Montreal

Quebec City officers investigated for holding extinguisher while escorting suspect in fire attack

A 39-year-old man accused of setting his ex-partner on fire was escorted to a Quebec City jail by a police officer holding a fire extinguisher, prompting his superiors to investigate whether this was a "bad joke."

Their union says the officers were taking precautions but department probes whether it was a tasteless prank

Frej Haj Messaoud, escorted to a police van by two officers, was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault Sunday morning. (Radio-Canada)

A 39-year-old man accused of setting his ex-partner on fire was escorted to a Quebec City jail by a police officer holding a fire extinguisher, prompting his superiors to investigate whether this was a "bad joke."

The suspect, Frej Haj Messaoud, was charged over the weekend with attempted murder and aggravated assault. He made a brief court appearance Monday to schedule a follow-up appearance, which was set for Friday.

The victim, a mother of two, is in critical condition at a Quebec City hospital.  

Messaoud was transferred from a police station to detention centre on Sunday. Video footage of Messaoud leaving the station shows one officer holding a fire extinguisher.

A second officer, who is holding Messaoud's elbow, appears to look down at the fire extinguisher and stifle a laugh.

As the video circulated online, some speculated the officers had engaged in a prank.

The officers' union responded to the speculation Sunday evening, saying the fire extinguisher was a safety precaution. 

Because journalists rarely show up for weekend prisoner transfers, the officers mistook journalists for members of the victim's family. The officers feared "retaliation," the union said.

But the Quebec City police department said Monday it will conduct an internal investigation into the behaviour of the two officers.

"Although the scene may suggest that it is a bad joke on the part of the police, it would be premature to draw any immediate conclusions without having taken the time to establish the facts and the circumstances surrounding this event," the department said in a new release.

The department added that it takes the situation seriously and "the thoughts of the SPVQ are always toward the victim and their relatives."

Victim's children witnessed the attack 

Messaoud, dressed in a light khaki pants and a black turtleneck, stayed quiet during the appearance Monday morning. He kept his eyes cast down toward the floor.

Crown prosecutor Sabrina Lambert-Michel asked the judge to ban Messaoud from trying to contact his ex-partner or anyone in her family. The accused nodded silently to confirm he would adhere to the condition.

No family members attended the court appearance. Messaoud did not enter a plea. He was represented by a legal aide lawyer.

The alleged attack took place Friday on Arago Street in Quebec City. Several neighbours saw the victim, a 27-year-old woman, on fire and screaming in the middle of the road.

She was left with severe burns to her face, hands and back, covering 50 per cent of her body. Her two children and mother, who witnesses say witnessed the incident, were treated for shock.

The victim's father, who is in Tunisia, said he's waiting to obtain a Canadian visa to join the family in Quebec City. 

"I'm still angry about what happened," he told Radio-Canada. "But I have confidence in the Canadian justice system."

With files from Radio-Canada and Catou MacKinnon