Montreal

Is the Montreal police department in crisis?

It has been a rocky year for the Montreal police and the criticism is mounting. The force's administration is being openly scrutinized by its own union and officers over recent events concerning police tactics and internal politics.

Police union, journalists have recently called for great transparency from administration

Mayor Denis Coderre, left, swears in Philippe Pichet as Montreal police chief at City Hall on Aug. 28, 2015. Less than a year later, the force is embroiled in a number of controversies. (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

It has been a rocky month for the Montreal police and the criticism is mounting.

The force's administration is being openly scrutinized by its own union and officers over recent events concerning police tactics and internal politics.

The shakeup isn't only noticeable to those on the inside but to journalists and the public alike. From an investigation of a chief inspector to the sudden shuffle of the head of media relations, it appears a major house cleaning is underway.

Those who run the show at 1441 St-Urbain St. have also come under fire from the FPJQ, the Quebec professional journalists' federation, for what it calls a lack of transparency and allegedly reprimanding officers who speak to the press.

So what exactly is going on?

A criminal investigation

Last week, it came to light that the Montreal police's chief inspector of internal affairs is the subject of a criminal investigation headed by the Sureté du Québec.

Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur addressed the investigation in a statement. (CBC)

Both police forces remain tightlipped about the case, but it certainly made waves —  and it didn't stop the Montreal Police Brotherhood from pushing for the chief inspector of internal affairs, Costa Labos, to be pulled from his position.

"It's an absurd, outrageous and unjustifiable situation," President Yves Francoeur said in a statement.

No charges have been laid against Labos, but as the situation has already shaken the confidence of others as it continues to unfold.

An internal shakeup

A surprising reshuffling of the communications department earlier this month included Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière being reassigned from the head of the media relations team to an unnamed department.

Lafrenière, who has been with the force since 1994, quickly rose up the ranks and became the head of the communications division by 2012.

Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière was reassigned on June 6, 2016. (Radio-Canada)

When the announcement came down, he was nowhere to be seen or heard.

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet told journalists before the news conference that Lafrenière hadn't been let go — but it contradicts the whispers of officers within the same walls.

"It's certainly not a decision for the good of his career," one police source told Radio-Canada.

Radio silence

Last week, the organization that represents Quebec journalists, slammed the Montreal police's administration for how it handles its communications.

Journalists from different outlets have come forward, claiming the department has become more opaque and controlled over the last year.

Philippe Pichet became head of Montreal police in August 2015. (Coralie Mensa/Radio-Canada)

The FPJQ didn't mince words in its ruling. It said the media has difficulties obtaining information, that police scanners are no longer accessible to journalists and that there is an ongoing refusal to discuss police operations.

That's just the beginning.

Some officers are even being reprimanded for talking to the press.

Several journalists say their sources have been "suspended, moved, or even pushed to take their retirement for talking to the media."

Some officers could even be subjected to polygraph tests, according to an email from the union obtained by Radio-Canada.

Police tactics questioned

The police chief and union publicly clashed over tactics after a riot in Montreal North turned violent in April. This week, Montreal police confirmed that no charges will be laid.

The protest over the police shooting of Pierre Bony, a 46-year-old black man, deteriorated before the eyes of officers that the union says were told to stand down.

Cars and a bank were set on fire in Montreal North in April. (Radio-Canada)

"Know that police officers did not at all appreciate the order to keep their arms crossed," Francoeur said at the time.

Francoeur claimed the tactic sends the wrong message to criminals, but Pichet fired back and said Francoeur's interest was to defend the interests of union members and not carry out police operations.

With files from Radio-Canada's Pascal Robidas

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