Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet has been suspended.
An inquest into the internal affairs of the Montreal police department has revealed Pichet showed “a total lack of leadership in handling the dysfunctional internal affairs department.”
The report exposed "major concerns regarding tension and work climate" within the force.
“I consider the public interest and the sound management of justice require that the current police chief, Mr. Philippe Pichet, be suspended,” said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux, in a news conference Wednesday afternoon alongside Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.
“Today, we are taking important steps to ensure public confidence,” said Coiteux.
Pichet has been suspended with pay for at least 12 months. Other terms and conditions surrounding his suspension will be determined by the City of Montreal, said Coiteux.
“This is the right thing to do, because we want to move forward. We want to make sure that we can change some of the organizational culture so that the trust in our service for police is back,” said Plante.
Surete du Quebec Chief Martin Prud’homme will take over, and has been given a one-year mandate to correct the problems within the Montreal police force. His position is effective immediately and will last until at least Dec. 31, 2018.
Prud’homme will not serve on the SQ during this time, and his former position will be handled by his deputy director, Yves Morency.
Prud’homme is the right person to handle the transition, said Coiteux. “I'm counting on all to support Martin Prud’homme in his mandate.”
The report by Michel Bouchard claims there are "systemic problems" in Pichet’s management of the Montreal police, as well as “very serious irregularities in the conduct of internal investigations within the SPVM.”
His report spoke of a "deep malaise," adding that confidence in the police leadership "is at an extremely worrying level."
It recommends giving the province’s independent investigation bureau, the BEI, exclusive power to: investigate or name another party to investigate any allegations of a police officer committing a criminal act; and receive complaints alleging a criminal act by a police officer. The report also recommends requiring that any police chief in the province give the BEI information on any criminal allegations committed by a police officer.
The findings from the report cover the period from 2010 to today. Among its findings:
- there were several criminal allegations that should have been investigated and were not
- several people suspected of misconduct may have been given preferential treatment by the leaders of the internal affairs department
- several investigations were botched and important information deliberately withdrawn from the investigation report to prevent certain police officers from being prosecuted in courts or disciplinary proceedings
- there was a carelessness and lack of interest by police authorities in the internal affairs activities
Coiteux underscored that many officers continue to do a good job.
“Montrealers do not have to worry about the quality of the services offered to citizens by its police force. It is clear that the police officers of the City of Montreal are doing an excellent job and placing the citizens at the heart of their intervention," he said.
The Police Brotherhood responded to the suspension Wednesday by offering Coiteux and Plante the union's full cooperation.
“It was time for the SPVM to engage in the process to regain the confidence of the public and police officers, who have been strongly shaken in the past few years,” said union president Yves Francoeur, who reiterated that officers have been doing excellent work have had concerns about management for some time.
The brotherhood has made it clear since last year that they did not support their chief of police, when Francoeur said Pichet had lost the moral authority to continue as police chief, adding that union members no longer have any trust in Pichet.
When the inquiry was launched, Pichet insisted that an investigation into the police department did not undermine his authority as chief.
“We’re going to be an open book," he said. "They’re going to come, we’ll show everything they want to see and we’ll make sure if we have something to announce, we’ll do it for sure.”
Pichet was under intense scrutiny during the inquiry.
The suspended chief was appointed to a five-year term in August 2015, by former mayor Denis Coderre. His tenure has been marked by several controversies, including defending the Montreal police force’s decision to spy on journalist Patrick Lagacé’s cell phone. That matter launched an inquiry into the protection of journalistic sources, which is expected to be released next week.
Pichet had also had to fire his chief of staff in October following raids on the SPVM headquarters by Sureté du Québec officers.
Coalition Avenir Ethics critic Nathalie Roy said that her party has been asking for Pichet's dismissal for months.
"Something is wrong inside the SPVM and that's why we have been asking for months now that Mr. Pichet's resign because it was unacceptable to be spying on journalists and now, what's going on inside, we don't know. So we hope the minister is going to be transparent," said Roy.
Pichet joined the SPVM in 1991.
- With files from La Presse Canadienne