Demands for inquiry grow after man accused of attempted murder of Montreal police officer has charges stayed

The abrupt stay of attempted murder and other charges Wednesday against doctoral student Mamadi III Fara Camara, accused of disarming and injuring a Montreal police officer, has prompted calls for an investigation by his lawyer, Quebec's opposition parties, city officials and advocacy groups.

Chief says Montreal police will apologize to Mamadi III Fara Camara 'at the appropriate time'

Mamadi III Fara Camara's defence lawyer said her client, who had no prior arrests, was very relieved but likely still in shock after attempted murder and other charges against him were abruptly stayed Wednesday. (Submitted)

The abrupt stay of attempted murder and other charges against doctoral student Mamadi III Fara Camara Wednesday has prompted calls for an investigation by his lawyer, Quebec's opposition parties, Montreal officials and advocacy groups.

Camara, 31, had been accused of disarming and injuring Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) officer Sanjay Vig during a routine traffic stop in Park Extension on Jan. 28.

Camara spent six nights in detention before his sudden release Wednesday afternoon. He had claimed innocence from the moment of his arrest, his lawyers said.

Now, questions are emerging about the circumstances of Camara's arrest, the length of his detention and the impact of the incident on his career and personal life. 

SPVM will apologize to Camara, chief says

In a statement issued late Thursday morning, the SPVM cited the "exceptional complexity" of the Jan. 28 event, and said evidence uncovered by investigators allowed them to conclude only yesterday that charges against Camara could not be supported.

SPVM Chief Sylvain Caron said during a news briefing that Montreal police will apologize to Camara "at the appropriate time" as investigators are chasing new leads. He said evidence has been sent to laboratories for analysis.

Caron said investigators have acted with "diligence and professionalism" since the night of the incident, and the arrest was made based on all the evidence that was available at the time.

Caron insisted this was not a case of racial profiling or discrimination, but instead the results of a criminal investigation. 

Opposition wants independent inquiry

On Thursday morning, all the opposition parties at Quebec's National Assembly demanded an independent inquiry into Camara's ordeal. 

In a statement Wednesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called for "clear answers about what happened in order to preserve public confidence in police work."

Service de police de la Ville de Montréal Chief Sylvain Caron said this was not a case of racial profiling as investigators acted on the evidence they had when an officer was disarmed and injured during a routine traffic stop on Jan. 28, 2021. (François Sauvé/Radio-Canada)

Lionel Perez, Montreal's opposition party leader, went further, calling for an independent investigation "to find out exactly what happened with the SPVM, what kind of report was filed, what kind of evidence was submitted, who signed the affidavit to get a clear picture."

Perez said Camara had suffered days in prison and "has been suspended, perhaps lost his job, his name has been dragged in the mud, his picture has been put online and in a report." 

Montreal's police chief later said an independent investigation could harm the current investigation, but he is open to an independent observer being brought in to monitor police work as it unfolds.

WATCH | Montreal man's arrest after calling 911 prompts calls for inquiry:

Montreal man’s arrest after calling 911 prompts calls for inquiry

3 years ago
Duration 2:07
Featured VideoThere is growing outrage about why a routine traffic stop and 911 call led to a Montreal man being arrested and charged with attempted murder. The charges were stayed, and he was released from custody six days later. Some are calling for a formal inquiry.

Fo Niemi, who heads the anti-racism advocacy group Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said an investigation needed to be conducted by an entity other than the Montreal police.

"This is very disturbing for a man of African descent and I think there are questions that must be answered not by the Montreal police, [but] by some independent authority either from the municipal or the provincial," he said. "We strongly urge this man to take legal action and file complaints."

Mayor calls for SPVM to join body camera pilot

At a news conference on Thursday, Plante asked the SPVM and the directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales (DPCP) to co-operate with a "neutral investigation."

"I think it's important to come up with a process rapidly that will give information about what happened," Plante said. "The trust between the police corps and citizens is crucial." 

The mayor said she asked Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault to have the SPVM join Quebec's body camera pilot project for police officers swiftly. Currently, only the Sûreté du Québec is participating. 

"The idea that a portable camera could have provided additional evidence is an element to consider," she said.

"Right now, we're not participating in the project, but we're definitely raising our hands and saying we want to." 

Police are seen in Montreal's north end on Jan. 28, 2021, after an officer was injured. In a statement Thursday, the SPVM cited the "exceptional complexity" of the event, and said evidence allowed them to conclude that charges against Camara could not be supported. (Mathieu Wagner/Radio-Canada)

'Very big problem' with identification of suspect

Joanie Chainey, one of Camara's defence lawyers, said her client's treatment was "very concerning" and that the investigation and arrest both seemed to have happened too quickly.

"It was problematic in the way this file was treated," Chainey said. "In our opinion, when we looked at the file, there was a very big problem with the identification of the suspect."

Camara's bail hearing had originally been scheduled for Wednesday morning, Chainey said, but was moved to the afternoon because new evidence had emerged.

At that point, the Crown announced that in light of new information, it would not pursue charges against Camara for now.

Among the evidence was witness testimony and Quebec Transport Ministry video from the area where the incident took place.

The SPVM statement said the video evidence did not in itself absolve Camara of the crime.

Radio-Canada is reporting that investigators have identified a new vehicle from the Transport Ministry footage and are actively searching for it. 

"Currently, the combination of all the evidence allows us to consider the presence of an additional person at the scene of the incident on the night of the crime," the statement said.

Chainey said her client, who had no prior arrests, was very relieved but likely still in shock. 

"The evidence showed he didn't do anything, and then he was detained for many days," she said.

Lawyer and former Crown prosecutor René Veret said the case is "very rare" because the prosecution must ensure it has enough evidence before pressing charges. He said the prosecution has a "continued duty" to share evidence it receives with the defence. 

"The prosecutor must view all the evidence that the police officers gather in their investigation," Veret said.

"The big question is, 'when was this new video given to the prosecutor and why?' If it was after last Friday, why did they wait? Why did they not give this video before?" 

Campus officials to meet with Camara

Camara, an engineer by training, oversees a laboratory at Polytechnique Montréal.

His duties there were suspended during the criminal proceedings, and he was barred from campus.

On Wednesday, following the stay of charges, a Polytechnique spokesperson said officials will meet with Camara to discuss his reinstatement on campus and the resumption of his duties.

With files from Sharon Yonan Renold and Elias Abboud