures to protect members who are called to deal with people who are violent and have mental health issues.

The president of the Association des policières et policiers provinciaux du Québec (APPQ), Jacques Painchaud, said said in an interview Monday that officers should be given this information before responding to such calls, and be accompanied by social workers.

On Tuesday, Bonnardel said he understands why police officers would be frustrated after the officer's death. He said that he asked his deputy minister to meet with their counterparts in the justice and social services departments to see how police officers can have access to patient data from the mental health review board.

"I understand their concerns," he said of the province's police officers.

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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