Montreal's mayor joined Quebec's ombudsman on Friday in renewing the call for an independent probe of violent police-related incidents, in the wake of a police shooting this week that killed a knife-wielding homeless man as well as a bystander on his way to work.
Ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain said civilians must be included in investigations involving such incidents to eliminate the appearance of bias.
A civilian body examining police-related incidents that lead to death or serious injury would bring much-needed impartiality to reviews of alleged police wrongdoing, Saint-Germain said.
Mayor Gérald Tremblay agreed that an overhaul of the current procedures was necessary to neutralize any perceptions of police favouritism by their colleagues.
'Question of perception'
"Unfortunately, it takes tragic events to accelerate a sense of urgency," he said. "I hope we won't wait longer to find a solution, because it's a question of credibility, and it's a question of perception."
Probe system criticized
Police accountability in Quebec has come under fire in the wake of a handful of deadly police shootings in past years.
One of the most high-profile cases involved Fredy Villanueva, an 18-year-old Montrealer who was shot dead in 2008 in a parkside confrontation with two local officers. In the Villanueva case, provincial police were asked to investigate the incident and concluded the Montreal officers acted appropriately.
A separate coroner's inquiry into the Villanueva shooting has yet to release its findings. Since Villanueva's death, community activists and the province's own ombudsman have called for a major overhaul of the way police investigate injuries and deaths during their operations.
Unlike a handful of provinces, including B.C., Alberta and Ontario, Quebec does not have an independent, civilian-run agency with the authority to investigate cases in which police actions result in injury or death. Instead, police investigators from one force probe incidents of civilian injury involving other forces.
In a 2010 report, Quebec ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain urged the province to create a stand-alone, civilian investigative unit, instead of allowing police forces to investigate each other — the call she renewed Friday.
Tremblay said city council passed a unanimous motion last year supporting the idea, but the decision ultimately rests with the province.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest said Friday that Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil would be examining whether the civilian body would be introduced.
"Like every other Quebecer, we were saddened this week with what happened in Montreal. In particular we were saddened for the families who are affected by those events. We want the investigation to follow its course," he added.
Warns of police prejudice
The ombudsman first recommended changing the current system last year, calling for the establishment of a special investigations bureau chaired by a civilian.
In her report to the Quebec National Assembly, Saint-Germain argued that "police solidarity" might otherwise skew rulings as officers try to protect their colleagues.
On Tuesday, police fired at and fatally wounded Mario Hamel, a homeless man brandishing a knife, but a stray bullet also killed 36-year-old Patrick Limoges, a hospital employee across the street.
Limoges was just steps away from work when he was shot in the head near Ste-Catherine Street.
4 officers not yet interviewed
The police department's handling of the standoff drew fierce criticism from the public and Limoges's friends, who asked why other measures — such as a Taser — were not used before officers resorted to deadly force against Hamel.
Following the incident, hundreds of demonstrators protesting police brutality marched through Montreal's downtown core. Some hurled projectiles and paint, damaging property.
Quebec provincial police are probing Tuesday's deaths. As is protocol, any shooting in which a police officer's gun is fired is investigated by an outside police force.
Guy Lapointe, a spokesman for Sûreté du Québec, said the four Montreal officers involved in the incident were expected to be interviewed in the next few days.