Montreal's ex-police chief is going to court to demand his job back

Philippe Pichet says he was essentially fired when he was indefinitely suspended with pay last December amid scandals within the internal investigations unit.

Martin Coiteux, Valérie Plante say they had to do something about Philippe Pichet following damning report

Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet, who was suspended with pay in December, has resigned. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Montreal's former police chief Philippe Pichet is suing the City of Montreal, the Public Security Minister and Quebec government for the way they handled his suspension.

Pichet says he was essentially fired when he was indefinitely suspended with pay last December amid scandals within the Montreal police's internal investigations unit.

In documents filed with the Court of Quebec on May 29, Pichet says he was never given an explanation from Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux or anyone from the ministry as to why he was suspended, and says the minister has not responded to his requests for a meeting.

The former chief wants the court to cancel the suspension and give him back his job, but Coiteux and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante are both defending the action taken. 

Coiteux said when the decision was made, it was clear there needed to be a change.

"Those circumstances can't be erased. It's in that context that I made the decisions I made. I assumed my responsibilities as public security minister in the best interest of the public confidence and the necessary cleaning up of the SPVM," he said.

Sûreté du Québec Chief Martin Prud'homme has taken over as both the interim chief and temporary administrator of the Montreal police service.

Plante echoed Coiteux's comments, saying that, considering the crisis that was enveloping the police service, something had to be done.

"From our perspective, we did exactly what was necessary so Montreal can gain trust of the SPVM."

Pichet has not commented publicly about the case, but laid out his arguments in the court filing, which was obtained by Radio-Canada.

Found out about suspension on TV

In February 2017, Coiteux called an inquiry into what he called "systemic" problems with the Montreal police service (SPVM).

Coiteux asked Pichet to submit an action plan to improve public confidence in the SPVM, which Pichet did the following month.

Both Denis Coderre, the mayor at the time, and Coiteux publicly expressed their satisfaction with Pichet's report and their confidence in Pichet's work as police chief.

In December, with the findings of that inquiry set to be released, Pichet said he learned of the possibility he could be suspended from watching the news on TV. He was officially informed of the suspension the next day.

The inquiry into the SPVM's inner workings covered 2010 to 2017. Pichet was named chief in 2015.

Coiteux told reporters Thursday the recommendations in the report made it obvious that the force needed a new chief and administrator. Among its findings, the report mentioned there was a lack of leadership on Pichet's part.

Pichet met with city manager André Marcoux at 12:15 p.m. Dec. 6, 2017. During that meeting, Pichet says he was told:

  • There were no allegations of criminal or professional misconduct against him.
  • The city hadn't read the report, written by former deputy justice minister Michel Bouchard.
  • A ministerial decree authorizing his suspension was in the works.
  • And that it would be preferable for Pichet to not return to his job.

The meeting lasted five minutes, Pichet says.

A new job he didn't want

Pichet says he was called into Marcoux's office in February 2018. The city manager offered him a job with the city's security division as a way to head off journalists' questions about the fact he was still on the city's payroll.

Pichet claims that during that meeting, Marcoux told him that the only conclusion he could see was the former chief's dismissal. Marcoux encouraged Pichet to think about giving up his post as police chief for good.

Pichet showed up for his first day of work, but said he feels the position was forced on him.

Pichet, right, took over the SPVM leadership in 2015. In the face of several controversies, former mayor Denis Coderre, left, repeatedly defended Pichet. (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

On May 1, Pichet sent Coiteux an email asking for a meeting to talk about his suspension. A copy of the email was included in the court filing, as well as a confirmation of receipt from the ministry.

When a week went by with no response, Pichet sent another email, this time informing the minister that he would be consulting his lawyer about his options and saying his situation amounts to a "veiled dismissal."

The same day he received a response from deputy public security minister Liette Larrivée, saying his suspension was still in effect.

Pichet wants the city be forced to pay his court fees and compensate him for lost benefits and wages.

Coiteux has received a progress report, written by Prud'homme, about the force, and said he wants to discuss it with Plante before they decide how to proceed. The report will eventually be made public, he said.

Plante would not comment on whether the city will challenge the lawsuit. 

The case will be heard July 3.