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Montreal police chief stays coy about probe into ethical breaches

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet says he never comments on internal investigations but does say he doesn't like it when his police officers air their grievances in the media.

Philippe Pichet says officers with grievances should use appropriate channels to complain

Mayor Denis Coderre, left, swears in Philippe Pichet as the new Montreal Chief of Police at City Hall on Friday, August 28, 2015. (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

Police Chief Philippe Pichet is refusing to confirm that there is an ongoing investigation into ethical breaches within the force, but did say his department looks into ethical breaches, such as officers leaking information to the media.

A note sent via email from the Montreal Police Brotherhood to its members Wednesday and obtained by Radio-Canada says the force is undertaking an internal investigation that some have called a witch hunt – a term the union takes care not to use directly but doesn't refute.

The memo says the union has taken note of Mayor Denis Coderre's "increasing presence" in police affairs, an issue that the brotherhood says will be revisited in the future.

Radio-Canada obtained a note sent to members of the police brotherhood that says the union is "taking note" of Mayor Denis Coderre's increased interference in police business. (Pascal Robidas/Radio-Canada)

When asked whether reports that officers are leaking information to the media are true, Pichet would not confirm, saying only that there have been breaches, and they are being investigated.

Pichet said officers who are unhappy with their work conditions can go to him or to their superiors to air their grievances.

"If some officers don't want to do that, and use other means [to complain], I find that deplorable and I find that disappointing because I'm available to listen and so are the managers. When there's something wrong inside the organization, it's our role to try to improve the climate in order to ensure the security of citizens," he said.

Allegations amount to a 'conspiracy theory'

Pichet said Mayor Coderre has no influence on police operations.

Coderre also dismissed the claims, saying it amounts to a conspiracy theory on the part of the union and that Pichet has his full support.

"Every time there's a new leader, there's a reorganization. So there are maybe people who aren't happy," he said.

The Police Brotherhood's note directs members to contact the union if they are asked to meet with anyone from the force's internal investigation team, and to refuse requests to undergo polygraph tests.

Pichet would not say whether polygraphs are being used as part of the investigation.

A number of issues, Ferrandez says

Projet Montréal Leader Luc Ferrandez wants an independent investigation into the union's allegations.

Ferrandez said he is worried there's no separation of powers between city hall and the police force, and says his demand is tied to several issues, including a lack of arrests following the protest in Montreal North in April and the restructuring of media relations at police headquarters.

The memo was issued two days after the top brass at the Montreal police force (SPVM) announced Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière would no longer head the SPVM's media relations team.

Members of the SPVM's communications department now report directly to Pichet, while the police force looks to hire a civilian head for the department.

The change was touted as an attempt to "support the evolution of the strategic communications culture and brand management within the SPVM," according to a news release issued at the time.

Ferrandez wants the province to appoint an independent investigator to lead the probe.

Lines are being crossed, says former officer

Guy Ryan, a former investigator with the SPVM, told Radio-Canada's Annie Desrochers it's clear there's tension among managers and unionized employees within the force.

He explained that there are thin lines between political, executive and judicial power, and once the they start being crossed, as he says they were last month when the mayor made statements regarding police work during the Montreal North protests, it can threaten democracy.

He said the municipal government's role is to give the big picture directives to police services, and to approve the budget required to fulfil those directives. 

With files from Shaun Malley