Montreal's police chief has asked Quebec provincial police to look into allegations that internal affairs investigators fabricated evidence to keep officers quiet about corruption within the force.
Philippe Pichet said he asked his Sûreté du Quebec counterpart Martin Prud'homme to conduct an independent investigation following a report Tuesday night on the French-language network TVA.
Former officers told TVA they were whistleblowers who were targeted by internal affairs after they had threatened to go public with allegations of corruption within the force.
Pichet said Wednesday that he was troubled by the allegations and would take steps to "shine a light" on the situation.
Tables turned on veteran officers
Jimmy Cacchione and Giovanni Di Feo were police officers for decades, often working undercover while targeting Hells Angels and the Mafia.
In 2012, the officers say they launched their own investigation about possible corruption within the force, looking at officers possibly receiving money from the Mafia.
"We noticed that a few individuals were committing crimes, and we notified the chief at the time, but nothing was moving," Cacchione told CBC News on Wednesday, referring to former Montreal police chief Marc Parent.
He said they met with people and gathered new information.
By 2013, they said, they prepared a letter to send to the public security minister and the media outlining what they had learned.
Information seized, then 'nothing happened'
The officers said they were called to police headquarters where they expected they would be given a chance to explain.
Instead, they said, they were suspended and told they were being investigated by the RCMP.
"When I was suspended, that information was in my bag, so they seized it and nothing happened after that," Cacchione said.
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"There was enough information in my bag to at least suspend a few individuals."
Cacchione and Di Feo were never charged, and they said disciplinary complaints against them were dropped as part of a confidential arrangement with the force that included an agreement they would both resign in 2014.
"[Our suspension] was a direct retaliation in the sense that a lot of people were more preoccupied with their image than they were about where the organization was going," Di Feo said.
He said Parent and other high-ranking officers knew of the allegations the officers were making.
"Obviously, we had spoken to them about it, and we spoke to them about it because they had inquired about it in the first place," Di Feo said.
"We believe that because we notified them two years before, that we were starting to create problems for them," Cacchione said.
The allegations are the latest in a series of troubling reports about the police force, including revelations last fall involving the surveillance of journalists.
Response required, politicians say
Quebec's Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said the latest allegations require "an immediate response."
"This is exactly what had to be done and we will see the result of that investigation," he told reporters.
Mayor Denis Coderre echoed that view, saying the report was "troubling" and praising Pichet for acting quickly.
"I am pleased with that fact and I totally support him," Coderre said.
"We have to shed light on that situation and to make sure that we protect the institution, that we keep the trust of the people, and we need to make sure we have that kind of transparent process."
Task force oversight, not internal affairs
Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée called on the government to oversee the investigation, rather than have one police chief call another to request one.
Provincial police spokesman Guy Lapointe said the investigation will be handled by a task force created specifically for this situation.
"It won't be handled by the internal affairs department," he said.
"We're aware that the population is looking for something that's going to be transparent."
The task force will include select investigators with experience in organized crime and with no links to the officers making the allegations, Lapointe said.
Montreal police union spokesman André Gendron said a "profound overhaul" of the force is needed to restore public and police confidence.
"We won't let anyone restrict their view to a few trees and not the forest," Gendron said.
Officers allege errors, fabrications
Cacchione and Di Feo said the allegations against them made by internal affairs contained several errors.
For example, Di Feo said, one internal affairs report connected him to Luigi Coretti, a businessman accused of fraud.
He said Coretti had been a friend of his for 30 years, and that was used against him.
"That was used to dirty us and find an excuse to tie us with somebody," Di Feo said.
He told TVA it was just one of many errors made by internal affairs investigators.
"We have the fabrication of allegations. Once they've fabricated the allegations, they launch investigations with the goal of muzzling people who have things to say," Cacchione said.
A third officer, Roger Larivière, told TVA a similar story. He said he was targeted by internal affairs after raising concerns about problems within the force to then chief Parent in 2014.