Quebec calls inquiry into 'systemic' problems in Montreal police service

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux is launching an inquiry into what he is called "systemic" problems within the Montreal police service.

Public security minister said inquiry will look examine how SPVM has handled internal investigations

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux has called an inquiry into internal investigation practices in the Montreal police department. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec's public security minister is launching an inquiry into what he is calling "systemic" problems within the Montreal police service. 

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Martin Coiteux said the inquiry will examine how Montreal police have handled internal investigations. 

The police service has come under increasing scrutiny in recent days, amid allegation its internal affairs department fabricated evidence against whistleblowers.

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet asked the Sûreté du Quebec to investigate the allegations, a move that Coiteux said he supported and continues to support.

Coiteux said his decision to call for a parallel "administrative investigation" of the Montreal police is based on new allegations that were brought to his attention Thursday night and Friday morning. 

"I was informed that a number of additional cases were signaled to the Sûreté du Quebec since the force was assigned to the case," he said.

Pichet stressed that he has always been willing to cooperate with any investigation to help shed light on the situation.

"We can talk of crisis, but also this is an opportunity," Pichet said. 

'We have to look at the force as a whole'

He said the allegations reveal serious "systemic" issues with how the SPVM handles internal investigations, and those allegations will be the focus of the new inquiry.

"We have to look at the force as a whole," he said.

Internal investigations and management within the Montreal police department, known by its French acronym SPVM, are of special interest to the inquiry, Coiteux said.

Pichet will remain in place during the inquiry, Coiteux said.

However, he said he's asked the chief to provide a plan of action for shoring up public confidence in the force and "preventing the situation from getting worse."

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet pledged his full support and cooperation for the new administrative inquiry into the SPVM. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

When asked if he has confidence in the chief, Coiteux would only said "it's important to shed light on the situation."

"It's important to go above and beyond what we're hearing and the allegations, and then we'll draw our conclusions."

Pichet took to Twitter to pledge his "full collaboration" with the person who leads the administrative inquiry.

That person will be named in the coming days, Coiteux said, adding they will have all the powers and immunity of a commissioner under Quebec's law governing commissions of inquiries.

Their report will be made public.

SQ investigation beefed up, BEI can't help

Given the growing number of allegations facing the SPVM, Coiteux also announced additional measures to help the SQ with its investigation into possible criminal activities inside the Montreal force.

The SQ will now get help from investigators working with police in Quebec City, Longueuil and Gatineau.

Also, the RCMP will increase the number of its officers assisting the SQ investigation.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the city's police chief, Philippe Pichet, 'should have our full confidence." (CBC)

Coiteux also addressed calls to involve Quebec's independent investigation bureau, the BEI, created last year. 

He maintained the position that the BEI has limited resources and already has its hands full with a number of investigations.

"It's not in a position to handle this major case," he said, adding that's it's not a question of confidence in the bureau. 

Coiteux said he's asked the BEI's director, Madeleine Giauque, to co-manage the SQ investigation.

He also announced steps to expand the BEI's mandate eventually, to include investigations in which public confidence in police is at stake.

Giovanni Di Feo, a former Montreal police officer and one of the three whistleblowers who went public this week to allege they were targeted by SPVM internal affairs, declined to comment on today's developments.

Coderre supports inquiry, stands by Pichet

​Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he supports Coiteux's decision, noting his own efforts to "clean up" corruption in the city. 

He also maintained his support for Pichet, whom he appointed chief of police in 2015.

"It's important to remember what was said about Pichet when he was first appointed," Coderre said.

"He's not part of any clan, and from the beginning he's taken action to make structural changes, and this is what's come out. So it's totally normal that he should have our full confidence."

Coderre said he'll wait for the results of the new inquiry.

"Once we have the results, we will take action."

He ended by saying the "vast majority" of police are doing good work, and that shouldn't be forgotten. 

"Don't put everybody in the same basket," he said.