Can the head of the SQ help reform Montreal's beleaguered police service?

The appointment of Martin Prud’homme to the Montreal police force’s top job is being touted as a fresh start for the beleaguered institution by Alex Norris. But Quebec provincial police have had their own struggles.

Martin Prud'homme is 'solid,' Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux says. But the SQ has had its own troubles

Sûreté du Québec's director-general Martin Prud'homme starts his first full day as head of the Montreal police force Thursday. (CBC)

The appointment of Martin Prud'homme to the Montreal police force's top job is being touted as a fresh start for the beleaguered institution.

Alex Norris, chair of the City of Montreal's public security commission, says the Plante administration is "enthusiastic" about the new leadership.

"I do believe this opens quite an extraordinary opportunity to change the culture of the SPVM and to open a new chapter in the history of the force," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Thursday.

Prud'homme has taken a leave of absence from his job as the director of the Sûreté du Québec in order to serve as the interim head of the Montreal force. Thursday is his first full day on the job in a mandate that will last until Dec. 31, 2018.

He was named to the job following the suspension of Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet, whose leadership skills were called into question in a damning report into the force's internal affairs department.

Prud'homme's job will be to "set the ship right," restore proper leadership and morale at the police force, Norris explained.

When pressed, Norris couldn't say how many of the issues outlined in the report he thought would be fixed by the time Prud'homme's mandate is up, pointing out some of the problems are longstanding.

He said the commission as well as the police brotherhood will have roles to play when it comes to making the changes outlined in the report.
Alex Norris says having Martin Prud'homme at the helm of the Montreal police is an opportunity to change the force's culture. (Leah Hendry/CBC)

While the provincial government made the final call about what would happen to Pichet, Norris said both the city and province concluded that someone new was needed in the top position at the SPVM.

"In many ways this dovetails with our own commitment as a new administration to change the culture of the police force," Norris said.

The interim leader of the official opposition at city hall said he wants the new police chief to be at the city council meeting next Monday.

"He has to explain how he's going to work," said Lionel Perez. "How he's going to work with the current mayor, how he's going to work with the current leadership, how he's going to work with the local commanders. What's his vision?"

A spokesperson for the city's executive committee responded by saying "when the interim chief has developed a plan to solve the governance problems and re-establish confidence, he will have the chance to come and present in front of the public security commission in an open and transparent session."

Prud'homme is 'solid', public security minister says

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux defended the decision to appoint Prud'homme Wednesday, saying he would be able to independently govern the force and wasn't there to satisfy personal ambition.

"In this situation we had no choice, we needed to find someone solid," Coiteux said.

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante held a news conference Wednesday about Montreal's police service. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

In an interview on Daybreak Thursday, Coiteux said in light of the report, the force had to be restructured.

"Mr. Pichet did not show a serious willingness or capacity to make the necessary changes," he said.

While the government made the decision to suspend Pichet, whether he is paid is a decision made by his employer, Coiteux said. Pichet was suspended with pay.

Coiteux said Prud'homme is a "highly respected man by every police [officer] in Quebec, including those in the SPVM," adding his mandate was clearly explained to him and that if he needs extra resources to fulfill it, he will get them.

In all likelihood, Coiteux said, when the City of Montreal proposes names for the next chief of the Montreal police, Pichet's won't be one of them.

Call for collaboration

Coiteux called on Montreal police officers to collaborate with their new chief, something the head of the police union said will not be a problem.

Yves Francoeur, president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood, told Daybreak he thinks Prud'homme will be able to get the force back on track.

"Twelve months, I don't know if it will be enough. It's a very big challenge for Mr. Prud'homme, because there's a lot to do."

Guy Ryan, a former inspector with the SPVM's organized crime unit, said he doesn't think Montreal police will have a problem with Prud'homme just because he's from the SQ.

"I think there'll be collaboration," he said.
Former SPVM officer Guy Ryan says the fact that the SQ is investigating Montreal police may make Prud'homme's appointment complicated. (Radio-Canada)

Ryan said he understands the decision to move Prud'homme into the role, but said he doesn't know how well it will work, considering the SQ's ongoing investigation of the force.

The SQ took over investigations of its internal affairs division last February, after whistleblowers alleged investigators fabricated evidence to keep officers quiet about corruption inside the force.

Francoeur said he would like to see a permanent change to internal affairs so that all investigations into criminal allegations are done outside the force, a recommendation made in the report.

Coiteux said the government is studying that possibility.

Who is Martin Prud'homme?

Prud'homme took the helm of the SQ in 2014, and in the years since has already learned how to be the chief of a force under scrutiny.

In April, he was called before the Chamberland commission, a public inquiry into police surveillance of media figures.

Prud'homme testified that his police force had put a total of seven journalists under surveillance. 

He told the commission that no journalist had been the target of surveillance since he took over as SQ chief.

He's also worked to ease tensions between the SQ and the community of Val-d'Or following allegations by Indigenous women of sexual and physical abuse by officers.

Prud'homme announced a new station in the area with a mixed police force.

He hoped having a station staffed by a combination of police officers and representatives from the area would help ease strained relations in the community.

The announcement came in November, months after he was blasted for not vowing to tackle the root of the problem. 

By December, the Quebec government launched an inquiry into the allegations.

"When the provisional administrator has developed his own plan to solve governance problems and restore confidence, he will have the chance to come and present him to the Public Safety Committee in an open and transparent session.

With files from CBC Montreal's Sean Henry, Daybreak and Radio-Canada


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