Alain Arsenault, a veteran lawyer who's dealt with several cases of men killed by Montreal police, says the province's Independent Investigations Bureau, set up by the province two years ago to look into such cases, has made little difference.
Arsenault spoke at a press conference Wednesday where the family of 58-year-old Pierre Coriolan, shot and killed by Montreal police last June, announced they were suing the city of Montreal for more than $150,000.
"The very credibility of the bureau is being called into question," Arsenault told the news conference.
Minister vaunts independent civilian investigations
Coriolan's family contends that the police intervention that killed him — in which he was shocked with a stun gun, shot with rubber bullets and live ammunition and hit with a baton — was brutal and excessive.
Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said Wednesday that the whole reason for the creation of the bureau — commonly know by its French acronym BEI — was to help shed light on "sad and disturbing" events such as Coriolan's death.
Previously in Quebec, when people were killed or injured by police, the investigation was handled by a police force from another jurisdiction.
"Now we have an independent organization doing that with civilians as part of the investigation team," Coiteux said.
Arsenault called into question that independence.
"Most of the investigators hired at the BEI come from police forces. There are credible people who applied — not from police forces — but they never got hired," Arsenault said.
Lawyer says families left in the dark
In terms of sharing information about investigations with victims' families, Arsenault said things are worse now than before the BEI existed.
He said, for example, that Coriolan's family still hasn't seen the autopsy report into his death because the bureau is keeping it confidential.
"Before the BEI, we would have those reports much sooner," Arsenault said.
"We can't say today if it was two bullets, three bullets, two taser blasts, three taser blasts that killed Coriolan. We can't say," he continued.
He said victims' family members who try to get information out of the BEI are routinely told to, "wait, wait, wait" until the investigation is complete.
The BEI website lists the Coriolan investigation as ongoing.
Nobody from the BEI was immediately available to comment.
Civil lawsuit best
Arsenault also targeted the police ethics commission, which deals with disciplinary complaints against officers.
"A complaint with the ethics commission: where does that get you? It gives you nothing in most cases and when it gives you something it's maybe a three-day suspension," Arsenault said.
He said families who want to try to change the system, so that such tragedies don't happen, again have few viable options.
"It's a bit sad, but the best way for families to launch a debate is a lawsuit."