The Sureté du Quebec has issued a rare mea culpa over its handling of the Highway 13 closure.
In a news conference Thursday morning, SQ Capt. Guy Lapointe said there were many factors the force could not control that night, but what it could control, it did not do well.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable. The part that we control, that we were in charge of didn’t go the way it should,” he said, adding that they are taking the matter seriously. “Some of the elements we had no control over, but for the parts that were our responsibility, we feel that the job wasn’t done properly.”
Lapointe also said the officer in charge of the operation has been relieved of his duties because he did not make the right decision.
“The officer that was in charge of the operation pursued in the idea of reopening the lanes in order to let people leave the area,” he said. “He was obviously aware the people were stranded. What we feel is that given that is was obvious that it would not work out, it would not be possible to open the lanes in a reasonable delay, he should have switched the intervention and required the evacuation.”
Lapointe also said that “other measures will be taken, but it’s too early to make that call.”
Officials also said they were looking into whether tow truck drivers blocked police from getting to the crash scene on Highway 13 south, and whether the drivers of large trucks refused to let their vehicles be towed.
"Is it something that's penal, is it something that's criminal? The investigation is ongoing to determine what will come of that," said Lapointe.
The SQ apology comes on the same day as an apology from Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who is launching an external investigation into how 300 people could be stranded overnight on the highway.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre learned Wednesday that in two conference calls about snow conditions and crashes, nobody from Transport Quebec or the SQ revealed that people were stranded hours after the highway had been closed.
Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux said he has many questions about how the Highway 13 situation was handled by the Sureté du Quebec.
Opposition leaders are calling for the resignation of Transport Minister Laurent Lessard over the debacle.