Police are disrespecting Quebec's independent investigators, say civil liberties groups
Published Monday, November 5, 2018 2:52PM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 5, 2018 7:01PM EST
Civil rights groups are alleging that police departments are blatantly disrespecting the BEI, the independent investigation unit that is tasked with investigating situations involving police.
In a news conference Monday, a coalition of groups claimed that the BEI is powerless to make police obey rules when they've done something wrong.
The coalition has 10 letters sent from the BEI to various police departments that are critical of how police officers act during investigations.
The letters cite several problems such as departments waiting a long time to notify the BEI following a death or injury involving police, even though provincial law requires the BEI be notified as promptly as possible.
One letter involved a death that took place in March 2018 in Laval, when a 36-year-old man died trying to jump from one balcony to another during a drug raid.
That letter, written several days after the incident, said that one officer "refused to answer questions by BEI investigators."
Access to Information requests
The Rights and Liberties League (LDL), the Coalition against repression and police abuse (CRAP), the central council for Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM-CSN), and homeless advocacy group RAPSIM obtained the letters through Access to Information Requests.
Alexandre Popovic of the coalition said police officers get away with ignoring the BEI because there is no punishment written into the law that created the oversight agency.
"There should be consequences. There should be sanctions. I think that's the language that most police officers understand very clearly," said Popovic. "We know that a great number of police officers didn't follow the law, didn't follow the regulations, and we have no clue what happened. Most probably nothing happened."
Nicholas Gibbs' shooting
A third letter was written about the death of Nicholas Gibbs, who was shot and killed by Montreal police officers on Aug. 21.
In that letter BEI attorney Madeleine Giauque said that SPVM officers clearly violated regulations, noting that "witnesses were met and interviewed by SPVM officers who took a declaration from each one," and noted that "all the statements were submitted to Montreal police investigators for verification and approval before witnesses were freed."
The letter said this violation of provincial regulations was happening in almost every case involving the SPVM, pointing out that in some cases witnesses were being taken to police stations for questioning before BEI investigators arrived.
"The SPVM is the only police force in the province that acts this way. I therefore ask that the SPVM immediately cease talking to witnesses, be they police officers or civilians, in independent investigations."
Last week, Quebec's Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said that proper protocol was followed.
"What I saw is that Maitre Giauque did her work, she warned the Montreal police that there are some practices that need to be respected and she made a polite reminder to the SPVM, and I'm confident they will respect what they are supposed to be doing," said Guilbault.
Popovic was not so certain.
"It's as if the SPVM thinks 'it's our investigation.' No, it's not the case, they have no power, no authority in the law to do such a thing as that," said Popovic.
He said the BEI needs more power, and if it cannot force police to behave, it should shame them.
"We need more transparency, and with more transparency it will put pressure on the SPVM and other police forces to obey the law."
Montreal police chose not to comment on the allegations.
The BEI issued a statement saying that according to the law, it contacted each police force in question when officers acted inappropriately.