Haiti case points to loopholes allowing cops to avoid disciplinary action

The case of two Quebec provincial police officers who retired before facing allegations of sexual misconduct in Haiti has exposed loopholes that allow some officers to dodge disciplinary action, critics say.

2 Quebec officers retire with full pensions ahead of hearings into alleged misconduct in Haiti

A contingent of police officers training to deploy to Haiti for a year stand at attention at the National Peacekeeping Monument on National Peacekeepers Day in 2013. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

The case of two Quebec provincial police officers who retired before facing allegations of sexual misconduct in Haiti has exposed loopholes that allow some officers to dodge disciplinary action, critics say.

Some jurisdictions, including British Columbia and the United Kingdom, have introduced legislation to ensure hearings take place even if an officer has retired.

But in several provinces, including Quebec, there is nothing to prevent officers from retiring to avoid disciplinary action. The situation can be even murkier when the alleged offence occurred abroad.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, says legislation to ensure officers face disciplinary hearings helps restore faith in the police. (CBC)

Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said the changes in his own province helped restore confidence in the police.

"It is vitally important that individual police officers be held accountable when there are allegations of misconduct," Paterson said in an interview. 

"We can't have it be the case that if an officer retires or is transferred to another force or takes another job somewhere, then all of a sudden they lose that accountability."

Holding police accountable

Marie-Ève Labranche, a spokeswoman for Quebec's public security minister, said Friday the province is taking an "inventory" of other provinces and jurisdictions to see what kinds of measures exist to handle cases of misconduct once an officer retires or otherwise leaves the job.

Labranche wouldn't commit to any changes and referred questions about the two specific cases to the Sûreté du Québec.

On Thursday, CBC News reported that a Sûreté du Québec sergeant under investigation for sleeping with Haitian women while working as a United Nations peacekeeper was able to evade a disciplinary hearing by retiring days before the hearing was to begin.

In another case, an SQ sergeant who allegedly solicited sex from a Haitian prostitute retired last year before the police force had scheduled his disciplinary hearing. 

Both men will collect full pensions and neither one will face any sanctions.

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The RCMP, which oversees Canada's UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), strictly prohibits sexual relations with members of the local population, due to "the difference in real or perceived power and authority." 

Both the RCMP and Canada's Global Affairs Department told CBC News that "disciplinary action for misconduct is the responsibility of the officer's home police service" if and when a police officer is repatriated.

SQ Capt. Guy Lapointe told CBC News that a guilty finding at a disciplinary hearing could have included a suspension, a downgrading in rank or firing, but once an officer leaves the force, the SQ no longer has the ability to take action.

Lapointe couldn't say how many police officers retire ahead of disciplinary hearings, which are public.

'Highest standards of integrity'

In British Columbia, the Police Act was amended in 2009 to ensure that officers under investigation who retire or resign from municipal forces will still be subject to the police complaint process. 

The changes came after Victoria's police chief resigned in 2008, days before he was to face a disciplinary hearing due to complaints of favouritism.

At least two officers with the Montreal police fathered children while working as peacekeepers in Haiti, Radio-Canada reported earlier this year. (Radio-Canada)

In the U.K., new regulations were introduced last year to stop police officers from resigning or retiring if they are subject to an allegation that could lead to dismissal.

"The public rightly expects police officers to act with the highest standards of integrity and for those suspected of misconduct to be subject to formal disciplinary proceedings," Theresa May, Britain's prime minister, said in a 2015 statement, when she was the country's home secretary.


Benjamin Shingler is based in Montreal. He previously worked at The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera America and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

With files from Alison Northcott


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