Poitras Commission

At the risk of boring everyone to tears I am going to post a series of articles that ran in The Gazette concerning the Poitras Commission’s findings on the Surete du Quebec, and what happened in Quebec in the aftermath of the publication of that report.

These articles are not available through traditional search engines (Google, etc…). I got them through academic archives at North Carolina State University (one of the benefits of graduate school).

It is interesting how critical The Montreal Gazette was in the late 90s of the actions of the Surete du Quebec. Even more interesting is their recent, relative neutrality on issues having to do with that police force.

You may find this long and tedious, but these articles have disappeared from the public conscience: it’s important that they be preserved so that everyone know what occured in the past decade.

So here we go. Quite lengthy. My comments in Black Italics, the article’s in BLUE (items I have found interesting are in bold):

This first editorial from early 1997 sets the table. I have not included all of it, but Patrick Healy’s conclusion is prophetic given what was about to unfold with Poitras:

January 15, 1997, Wednesday

FINAL EDITION
SECTION: EDITORIAL / OP-ED

HEADLINE: Canada has too many public inquiries covering too much ground

PATRICK HEALY; THE GAZETTE

Commissions of inquiry have been important in the operation of Canadian government for many years. They advance the public interest by providing governments with independent sources of information and advice on matters of public concern. Inquiries fail, however, when they do not advance the public interest or do so at excessive cost to the taxpayer….

There are essentially two reasons for having a public inquiry. One is that the ordinary machinery of government is not equipped to conduct a thorough examination of the matter for review. The other is that the subject-matter for review demands the attention of someone who is independent of the government and is impartial as regards any interest except the public interest in the broadest sense. In either case, the decision to conduct a public inquiry must be reinforced by the will and the means to see the matter to a proper conclusion.

No doubt the Poitras commission concerning the Surete du Quebec, just beginning its work, would do well to define its sprawling mandate as narrowly and realistically as possible. The public interest demands no less.

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The following piece by James Mennie is fascinating for its vitriol. You can almost hear Gazette staff salivating as they document the litany of incompetences Quebec citizens have suffered at the hands of the SQ. The final item gives a good description of the Mattlicks affair of 1995 which ultimately gave rise to Poitras:

February 22, 1997, Saturday,
FINAL EDITION
HEADLINE:
Inventory of a power struggle: Surete has long history of answering only to itself

JAMES MENNIE; THE GAZETTE

The aftermath of the Matticks Affair may have left the reputation of the Surete du Quebec tarnished, and that image may not receive much polishing during the course of the Poitras inquiry into how the provincial force conducts its criminal investigations.

But if the past two decades are anything to go by, the last thing the SQ has lost any sleep over is how it’s perceived by the public that pays its salary.

Longtime observers of the 4,100-member force account for this lack of concern by suggesting the pendulum has swung too far. They contend that decades of being used quite openly as the enforcement arm of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis’s government during the 1940s and ’50s, of closing bars and bordellos that didn’t contribute to the right side in an election, intimidating opponents of the regime and padlocking meeting halls of suspected communists and confirmed Jehovah’s Witnesses, led to a reform movement in the 1960s that simply got out of hand. Rather than answering to whatever political regime was in power, the SQ would answer only to its own, becoming not so much a law unto itself as a nation – one with its own culture, rules and loyalties.

Allegations in May 1995 that the SQ had beaten confessions out of criminal suspects were shocking not only because of their content, but because they were being made by a former Surete du Quebec corporal, Gaetan Rivest. That they simply echoed allegations of misconduct that had been made in the past – sometimes by criminals already before the courts, sometimes by serving SQ officers assigned to investigate their colleagues – was overlooked as the media and provincial politicians to whom the SQ theoretically answer wondered aloud just how much truth was contained in Rivest’s allegations.

But while the workings of the SQ may have been subjected to less public scrutiny than those of other Quebec police forces (the Montreal Urban Community police force has undergone more than half a dozen public inquiries over the past 10 years), its rank and file and management have never made a secret of the fact when they are called upon to explain themselves that they do things their own way, follow their own rules. It may be a policy some find unhealthy in a democratic society, but it’s one that continues to go unchallenged.

What follows is an inventory, drawn from Gazette archives, of how many times that policy has allowed the Surete du Quebec to defy political authority while deflecting attempts to determine whether it’s doing its job.

Bernard Provencal, 1982

A preliminary hearing into a gangland murder in Montreal hears Bernard Provencal, a career criminal turned police informer, testify that an SQ officer became rich on bribes from the local underworld. Provencal’s testimony seems a scaled-down version of reports published six months earlier stating that the former criminal boss had told his MUC police handlers he knew of nine corrupt SQ officers. The reports jolt the Justice Department into ordering the SQ to launch an internal inquiry into the allegations. Despite numerous media requests, the provincial force refuses to comment on what, if anything, it discovered. Keeping the results of internal investigations secret, even if they deal with accusations made in public, will become a hallmark of SQ policy.

National Assembly surrounded, 1984

Months of stalled contract negotiations with the provincial government come to head when nearly 3,000 SQ officers surround the Quebec National Assembly in November 1984 to protest a government decision not to abide by an arbitrator’s ruling for provincial police to receive a 4.5-per-cent pay hike. An order from SQ headquarters that no police vehicles leave their patrol territory to participate in the work action is ignored and more than 700 squad cars show up. The officers cheer as their colleagues hoist a Canadian flag over one tower of the legislature (the government of the day is the Parti Quebecois) while the flag of the Surete du Quebec rises over another.Union officials tell reporters that the protest has not left any of the SQ’s patrol sectors without police protection. But in the middle of the demonstration, members of the SQ’s emergency response unit and its riot squad have to be ordered by union officials to leave Quebec City for Sorel to help quell a violent demonstration that has broken out at the strikebound Marine Industries shipyard. Two months after the protest, SQ officers switch the license plates on their squad cars to protest against a government plan to dock the paycheques of colleagues who participated in the march. When the union threatens to refuse to provide security for a state visit by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Quebec Justice Minister Pierre Marc Johnson finally ends the series of pressure tactics by threatening the officers with charges of insubordination.

Gaston Harvey, October 1986

SQ officers are called in to disperse a demonstration staged by former employees of a hotel in Pointe au Pic that was the site of a bitter labor dispute. Gaston Harvey, husband of one of the ex-workers, becomes involved in an altercation with two officers and collapses after being placed in a choke hold. He is taken to hospital where he is pronounced dead, but only after being brought first to the local SQ station.

A coroner will rule that Harvey died as a result of many factors, including the choke hold. During the inquest, the coroner hears testimony that one of the SQ officers involved in Harvey’s arrest had been seen drinking before the incident. The day after Harvey’s death, Confederation of National Trade Unions president Gerald Larose accuses the SQ of murder. Solicitor General Gerald Latulippe announces police across the province will receive a pamphlet explaining the proper manner and circumstances to use a choke hold on a suspect. Six months later, the Justice Department announces no charges will be laid against the SQ, and the provincial force decides not to lay a charge of slander against Larose for his comments.

The following June, more than 50 Surete du Quebec officers raid the Delorimier St. headquarters of the CNTU, emptying it of 18 boxes of documents during a police operation that coincides so handily with the evening news that television reporters are able to file reports from inside the building while the raid is still going on.The raid is conducted in connection with an investigation into the bombing of hotels owned by Raymond Malenfant, who also owned the hotel where Gaston Harvey’s wife worked. Named as a co-conspirator on the police complaint sheet is Larose himself, although he is never charged with any crime. Larose later says the SQ named him on the complaint because of his comments following Harvey’s death. Two CNTU members will later plead guilty to the bombings.

Saint-Basile-le-Grand, January 1989

Alain Chapleau, an illiterate town maintenance worker charged with setting a fire at a PCB warehouse in Saint- Basile-le-Grand the previous summer that caused thousands of South Shore residents to be evacuated, is acquitted after the judge in the case rules SQ investigators illegally obtained his confession through threats and intimidation. The public outrage over the apparent bungling in the case prompts the Quebec government to order two inquiries into investigative techniques used by the SQ. The head of the SQ union defends his members, describing their police work as “excellent.” However, some police-technology experts worry in media interviews the SQ is still using methods rendered obsolete by the Charter of Rights.

Oka, 1990

Corporal Marcel Lemay, a member of the SQ’s SWAT team, is fatally shot during an abortive SQ raid on Mohawk barricades at Oka erected two months earlier to protest against a plan to expand a local golf course onto lands the natives claimed as their own.The raid, which follows two earlier, more successful SQ operations against native communities in Restigouche and Les Escoumins, sparks a stand-off that lasts 78 days, ending after Canadian armed forces personnel are called in to assist.

The siege results in the SQ’s public image being savaged by the media and by observers of the crisis who accuse the provincial force of brutality, professional ineptitude and a blind arrogance that led to their carrying out the raid without first informing the provincial government. While the stand-off is perceived at first as a struggle between the Mohawk Warrior Society and the SQ, non-native residents who try to block the St. Lawrence Seaway to express their dissatisfaction with the length of the Oka dispute are kicked and beaten with nightsticks by about 100 SQ officers in riot gear.

In one of the more bizarre twists of the crisis, the SQ’s public-relations department makes public a communique blaming the English-language media for fanning the crisis and adopting an anti-SQ stand because of the failure of the Meech Lake accord.

A coroner’s inquest into Lemay’s death finds the SQ’s raid was ill-timed, poorly planned and clumsily carried out. The provincial government announces that 39 SQ officers are to appear before a disciplinary committee for their conduct during the crisis. To this day, Lemay’s killer has never been found.

Chambly Raid, 1994

SQ officers raid the police department of the South Shore municipality of Chambly, taking over its law enforcement services and questioning more than 100 persons about allegations of local police corruption including drug dealing, payoffs, prostitution and the fixing of parking tickets. By the time the dust has settled, only five members of the 24-member Chambly force are charged with minor offences including unsafe storage of a firearm. No evidence is ever found of the network of alleged corruption that sparked the raid.

An inquiry into the raid is ordered, and while the Quebec Court judge presiding over the probe finds there was evidence some Chambly officer had fraternized with criminals, the SQ raid is described as unnecessary and unjustified. A coalition of police unions launches a series of lawsuits against the SQ for trampling the rights of those they took into custody during the raid.

Matticks Case, June 1995

Describing the conduct of SQ investigators as “reprehensible,” Superior Court judge Micheline Corbeil-Laramee throws out drug-smuggling charges against brothers Gerald and Richard Matticks and five others when she rules evidence against them had been tampered with. Documents submitted as having been seized during a raid on a warehouse are found to have originated from a Canada Customs fax machine.The SQ launches an internal inquiry, and four investigators in the Matticks case are suspended. Their withdrawal from duty sparks a minor mutiny on the part of SQ detectives assigned to work on a joint police task force into biker gangs. The four Matticks investigators are charged in October 1995 with perjury and fabrication of evidence. They are acquitted of all charges on June 9, 1996, but that result is overshadowed by reports that SQ internal-affairs investigators were allegedly warned by superior officers to back off from their inquiries into what went wrong with the Matticks case. An attempt to hold a closed-door inquiry into the affair falls through after two high-ranking SQ officers called upon to testify refuse to co-operate unless the inquiry is made public.

On Oct. 23, the Poitras commission – a public inquiry – is created.

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But Mennie wasn’t finished. The same day he produces another article critical of what exactly Poitras might accomplish (incidentally, James Mennie still writes for the Gazette). What’s interesting in this next piece is the commentators; George Andre Parent – of a rival newspaper no less, albiet Allo Police – gets five paragraphs to mouth off all of his contempt. Denis Szabo and Jean Paul Brodeur are great criminology academics at the University of Montreal (Brodeur went on to pen in 2003, les Visages de la police – Pratiques et perceptions):

February 22, 1997, Saturday

FINAL EDITION
Inquiry targets Surete silence: But civilian experts are already skeptical

JAMES MENNIE; THE GAZETTE

When Lawrence Poitras walks into room 5.15 of the Montreal courthouse on Wednesday, he will be embarking on a mission which has the potential to break through a 30-year-old wall of silence that has shielded the Surete du Quebec – one of the most powerful police forces in the country – from public scrutiny.

But even before the first witness has been heard, or the first document entered into evidence, civilian experts are already assessing the Poitras commission as being at best a slim opportunity to change how police do their jobs and, at worst, “a farce.”

“Of course there have been blunders within the SQ,” fumed Georges-Andre Parent, a criminologist and veteran police reporter for the crime weekly Allo Police who has repeatedly warned of a lack of controls over the provincial force.

“But we have to look at things clearly here. The government may be trying to get a message to the SQ as to who’s boss. But the primary impression I have is that ordinary people are being taken for fools by a government that’s trying to convince them public commissions solve problems.

“Since the ’60s, we’ve been having public inquiries and what do we have to show for it? Nothing. It’s always been the same damn thing. Commissions take place long after the events that sparked them, usually after measures have already been taken to make sure the events don’t recur or when most of the people involved are no longer in the same position. And when at last they produce a report, those results are usually consigned to the wastebasket.

“And what’s unfortunate is that the man in charge of this commission is someone of great integrity and competence who will take this task very seriously.

“There was a time governments would appoint friends or politicians to head these things, now they’ve resorted to using honorable people to make them look good.”

Poitras, a former chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, has been charged by the provincial government to look into the investigative practices of the 4,100-member Surete du Quebec. The inquiry was sparked ostensibly by allegations evidence was tampered with during a drug investigation and that the provincial force’s high command may have tried to derail an internal investigation into how that drug investigation was bungled….

Commission chairman Poitras has been given no such constraint. His mandate, bestowed last October by Public Security Minister Robert Perreault, is light-years wider by comparison: nothing less than an authorization to inquire into “the practices in use in criminal investigations by the Surete du Quebec in the case of major crimes and the supervision and management of such investigations.”

Such a broadly worded commission is an open ticket into the filing cabinets and memories of every SQ officer, from the rank of detective up to to deputy-director. And the fact that SQ chief Serge Barbeau has been temporarily replaced by Guy Coulombe, a veteran civil servant sufficiently trusted by the province to have been appointed to run Hydro-Quebec, seems a clear signal the government expects the inquiry to receive every co-operation from a police force not ordinarily noted for its openness.

Barbeau’s withdrawal from duty pending the inquiry was explained by the SQ director as being voluntary. But it was widely perceived to have been made with a solicitous shove from the provincial government after it came to light that Barbeau had suspended three SQ investigators who complained that their internal inquiry into allegations of evidence tampering had been derailed by two senior officers.

Not surprisingly, the union representing the SQ’s rank and file has already voiced its displeasure over the creation of the commission. The Quebec Provincial Police Officers Association represents more than 3,700 of the SQ’s 4,100 members, and its hold on the force has been demonstrated in the past by pressure campaigns during contract negotiations that included surrounding the National Assembly with nearly the entire police force and holding “study sessions” that denuded the province’s highways of patrols and put criminal investigations on hold.

First, the union described the Poitras inquiry as a duplication of effort already expended by the Bellemare commission, which last year assessed the efficiency of the investigative branches of all Quebec police forces. Headed by veteran lawyer Jacques Bellemare, the commission found that police detectives ought to be better educated, better trained, more closely supervised and be required to re-qualify for the rank of investigator on a regular basis.

Then the provincial police officers’ union filed a motion in Superior Court that one of Poitras’ two commissioners be removed from the probe because of her involvement in an SQ complaints review board. (The SQ’s professional-relations committee, which represents about 150 non-unionized senior officers, said in October that it feared a widespread probe would have a “destabilizing” effect on the force, but also said its members will work with Poitras in a professional manner.)

While the SQ union has traditionally been suspicious and occasionally quite belligerent toward any proceeding – public or otherwise – that might bring its membership into disrepute, the Poitras inquiry’s wide-ranging mandate theoretically could take it far beyond the boundaries of investigative techniques already covered by the Bellemare inquiry.

Jean-Paul Brodeur, of the Universite de Montreal’s Ecole de Criminologie, acknowledges that the Bellemare commission may have already blazed much of the territory Poitras might have to cover, but adds the commission chairman might focus his mandate a little more precisely during a public statement expected next Wednesday.

Brodeur, however, does not share Parent’s cynicism over the usefulness of this latest probe.”This being a public inquiry, there will be pressure from the public and the media to get to the bottom of things,” he said. “It’s always difficult to predict what can happen during a public inquiry – but what’s certain is that this pressure will ensure a greater openness.”

But Brodeur does worry that a recent trend toward reducing costs in the Public Security Department (the SQ’s annual budget already stands at more than $ 400 million) might result in little of substance being produced by the commission if its recommendations have a price tag attached to them.

Brodeur points to a report commissioned by the Bouchard government that recommends the police ethics committee, which deals with civilian complaints of professional misconduct by police, be overhauled into a faster, more cost-effective operation. One proposal would be to transfer certain complaints now handled by the committee to police.”Will the inquiry reveal something so worrisome that we’ll loosen the purse strings to increase controls (over the SQ) already in place?” Brodeur asked. “Right now, for purely economic reasons, the wind is not blowing toward more controls over the police. In fact I’d say the opposite is true.”

It can be argued that the commission’s creation was a political reaction to the public outrage over the “Matticks Affair,” an SQ drug investigation that was thrown out of court in 1995 after a judge ruled the evidence against the accused had been tampered with. Four SQ detectives charged with perjury and evidence tampering in connection with that case were acquitted by a jury last year.

But the Matticks case is just another example of how a police force that was once little more than a Praetorian guard to Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis has, not unlike that same elite squad of imperial Roman soldiers, become a law unto itself. Its protests that it cannot bow to political interference in its investigations ring as hollow to some ears these days as its motto of “service, justice, integrity.”

“Back in the ’50s, they were Duplessis’s police force, it was as simple as that,” said Parent. “In the ’60s, they called in police from the RCMP (to reform the SQ’s practices) and some distance from the politicians was established. But then the Parti Quebecois came along and maybe they wanted to have their ‘police nationale’ (in an independent Quebec).”Finally, before they went from one brand of political interference to another, the SQ cut itself off and said ‘we’ll no longer be at the mercy of politicians’ and found a way to work outside (government) control.”And now we have to ask ourselves if the SQ is not functioning as a state within a state, when it’s reached the point where no one felt they had to tell the public security minister they were moving in at Oka.”

Denis Szabo, who specializes in comparative criminology at the Universite de Montreal, worries that the Poitras commission cannot help but duplicate the work of the Bellemare inquiry, which made its report public last Nov. 28, four weeks after the Poitras inquiry was announced.

“What kind of report can Mr. Poitras produce when Mr. Bellemare covered the matter in such a systematic way?

Poitras’s mission may not be as general as Bellemare’s, but the Bellemare report contains the only important and long-range solutions. … But the problem is that by the time the Poitras commission produces its findings, the Bellemare report will already be headed to the shredder. It’s enough to make you cry.”

Like Parent, Szabo sees the Poitras commission as impeccably staffed but politically created, although he sees the government’s strategy as a classic case of bad timing.”It’s a complicated situation and I can’t understand how (the government) managed to mismanage it – two commissions with overlapping jurisdictions. … Judge Poitras might say he is examining different elements, but basically the issue is about the ability of police to collect evidence in a competent and cost-efficient manner. … I’m convinced that if someone had actually reviewed the timing and the mandates of these commissions, they’d have done things differently.”

For Szabo, who says he feels allegations of evidence tampering are a matter for the courts and the SQ’s questionable handling of the internal investigation a reflection of a poor management at police headquarters, the issue does not seem to be having the provincial force explain its actions so much as it is to create a situation where every officer knows his or her duty – and what will happen if he or she does not properly execute it.

“The police are like the army. If there’s good leadership that galvanizes people, flexible but strong regulations, if you know how far you can go and if you go any further you will lose your head, you will have an efficient police force for the same price as an inefficient police force.”

But he also lays the blame for much of the festering of relations between the SQ and the provincial government squarely on the latter’s shoulders. “I have the impression that the Bouchard government doesn’t give public security much priority … but they don’t realize that over the past 20 years, more governments have fallen over the issue of public security than any other.”The school board problem, the linguistic problem – those are permanent issues that won’t sway more than a couple of hundred votes left or right … but people are a lot more volatile over the issue of public security.”

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So now we move to the Fall of 1997 (I spared you the day-to-day activities of the commission – you can pretty much guess how that went). It is the eve of Poitras coming out with their recommendations and – surprize, surprize – the then interim head of the SQ, Guy Coulombe, decides to announce his own plans for reform within the police force.

I love this passage: “Coulombe… made public a 105-page “orientation and plan of action” aimed at turning the Surete into “a modern, effective professional unit by the year 2000.”

Now compare this statement with current SQ head Normand Proulx assertion from two weeks ago in The Gazette:

“Proulx said he also wants to modernize the SQ’s day-to-day operations, which he estimates will take two to three years.”

So exactly how long is it going to take these knuckleheads to modernize?:


August 20, 1997, Wednesday,

Surete facing a shakeup: Better education and co-operation stressed

EDDIE COLLISTER AND LYNN MOORE;

THE GAZETTE

The civilian interim chief of the 4,000-member provincial police force said yesterday.”We’ve opened up the windows to let in fresh air,” Guy Coulombe said in his first public statement since taking over the force in November from Serge Barbeau.

Coulombe, a former president of Hydro-Quebec and the government’s chief negotiator with Mohawks after the 1990 Oka crisis, made public a 105-page “orientation and plan of action” aimed at turning the Surete into “a modern, effective professional unit by the year 2000.”

Coulombe said the Surete officers of the next millennium will be better educated, closely supervised and will have to work more closely with the community and their federal and municipal counterparts. A major focus is university education. Only 6 or 7 per cent of the force hold university degrees now, and Coulombe wants that figure increased to 30 per cent.

Coulombe said the force, which polices urban and rural communities across the province, will have to be revamped from top to bottom.

Coulombe and Public Security Minister Robert Perreault said the Surete’s criminal-investigation section, regarded by many as out of control and untouchable, will undergo “a sweeping reform,” so that it “might better respond to current and future public-security needs.”

The working paper “focuses on front-line investigations, specialized services, investigations of major crimes, and the fight against organized crime.”Coulombe said lateral hiring – bringing in outsiders with degrees as managers – is being hindered by “100 years of tradition.”The fact that 300 to 350 officers retire or leave the force for other reasons every year, he said, will make it easier to implement change, and hire better-qualified officers.

He said modern methods and better-trained police officers are needed to battle the electronic-age criminal.”There’s no such thing as victory when it comes to organized crime,” Coulombe said. “It’s a constant struggle to keep up with our very flexible criminal community.”

Perreault said more and more criminals are moving to rural areas from urban settings. The provincial police are to move in step with the trend.Up to 1,000 officers will be moving into rural settings from big cities.

Former chief Barbeau said the steps Coulombe is recommending meet with his approval. In an interview during a recess of the Poitras commission, which is investigating the Surete, Barbeau said he and his senior officers came up with “a major part” of Coulombe’s plan of action.”This has been in preparation for the past two years,” said Barbeau, adding he was the first SQ chief to send officers back to school on a full-time basis.”Now, they want to put more emphasis on (university training). Well, I agree with that. I didn’t have the means to do more than I did.”

Barbeau, who took over the helm of the Surete in January 1995, said that when he first raised the notion of “lateral transfers,” it met with heavy resistance from the union representing Surete officers.”They were against that at the time. I suspect there must have been a change of heart (on that by the union hierarchy) since then because there seems to have been an opening,” he said.Barbeau, who is being paid his full salary, asked to be removed from his post pending the outcome of the public inquiry into the manner in which the force probes major crimes, as well as the supervision of such investigations.

The hearing, headed by a retired Superior Court justice, Lawrence Poitras, was set up after four SQ detectives were acquitted of charges of evidence-tampering in the so-called Matticks affair.Public Security Minister Perreault ordered the inquiry to quell the public outcry after a major illicit-drug case against Richard and Gerald Matticks and several others was thrown out of Superior Court. The defence proved evidence had been planted by someone involved in the case.

Perreault denied that the changes called for by Coulombe were meant to short-circuit the Poitras commission’s task.”The commission is dealing with the past,” Perreault said. “This (the Coulombe plan) is about the future.””It would be a tragedy to wait (for Poitras’s recommendations),”

Coulombe said, adding that the Poitras inquiry centres on a few members of the force. He is optimistic a strong future can be built using SQ personnel, he said.

Quebec’s 13,000 municipal and provincial police cost taxpayers $ 1.3 billion a year.The Surete and the Montreal Urban Community police, with 4,000 officers each, have annual budgets of $ 390 million and $ 365 million respectively.

Perreault said it’s his job to ensure that Quebecers get the best bang for their bucks, no matter where they live.

His department is trying to do away with costly duplication of services. Large urban areas like the MUC that need specialized squads – such as homicide, crimes against persons, and anti-rackets – are reported to be in line for special subsidies from the government.

In the MUC’s case, that could add up to as much as $ 25 million a year.”I’ve got to discuss that with the cabinet,” Perreault said when asked to confirm the rumoured windfall.

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Now it’s March 1998 and the Poitras report still isn’t out. What happened? Two delays: they ask for an extension in November 97′ and another one in March 1998. In the meantime Coulombe makes the move to promote four SQ deputies, one of whom is current Surete head, Normond Proulx:

March 13, 1998, Friday,

FINAL EDITION
SQ chief picks 4 new deputies: Former staff transferred or reassigned

JAMES MENNIE; THE GAZETTE

More than a year after a commission of inquiry put the inner workings of the Surete du Quebec on public display, the civilian assigned to run the troubled provincial force has unveiled a new general staff of deputy chiefs.

The four-member team replaces general staff members transferred or reassigned in the wake of an internal Surete inquiry into a bungled 1994 drug investigation dubbed the Matticks affair.

Guy Coulombe, the former Hydro-Quebec president assigned to run the Surete after the commission of inquiry was set up in November 1996, said yesterday that the new general staff – which functions along the same lines as a corporate board of directors – was necessary because “everything had become frozen” since the public inquiry was instituted.”I think it’s unfair to ask everyone to (remain) at the same level for two or three years,” he said. “And it’s a question of fairness and a question of efficiency.”

The inquiry headed by Lawrence Poitras, former chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, has been hearing testimony since last April.

The Surete general staff that existed at the time the Poitras inquiry began consisted of chief Serge Barbeau, who stepped down for the duration of the inquiry; Andre Dupre, who was assigned to administrative duties after it was alleged he tried to intimidate a fellow officer into backing off an internal probe of the Matticks case; Louise Page, a civilian who was transferred to the Public Security Department after her office was broken into and Matticks case notes stolen; and Gilles Falardeau and Georges Boilard, who have been reassigned to jobs outside the daily workings of the Surete.

The new deputy chiefs under Coulombe are Jean Bourdeau, Normand Proulx, Gilles Bouchard and Denis Despelteau.

Coulombe also confirmed yesterday the nomination of lawyer Louis Dionne, a civilian, as head of the Surete’s elite organized-crime division, a move that might pre-empt any possible recommendation by the Poitras inquiry that the Surete’s criminal-investigations branch be overhauled.

While Coulombe’s announcement of a new general staff was appended to the making public of a plan to increase the number of university-educated officers in the Surete, most of the measures announced yesterday seemed to anticipate the publication of the Poitras inquiry’s report.

The report was originally expected last November, but the commission received an extension of its deadline to the end of June.

Late yesterday, it announced it would be seeking yet another extension.

Whenever the report does arrive, if the testimony heard by the commissioners to date is any indication, it is unlikely to be kind to the Surete.

The Matticks affair first made headlines in June 1995 when a Quebec Court judge ruled Surete officers had planted evidence and threw the case out of court.

An internal Surete inquiry into what went wrong with the case led to four officers being charged with evidence-tampering and perjury. All four were acquitted by a jury in June 1996.

Meanwhile, the three Surete investigators assigned to look into the Matticks case claimed they were stonewalled by the force’s high command and met a wall of silence from its unionized rank and file.

Coulombe said yesterday he ignored a letter from Jean Keable, one of the two dozen lawyers appearing before the Poitras inquiry, that he wait until the commission had filed its report before naming a new general staff.

“My recommendations to the (provincial government) … were based upon my knowledge of individuals I had been working with for the past year and a half,” Coulombe told reporters.”That was my primary criterion. … As for certain allegations made by certain individuals, I leave it to the Poitras commission to interpret them. It is not because someone says something that it is true.”

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October 1998 and the Poitras report still isn’t published. A Montreal Gazette editorial laments the high cost of public inquiries:


The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
October 10, 1998, Saturday

SECTION: EDITORIAL / OP-ED;

High cost of inquiries

THE GAZETTE

The multi-million-dollar, no-end-in-sight Poitras commission is traveling a well-trodden path in Canada for government commissions of inquiry. This is the route that leads to missed deadlines, irrelevant tangents and disappointingly inconclusive results – all achieved at exorbitant cost. It is a wonder that Canadians do not rise up in protest the instant that a commission of inquiry is proposed by any level of government.

It has become far too common for legitimate investigations into abuses of public trust to trail on for years and then fail to answer the questions that prompted them in the first place.The Poitras commission is a case in point. This month marks its second anniversary. So far, it has cost more than $ 19 million, $ 8 million of which has gone into lawyers’ fees.

The need for the inquiry is not at issue. The incidents prompting the Quebec government to set up the commission were matters requiring urgent public attention….

The Poitras commission is the first attempt in 50 years to investigate the trouble-plagued SQ, a police force that has a well-deserved reputation for secrecy and operating above the law.

Unfortunately, the most interesting reading to come out of the commission to date is a report on the legal fees incurred. Mr. Poitras has already earned $ 589,950 at the rate of $ 250 an hour. His two co-commissioners are being paid $ 125,000 a year. Possibly the best paid of all, however, will turn out to be lawyer Jacques Bellemare who billed $ 191,780 for a three-page memorandum.

The Poitras commission is scarcely alone in its inability to do its job expeditiously. The Somalia inquiry – final tally $ 24 million – was cut off two years into its hearings, producing a 2,000-page report, buttressed by 165,000 supporting documents, but showing little inclination to tackle the real problems of the Canadian Forces.

Quebec Public Security Minister Pierre Belanger was right when he admitted last month that public commissions can be a drain on the public purse. He was wrong, however, to then argue that because they are independent of government, their spending cannot be controlled.

Commissions of inquiry cannot be given carte blanche to carry on forever, veering off onto whatever tangents they want. No commission should be set up without a strict frame of reference, spelling out a budget and a timetable.

Mr. Belanger proposed in September that the National Assembly’s public administration committee could supervise such inquiries to control spending. Since the committee is bipartisan, it could not be accused of influencing the course of an inquiry.As the bills from yet another out-of-control inquiry pile up, the government would do well to take up Mr. Belanger’s sensible solution.

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December 98′: a new cabinet, PQ leader Lucien Bouchard has work cut out for him. A glimmer of hope in that Public Security Minister Serge Menard hints at oncoming SQ reform:

December 16, 1998, Wednesday,

HEADLINE: Tough tasks await new PQ cabinet

ELIZABETH THOMPSON; THE GAZETTE

In Lucien Bouchard’s own words, the Quebec government has been “hyperactive” over the past four years – introducing fundamental reforms in almost every aspect of life.

But that shows little sign of stopping after the premier unveiled his new cabinet yesterday.

Menard, one of the few public security ministers in recent memory to manage the provincial police force rather than be managed by it, said he believes the Poitras Commission report will provide him with the tool he needs to ensure the force is equipped to fight crime in the modern world.

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January 1999. Poitras has released their report. No quarter: The Gazette makes it quite clear what they have in mind for reform:

January 29, 1999,

Editorial / Op-ed

HEADLINE: Bring the SQ to heel

After 21 months of hearings, 65,000 pages of evidence and $20 million in costs to the taxpayer, the Poitras Commission report on the Surete du Quebec has at last been made public. Certainly the most exhaustive examination of a police force in Quebec history, it is also a sobering judgment on the SQ’s incompetence, arrogance and lack of professionalism.

The three-member commission headed by former judge Lawrence Poitras has produced 175 recommendations, many of them far-reaching.

Most important is that the force be brought under civilian authority through the appointment by the provincial government of a seven-member control board. The board would be empowered to monitor the force’s performance and make recommendations to both the director-general of the SQ and the minister of public security. This is a necessary step in Quebec, where all too often the provincial police are isolated and divorced from the communities they serve. With greater civilian scrutiny, the SQ will have to become more accountable for its behaviour and will be less inclined to act as a law unto itself.

At present, the force is more intent on preserving its image than investigating its own misconduct.

The Poitras report makes it clear that the prevailing culture within the SQ has allowed many of its officers to act irresponsibly, if not illegally. ”It is obvious to the Commission that the Surete du Quebec neither recognizes nor acknowledges its own deviance,” the report says. ”The result is a feeling of immunity and impunity on the part of its members regarding deviant behaviour of all kinds, a feeling reinforced by a law of silence and the rumour mill.”

The inquiry was sparked by an ill-fated drug bust in the Port of Montreal. In May 1994, the SQ, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Montreal Urban Community police struck what appeared to be a major blow against organized crime when they were tipped off to the presence of 26 tons of hashish valued at $360 million in a Norwegian container ship.

But when no one showed up to claim delivery, the evidence to prosecute suspects was slim. Arrests were made and charges were laid against seven people, including suspected drug-runners Richard and Gerald Matticks. But the Matticks case was thrown out after the presiding judge ruled that incriminating evidence had been deliberately planted by the SQ.

Attempts by the SQ to investigate the bungled case proved disastrous.

An ad hoc committee of three investigating officers received almost no co-operation from other officers and higher-ups and was pressured to drop its investigation. Four SQ officers were eventually acquitted on charges of obstruction of justice while the three internal investigators left the force.

The Poitras commission has rightly recommended that any future criminal investigation of a member of the SQ be referred to another police force. The SQ cannot act as its own judge and jury when it stands accused of wrongdoing.The lessons from the Matticks affair are clear. No police officer can disregard the law, in any circumstance. Police may be frustrated with the workings of the justice system and the constraints imposed on them by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But as Public Security Minister Serge Menard remarked yesterday, that is the price of living in a free and democratic society.

The report has made many useful suggestions to improve management of the force and upgrade recruitment, education, training and research. There is considerable evidence that the SQ has fallen behind other police organizations on the continent.

The insular culture at the SQ will no doubt be hard to change. The process must begin by the force acknowledging its own failures and its responsibility to the rule of law.

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And just when everything is in play for reform, The Public Security Minister gets cold feet (incidently, Macpherson was right: the media did chase “a whole new ball of yarn”: the biker-wars story that siezed the public imagination made everyone forget Poitras):

January 30, 1999,

Editorial / Op-ed

HEADLINE:

Menard cops out: Minister seems more concerned with protecting SQ than its victims

DON MACPHERSON

It was shortly after Public Security Minister Serge Menard formally received the Poitras report saying, in effect, that members of the Surete du Quebec sometimes try to frame people to pad their conviction statistics. The minister responsible for the police seemed less concerned with any innocent person who may have been framed by the SQ than with comforting any hurt feelings among the members of an entire force branded in the report with a word usually applied to sex offenders: ”deviant.”

”I remain convinced that the men and women in the SQ are ready to accept these reforms” proposed in the report, Menard said soothingly. This was in spite of the overwhelming evidence in the 1,700-page report on the table in front of him that if there’s anything our men and women in olive green aren’t ready to accept, it’s reform. That’s because, as the Poitras report makes pretty clear, the problem of the Surete involves more than a few bad apples. The problem is a whole rotten barrel, the mentality of an entire police force that places itself and its members above the law it’s supposed to enforce.

In this barrel, it’s the good apples who are the exceptions, like the ones who heroically tried to conduct an internal inquiry into a frameup in the face of general resistance and pressure.

Of course, along with Menard’s stroking, he promised quick action on the report’s 175 recommendations. And, sure enough, oh look, why he’s already created a committee!

But by Monday, we will be into a fresh weekly news cycle, we in the media will be off chasing a new ball of yarn, and the Poitras report will already be old news. The buck will have been passed to the members of the departmental committee assigned by Menard to pore over the report, out of public sight, and out of the public mind (unless, that is, we start hearing about court challenges to past convictions obtained on evidence or testimony from the SQ that may have been falsified or fabricated).

It would be nice if this time were different, if this time a Quebec government would actually clean up the mess the Surete has become. It would also be nice to believe that the Easter bunny personally decorates all those eggs.

But the Poitras commission is hardly the first to draw it to a Quebec government’s attention that the SQ needs better training, better discipline, better supervision, better leadership. People have been saying that and writing that for well over a decade, to the point that it’s all become rather monotonous. And still, the commissions, the reports and the sets of recommendations keep coming, one after the other, and keep saying the same things.

For if there’s one interested party that got off lightly in the Poitras report, it’s the governments, past and present, Liberal and PQ, that have let the SQ so deteriorate. The plain truth is, the politicians are afraid of the SQ, its members and their all-powerful union. And they’ve let them all know it.

Maybe the politicians are afraid because the police sometimes know embarrassing things about politicians or their friends; the SQ has been suspected in the past of leaking such things.

And the politicians are definitely afraid of the power of a police force whose members have been known, in the not-so-distant past, to defy the government openly and even to surround the National Assembly in a show of force not often seen in parts of this hemisphere too far north to grow bananas.

So, over the years, we’ve had to endure the painful public spectacle of ministers and even premiers humiliating themselves by groveling before the SQ, reluctant to criticize even the most flagrant abuses committed by its members, pitifully anxious to minimize and rationalize them away.

If anything, the present government has even more reason to want to stay on the good side of what Menard referred to as the ”national police,” to assert the government’s authority, just in case its tax collectors ever run into trouble collecting their booty after a unilateral declaration of independence whose legitimacy is questioned.

It would be nice to believe Menard that all this is about to change, and that we can look forward with some hope to having a police force of which we can be proud instead of afraid.

But his overweening solicitousness toward potential perpetrators of frameups rather than their victims is perhaps a telling sign. And not an encouraging one.

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February 1999. And so begins the long term hand-off of responsibility, with no one wishing to cease control and take the SQ to the woodshed:

February 12, 1999

HEADLINE: Poitras report handed off: Top civil servants told to study recommendations on Surete

PAUL CHERRY

The provincial government has appointed a five-person committee to figure out what to do with the Poitras commission’s recommendations to reform the Surete du Quebec.The committee – mostly of high-level civil servants – will analyze the report, which was made public two weeks ago, and make decisions on its 175 recommendations. The three-member public inquiry headed by Lawrence Poitras, former chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, spent more than two years looking into the police force’s investigative practices while probing a botched drug investigation.

The inquiry found the force routinely breaks the law during criminal investigations and lacks professionalism. It cost the province $20 million. Public Security Minister Serge Menard and Justice Minister Linda Goupil announced the committee members yesterday. They include the SQ’s current chief, Florent Gagne; Louise Gagnon-Gaudreault, head of the Quebec Police Institute; deputy public-security minister Jacques Brind’Amour; deputy public-security minister Denis Racicot and Michel Bouchard, deputy justice minister.

Menard also announced that some of Poitras’s short-term recommendations will be implemented in coming weeks without the new committee’s input.

The committee is expected to determine what sort of action each recommendation will require – administrative action or legislative amendments. The cost of each recommendation in the 1,700 page report will also be determined.

Their findings are to be submitted to the two ministers who will present their findings to the cabinet.

No firm deadline was announced for their conclusions but through a joint press release the ministers said they expect the work to be completed within weeks.

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So what about that work being completed within weeks? It doesn’t happen. The first sign of trouble is when the SQ pleads “mia colpa” and resolves to police itself:

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)

February 16, 1999,

HEADLINE: Surete accepts blame: Chief says he’ll fix force, institute Poitras reforms

MONIQUE BEAUDIN

The Surete du Quebec has accepted the scathing criticism delivered by a public inquiry last month and will undertake the sweeping reforms it recommended, SQ chief Florent Gagne said yesterday.

It was the first time the provincial police force has reacted to the Poitras commission report, which was made public just more than two weeks ago.

The 1,700-page document painted a picture of an inept police force whose officers routinely broke the law, lacked ethics and professionalism and ascribed to a powerful law of silence that discouraged whistle-blowing within the organization.’

‘We are taking this very seriously,” Gagne said. The Surete, he said, hopes to prove to its critics that it is not ”a closed organization that looks inward on itself and won’t change.” Employees within the 4,100-member police force are open to change and willing to undertake the reforms suggested by the Poitras report, which targeted the behaviour of criminal and internal investigators in particular, Gagne said.

”People really want to turn the page, rebuild the organization and recapture the public’s confidence, which was lost during this unfortunate experience,” Gagne said. ”There’s a feeling that it was unfortunate that it took this (for it) to happen, but let’s use it to change.”

He denied that the Poitras report has caused morale within the police force to plummet. While it was a shock to many people in the Surete, most have accepted it, he said.”There hasn’t really been anyone who said it wasn’t right, there were mistakes, or they didn’t understand what happened,” Gagne said.

The Poitras commission, headed by former chief justice Lawrence Poitras, was set up in 1996 to look into allegations of coverups and threats within the Surete after a botched drug investigation. The three-member inquiry heard dozens of witnesses over a two- year period and cost Quebecers $20 million.

Its report called for sweeping reforms ranging from creating a civilian body to oversee the Surete to drafting a mission statement for the police force to improving training for crime investigators.

It chronicled problems such as police officers threatening witnesses, a lack of women and minorities within the Surete, and jealousies and divisions between the patrol-car officers and crime investigators.A

t a press conference at Surete headquarters in Montreal yesterday, Gagne accepted blame on behalf of the police force. Then he tackled some of the Poitras report’s main recommendations.

Gagne said he agrees with its first recommendation, which was that a civilian body be established to oversee the police department.

And, he said, the Surete should no longer investigate its own officers who have been accused of crimes. That should be left to other bodies, such as the RCMP or Montreal Urban Community police, he said.

The Surete also recognizes that it has fallen behind in terms of the technology it uses and its management practices and knows that it needs to improve its working relations with other police forces, Gagne said.”We are well aware of the fact that there was friction in the past, and there still is, but we’ll take the steps in order to improve our working relationship,” he said.

And the question of lateral entry – where the Surete hires experienced people from other police departments or fields – must be made more of a priority, said Gagne, who himself was a lateral entry. He became chief in November after working as a deputy minister in the public- security department.”It is clear that a large organization like the Surete du Quebec must enrich itself with experienced people from other fields, ” he said, adding that the union representing Surete officers has indicated it is open to the idea of lateral entries.

Gagne said he has set up six committees to look at major areas of reform to the Surete, which include criminal investigations, human resources and modernizing its technology. The six groups have until mid-May to come up with ways to implement the Poitras report’s recommendations.

The Surete’s management has set a three-year deadline to implement the Poitras report’s recommendations. Gagne said they identified more than 250 recommendations with which the force can proceed.The other 80 or so other recommendations are issues that have to be decided by the provincial government.

The Surete had already begun to make changes in anticipation of the Poitras report, Gagne said. For example, the force has begun videotaping interrogations of suspects, allowing selected officers to complete university studies in management or administration and, by the end of the year, will have a system in place for performance evaluations – all things that were touched upon by the Poitras commission.Last week, Public Security Minister Serge Menard announced that a five-member committee, which includes Gagne, had been set up to make decisions based on the report’s recommendations.

The committee will also figure out how much each recommendation would cost to implement. The group is to have its job finished within a few weeks.”This report is not going to sit on a shelf,” Menard said yesterday. ”Just because we’re not talking about it doesn’t mean we’re not acting.”

Also yesterday, Menard approved the appointment of two new people to the Surete’s upper management, part of a shakeup in the force that began almost a year ago. Chief Inspectors Paul Quirion and Claude McManus join as interim assistant chiefs, following a selection process that was run by an outside firm.

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The situation is getting worse and The Gazette knows it. In February, 1999 – two years after the initiation of Poitras – they make a desperate plea to the Minister of Public Security, Serge Menard:

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
February 22, 1999,

Editorial / Op-ed

HEADLINE: Delay no more with SQ

From the way Public Security Minister Serge Menard has reacted to the 1,700-page report of the Poitras commission, who would ever guess that the commission had uncovered within the Surete du Quebec a pervasive culture of incompetence, unprofessionalism and thuggishness?

The three-member commission, headed by Lawrence Poitras, former chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, was set up in 1996 after a major drug-smuggling case in which SQ investigators had planted evidence was thrown out of court.

The commission spent two years and $20 million to find out that Quebec’s provincial police force is a backward, inept, disorganized body, many of whose 3,900 members feel they are above the law, answerable to no one and tied to one another in a bond of brotherhood and silence. Those findings should have set Mr. Menard’s hair on end. He should have given some sign of understanding the seriousness of the criticism leveled against the province’s regional police force.

A crucial function that he performs as public security minister is to defend the rights and civil liberties of Quebecers. Yet he has said nothing about the possibility – contained in the report – that innocent people may have been railroaded into convictions.

Fortunately, his cabinet colleague Justice Minister Linda Goupil shows greater understanding of the need to react to the damning report. Last week, she allowed the appeal by two Quebec men of their conviction in the 1990 murder of a 14-year-old girl even though the deadline for appeal is over.

The two men, currently in prison, have always maintained their innocence. In its study of the case, the Poitras commission found no evidence likely to exonerate the men, but there are nonetheless doubts about whether the confession of one wasn’t beaten out of him by an SQ officer anxious for a conviction.

These are Mr. Menard’s options: he can move quickly and with some feeling for justice to reform the SQ or he can let miscarriages of justice spill out one at a time, steadily eroding the Quebec public’s already painfully slight confidence in their justice system.

So far, Mr. Menard seems to have chosen to drag his heels. Where is the need, after two years of exhaustive study by the Poitras commission, for Mr. Menard to set up one intergovernmental and six internal committees to determine how to implement the commission’s 175 recommendations? And then giving the committees a deadline of three years?

Some of the most important recommendations are too obvious to require any further thought: setting up a civilian body to oversee the SQ; excluding captains and inspectors from union membership; using an outside police force to investigate SQ officers suspected of criminal activity.

If Mr. Menard fails to act quickly on such a starkly critical report, it will only fuel Quebecers’ long-held suspicions that its politicians are actually afraid of its provincial police force. It’s an unsettling thought.

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October 1999: The Gazette’s Paul Cherry let’s readers’ know exactly where the stakes lie:

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
October 31, 1999,

HEADLINE: Is the SQ out of control?

PAUL CHERRY

”Armed and considered dangerous.””Assault causing bodily harm.””Tampering with evidence.””Perjury.”As entries on almost any police blotter, phrases like these would be routine. But this fall, these are some of the charges made against and about members of Quebec’s police force.

These past few weeks have brought the Surete du Quebec a string of high- profile tribunal rulings criticizing the past sins of rogue investigators. Those rulings come just as the force’s union has stepped up controversial pressure tactics in a contract dispute. The union chief has demanded the head of Florent Gagne, the SQ’s civilian director.

It all forces Quebecers to cope with alarming questions: Is the Surete out of control? If not, just who is holding the reins?Some would argue that the cases that brought about the recent ruling are old news, sins of the past. After all, the SQ is a very large operation and most of its work is done without controversy. The Surete provides all the policing in Quebec’s countryside and small towns and on highways, and lends technical support to smaller police forces. More than 700 SQ investigators deal with an annual average of 62,000 criminal activities (mostly crimes against property) and the force confiscated more than $530 million worth of illicit drugs last year.With a budget of $312 million and a total staff of 4,800 (including 3,700 in uniform), the SQ is a big operation, and no organization is perfect.

But in the litany of recent investigations and charges, some people see fundamental flaws in the way the SQ functions. In interviews last week, former cabinet ministers Claude Ryan and Sam Elkas joined the chorus of concern.

In its scathing, voluminous report on the SQ, the Poitras Commission – a probe into evidence-planting during a high-profile drug bust – described a police force that feels it can operate with impunity. The report of the commission headed by Lawrence Poitras, former chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, made sweeping criticisms that Quebec politicians have rarely said out loud:”A crisis of values has shaken the Surete du Quebec,” the Poitras report said. ”An unhealthy air of solidarity, expressed through the law of silence and retaliation, seems to hold sway within the organization.”

The report came out nine months ago. Little has happened since.”There is no control at all,” said Yves Manseau, director of the Justice Action Movement – a citizens’ group that acts as a watchdog on police brutality and files complaints to the Quebec Police Ethics Committee.

Public Security Minister Serge Menard ”is taking too long to react to the Poitras Commission, and (Surete director) Florent Gagne is evidently not part of the solution,” Manseau said.”It is almost military-like, archaic and a bit Ramboesque. The culture is still there and that sense of impunity still exists.”

The extensive and expensive Poitras Commission, plus a 1995 probe headed by former Universite de Montreal law dean Jacques Bellemare, shed considerable light on questionable activities and the culture behind them.

Both reports recommended a string of reforms, including modernized investigation techniques and a new seven-member civilian board, answerable to the National Assembly, to oversee the SQ. Both reports were followed by the standard government promises of change.

But few, if any, of those proposals have been followed. There is still no civilian board. And as Menard and Gagne consider reforms, they are also stalled in contract talks with the Quebec Association of Provincial Police Officers, the 3,700-member Surete union.

The union is using aggressive tactics in support of its demand for a 7.5- per-cent raise over the next three years and wage parity with the Montreal Urban Community police. (A five-year veteran Surete officer earns $53,000 annually compared to $57,214 for an MUC police officer.) The province has stood firm on its offer of a 5-per-cent raise over three years.

The union shocked the public last month when 200 officers showed up, in uniform and armed, at a Drummondville meeting of the national council of the Parti Quebecois. Protesting against the slow pace of negotiations, the SQ members jostled local police officers and cabinet ministers who were entering the meeting hall.

It created a disturbing image for the evening newscasts, but no politician chose to pursue the matter.

The Surete is conducting an internal investigation, as are the Drummondville police, but so far there have been no charges or complaints. Union president Tony Cannavino has been criticized by the Drummondville police for ignoring their requests to cool off the demonstration.

Then, on Oct. 15, Gagne had to ask the RCMP to help in evening and weekend criminal investigations, as the union threatened to work to rule.Menard has said little about the pressure tactics. But two former public-security ministers, now out of politics, were critical of both the union’s pressure tactics and the government’s response.”They have chosen a civilian to head the force and they have chosen a man who doesn’t have much experience in police. I’m not sure he would have been my choice for the job,” said Claude Ryan, longtime Liberal MNA and cabinet minister who took over the public-security portfolio after the 1990 Oka Crisis.

”I know (Gagne) and I like him, but I don’t think he has the stamina for the job. I don’t think he has what it takes. I don’t go around offering my opinion on these type of things, but if it is asked …”Gagne himself acknowledged, when he accepted the job, that a lifetime cop would have been better-suited to head the Surete. Gagne, a career civil servant – he was deputy minister of public security – said last year that he expects to hold the job for only 2 1/2 years, enough time to make some reforms.

Cannavino, a police officer for 26 years before being elected union president in 1996, also understands politics. He was once president of a federal Liberal riding association, and he ran as an independent candidate in a federal election. He knows the impact of the questionable pressure tactics in which his union is engaging.

Last week, as he traveled by car from one remote region of the province to another, Cannavino launched into one of his harshest critiques yet of Gagne’s tenure. He described his superior as an isolated bureaucrat trying to usher in reforms from the top down with barely any consultation.”It has nothing to do with him being a civilian,” Cannavino said, adding that the police force generally respected the job civil servant Guy Coulombe did as Gagne’s predecessor.

In 1996 Coulombe became the first civilian to hold the job. He is now the city of Montreal’s general manager. He has a reputation for cleaning up huge messes.”When Mr. Coulombe came in, we said we’d give him a chance even if he wasn’t a police officer. He had experience with large organizations and worked in good faith, and it was a good relationship for 1 1/2 years. With Florent Gagne, we said the same things. We welcomed him at first and said we were there to work for him,” Cannavino said.”But now he is constantly involved in conflicts with us. It’s very hard to communicate with him. He is isolated completely.”For one year nothing has happened. Since he has been here nothing has changed within the Surete du Quebec. Things are turning in circles. No decisions are being made. No projects are being presented to us. With his predecessor, Mr. Coulombe, (the union) worked together and put forward many projects that were interesting and advanced things.”

Asked if there is a danger the police force might be getting out of control, Cannavino fell silent for a moment and then replied: ”I’ve been asking union members this week if they’re disappointed. It is beyond that. They want him to resign.”An SQ spokesman said Gagne will not grant any media interviews while the contract negotiations continue.

In an internal newsletter published by the SQ in June, Gagne said he submitted a ”working document” to Menard in May as his reaction to the Poitras Commission. The plan calls for 35 reform projects that touch on nearly every aspect of the police force but particularly on criminal investigations, internal affairs, human resources and technology.

And shortly after the Poitras Commission reported in January, Gagne said the Surete had already begun to make changes, including videotaping interrogations of suspects and allowing selected officers to complete university studies in management or administration. He also said that by the end of this year, the force will have a system in place for performance evaluations.

Liberal public-security critic Jacques Dupuis, MNA for St. Laurent, said it is too soon to judge Gagne.”I think the guy still deserves a chance to prove himself,” Dupuis said. ”Mr. Coulombe is a very up-front and forthright person, and Mr. Gagne seems to me to be a more low-key person … he seems to be a very competent public servant. He needs more time to prove himself. In fact, it didn’t take him very long to come up with a response to the Poitras report.”Dupuis, an assistant crown prosecutor before he was elected in 1998, said it is impossible to judge Gagne’s proposals, because Menard has so far announced little.”When the report came out, obviously the SQ and its credibility suffered. … It is an absolute responsibility of the minister to assure the population of Quebec that they can still have confidence in the Surete. I’m surprised by the lack of reaction,” Dupuis said.”One of the highlights of the report is that it pointed out that the police officers lack in legal advice (about) the Charter of Rights and its nuances. This is something that can be implemented very easily. That is something they should have done right away.”

Ryan said he generally respects the job the SQ did while he was minister. But he said the emergence of new leadership from within the force was aborted.”There were some people within the force who were ready to take on a new management style. There were three or four officers who were ready to take over and they were quietly asked to leave,” Ryan said, declining to say who those officers are. ”That was a mistake.”Some insiders say one officer at the top of that list was Jean-Pierre Gariepy, now chief of the Laval police.Ryan said he is critical of recent SQ union tactics. And Ryan’s predecessor and fellow former Liberal cabinet minister Sam Elkas – he held the portfolio during the Oka Crisis – said the heads of the Surete should have been more forceful in dealing with the protesting officers in Drummondville.

”I was disappointed that measures weren’t a bit more harsh, ” said Elkas, who saw the Surete stage a work-to-rule campaign during his tenure.”The director has really got to be in control of things, and (the armed protest), to me, is totally unacceptable. I also don’t think the mass of the police force would agree with what they did.”

Elkas echoed the Poitras report’s view that the SQ suffers from a culture of impunity, which some say dates back to the days when Maurice Duplessis was premier and kept ”his” police force close at hand.”I had some inkling, but I never realized that the culture was what it is today,” said Elkas, whose first involvement with the Surete came when he was mayor of Kirkland in the 1980s and a member of MUC committees.While he was minister, Elkas said, he saw a lot of what he called ”bypassing.” Elkas recalled seeing then-SQ director Jacques Beaudoin walk by him in ”the bunker” – the office building next to the National Assembly where cabinet decisions are made – and knew the top cop had gone over his head ”more than once” to then-premier Robert Bourassa on sensitive issues.

”Bypassing would be part of the culture. They would go directly to the premier, and if not him then they’d go to his senior adviser, and if the senior adviser wasn’t available then the chief of staff would take care of them. Things like that would happen, and as long as you had career policemen there that culture would be maintained.”

As for the botched investigations and the Charter of Rights violations, Elkas shares Ryan’s opinion that the bulk of the Surete’s investigators do their job professionally. ”There are thousands of them. If one or two guys do a bad thing you can’t paint them all with the same brush.”

Manseau concurs – up to a point: ”There are professional people within the SQ, but it is a culture that is dominated by people who don’t hold themselves to a high professional ethic,” he said.”It seems that is what dominates. There might be some young officers who would like to see things being done differently, but they do not have a voice yet within the force. It seems like there are too many people in power who want to keep the status quo and keep their power.

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The date nears when the Poitras recomendations are to be converted to active legislation. Hope for reform is not good. The PQ government conventiently drops one of the commission’s chief recommendations: that the SQ be overseen by a civilian board. The mind boggles as to why this was one of Menard’s “toughest challenges as a politician”:

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
November 09, 1999

HEADLINE: Bill soon on SQ reform: New legislation still being ‘fine tuned,’ Menard says

PAUL CHERRY

The provincial government will introduce legislation aimed at reforming the Surete du Quebec before the end of the year, Public Security Minister Serge Menard says.

Calling it one of the toughest challenges he has faced as a politician, he told The Gazette yesterday the government’s long-awaited response to the Poitras Commission – as well as other inquiries into the SQ and other police forces – will be introduced to the National Assembly before the current legislative session ends.

While Menard would not be specific, it appears the legislation will not include an immediate creation of a civilian board to oversee the force and report to the National Assembly. That recommendation topped the Poitras Commission’s list and was cited as being crucial to implementing other reforms.

However, Menard hinted that the idea is not lost. ”It will be included in a special part of the law we are presenting but not necessarily in that form,” he said.

He said the new legislation is being ”fine tuned” before he introduces it to cabinet and that it will also incorporate findings from past commissions on police forces. For that reason, the minister said, he couldn’t elaborate on details but he did say most of the Poitras Commission’s legislative recommendations will not be used.

”The report was very good at identifying the problems but there were almost no legislative suggestions and among the ones that were suggested, we had problems with them,” Menard said.

”So we had to find where in the world there have been solutions to this type of problem. Finally, we had to come to very original solutions ourselves.”

The voluminous Poitras report – which was very critical of how the police force operates in general – was studied by a government-appointed five-member committee, which included SQ chiefFlorent Gagne. That study was only recently completed.

Responding to suggestions the government has moved too slowly in reacting to the Poitras report and its 175 recommendations, Menard said the five-member committee was denied being given another three months to prepare its input for the legislation.

If made into law the reform initiatives would represent the end of a long, grueling road that placed the SQ under a very public microscope after allegations of evidence-planting surfaced during a 1995 drug-smuggling trial.

The man who headed the extensive inquiry, Lawrence Poitras, a former chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, said he looked forward to seeing what legislation would be introduced.

”It’s good that (Menard) is going to move on it. Speaking on behalf of the fellow members of the commission – Louise Viau and Andre Perrault – it’s good to see our work isn’t being wasted.”

The deadline for submitting bills that can be voted on before this legislative session ends is Thursday but Menard said he intends to have it introduced before the Christmas break, meaning it could be adopted only after the National Assembly returns in February.

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But Poitras’ work does go to waste. In a December 1999 Gazette article – then opposition justice critic, now the current minister of public security under the Liberal government – Jacques Dupuis worries that the PQ government will ignore 2 years and $30 million worht of effort. One wonders, if Dupuis was so concerned for the public interest why he hasn’t saught to recify past wrongs, and fully impelmented Poitras:

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)

December 8, 1999, Wednesday

HEADLINE: Status quo in force?: Opposition critic worries about loss of public confidence in SQ with PQ seemingly set to disregard Poitras recommendation

SEAN GORDON

Restoration of sagging public confidence in the Surete du Quebec can begin only once investigations of criminal conduct inside the police force are performed by outside authorities, says Liberal critic Jacques Dupuis.

Dupuis, MNA for St. Laurent and a former biker-gang prosecutor, said yesterday that Public Security Minister Serge Menard must set up a system of independent investigations for complaints of SQ wrongdoing as prescribed by the Poitras commission of inquiry into the force.

”We’re in danger of a crisis of confidence among the public. … Let’s not play with the trust the public should have in the police.

”If the government doesn’t go along with (the Poitras) recommendation, people could again think that it’s friends investigating friends.

”That could mean calling in detectives from other police services – like the Montreal Urban Community’s – when allegations are leveled against SQ officers.

Released last spring, the Poitras commission report concluded that the current system, in which the SQ polices itself, is dangerous because of traditions within the force that amount to a conspiracy of silence.

The commission was authorized to recommend a series of reforms in the aftermath of the Matticks affair, in which officers were found to have planted evidence in a drug investigation.According to a report in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, Menard is planning to introduce legislation that prohibits harassment of whistle-blowers within the SQ.

But according to the report, the proposed legislation doesn’t address the issue of internal investigations cited in the Poitras report.

Menard had promised to overhaul the SQ by creating an independent panel to oversee the force, streamlining the bureaucracy, improving the SQ’s technical know-how and instituting tougher rules governing conduct.

The leaked bill, which is not yet final, has yet to be presented to the provincial cabinet.

It hasn’t been approved by the Treasury Board either, ministerial staff said.

The details of the proposed law have, however, been presented to the SQ’s high command. Besides tabling a bill, the government plans to spend up to $80 million to revamp the provincial police force, cabinet sources say.

Menard did not deny that his bill will fall short of providing for outside investigations of SQ conduct.

”There will be public consultations,” Menard said in the National Assembly.

”I’m not claiming it will be a perfect bill. I think that’s impossible. It will necessarily be a balance of interests.

”And when you seek a balance,” he added, ”sometimes you can go a little to the right, a little to the left at any given moment.”

Ministry officials said they expect that the final version of the bill will be tabled before Dec. 17, when the National Assembly begins its winter holiday

.The Ontario government has set up an agency called the Special Investigations Unit, which probes shootings involving the police and allegations of crime by police officers.

Dupuis said the Quebec government needn’t go that far, but that it does have to counter the impression that it allows police officers to be less than thorough in investigating actions by other officers.

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And now we see the final culmination of 2 years of effort and $30 million of public funds: a sham that falls short of protecting the public interest. And it’s interesting that the Gazette termed the phrase “keystone cops” as an SQ moniker: long before I uttered it, long before a reporter from the Sherbrooke Record suggested it to me, so many years ago:

February 5, 2000, Saturday

HEADLINE: QUEBEC’S POLICE REFORM BILL CALLED A COP-OUT

Robert McKenzie

Threats may be behind weaknesses,criminologist says

Proposed control board is denounced as a sham

When the Poitras inquiry commission published its 2,700-page report on the Surete du Quebec a year ago, Public Security Minister Serge Menard hailed it as ”the most exhaustive study of a police force in the history of Quebec.

”In 1,677 pages of analysis and another 1,000 pages of annexed documents, the commission, headed by Lawrence Poitras, a retired chief justice of the Quebec Superior Court, laid bare what it called ”a crisis of values” in Quebec’s provincial police force.

But critics say the police bill, finally tabled in the Quebec National Assembly by Menard on Dec. 16, falls far short of those goals. And one criminologist suspects blackmail may be behind those shortcomings.

The Poitras inquiry – triggered by the murky ”Matticks affair” in which four senior Surete investigators were accused and finally acquitted of having botched a $200-million drug seizure investigation by planting evidence – found that the 4,000-member force was in the grips of a Mafia-like ”law of silence

”Poitras and his two co-commissioners, Louise Viau and Andre Perreault, also denounced what they described as a police culture of secrecy, intimidation and an ”unhealthy solidarity,” reinforced by a union contract so loaded with special deals that its exact contents are cloaked from the public.

Across Quebec, there is a growing unease that police, in the Surete and other forces, have become a law unto themselves.

Consider, for example: the deaths of two black men in Montreal from police bullets in 1987 and 1991; two deaths, one in 1993 and another recently, of men allegedly beaten by Montreal police; the bungled Surete operation during the 1990 standoff with Mohawks at Oka; the allegations by former Surete investigator Gaetan Rivest that fabrication of evidence and lying under oath are frequent practices in the force; the Keystone-Cops Surete raid on the entire municipal force of the Montreal suburb of Chambly in 1994.

In the Matticks affair, seven members of the so-called Matticks gang, alleged to have imported 26 tonnes of hashish seized in three containers in the port of Montreal, were acquitted when the judge discovered during the trial that the Surete had ”improved” the evidence by planting four ”faxes” linking them to the shipment.After that, things went from bad to worse within the police.

Three Surete inspectors, Hilaire Isabelle, Bernard Arsenault and Louis Boudrault, appointed by the force’s then-director, Serge Barbeau, to look into the affair, had criminal charges brought against four of their colleagues in the evidence-planting affair.

All four were finally acquitted of perjury, fabrication of evidence and obstruction of justice but not before another scandal erupted. It was alleged that the police union stonewalled the inquiry; that Isabelle was threatened by colleagues at a private police party; and that the whistle- blower who testified against his colleagues, Mario Simard, was threatened by other policemen.

The Parti Quebecois government first appointed Quebec Court Judge Jean-Pierre Bonin to hold a closed-doors inquiry. Bonin quit after a burglary at his courthouse office and protests against the closed-doors rule. Barbeau quit as Surete director and the government announced the full public inquiry to be presided by Poitras.

Menard, a former top criminal lawyer, swore the Poitras commission’s recommendations would not be shelved.

The recommendations included the creation of a permanent ”control board” to oversee the Surete; higher recruitment standards including a minimum requirement of a university degree by the year 2007 to become a Surete detective; a legal obligation that a police officer blow the whistle on a colleague committing a crime; and stricter control of use of wiretapping and search warrants.

The 348-article bill, which the PQ government hopes to adopt by June after public committee hearings this spring, would create a temporary, unpaid supervisory board for the Surete, rather than the permanent control authority recommended by the commission. A grand-sounding Ecole nationale du police would replace the present police training school, but would still have ”exclusive responsibility” over who becomes a police detective – meaning university graduates would first have to pass through the school to have a career in the Surete.

The bill does, however, have a provision making whistle-blowing on unprofessional colleagues an obligation: ”Every police officer is required to inform the chief of police of the conduct of another police officer likely to constitute a breach of discipline or professional ethics.”

Some of the wording of the bill gives a dramatic insight into the Surete’s present problems: ”No police officer may harass or intimidate another police officer or threaten to exercise retaliatory measures against another police officer, or attempt or conspire to do so.”

Two leading criminologists told The Star in separate interviews this week they’re bitterly disappointed with the legislation.

Jean-Paul Brodeur of the Universite de Montreal’s criminology department, says: ”The Himalaya has given birth to a very small insect.’

Brodeur notes that Florent Gagne, the senior civil servant now directing the Surete, supposedly threatened to quit if the kind of control board recommended by Poitras was created. But no policeman will take seriously an unpaid board that meets a few times a year, he says.

Nor will people be able to ignore the ”colossal disproportion” between the cost of the inquiry – more than $20 million – and the PQ government’s plea that it doesn’t have enough money to apply its recommendations, Brodeur adds.

Andre Normandeau, Universite de Montreal criminologist and author of a 1990 federal green paper on policing in Canada, says he’s ”extremely disappointed” in Menard, whose reputation and background promised much more daring reforms.

“The supervisory board is a sham, ”purely cosmetic as it stands now,” and the powers granted the new police academy would effectively stifle attempts to open up the Surete to educated recruits with different backgrounds, he says.

The whistle-blowing clause may look good, but it’s ”totally inapplicable, pure wishful thinking” for anyone who knows how a police department functions, he adds.

”This bill puts us back 20 years.”

Normandeau says his knowledge of the police world, especially police unions, leads him to suspect that the PQ government has been subjected to some form of blackmail, subtle or otherwise.

In the 586 personal interviews he did across Canada for the federal green paper, local politicians confided in him that they feared the police.”Mayors and elected officials would tell me, ‘Who doesn’t have a skeleton in their closet?’ There would be blackmail concerning their private lives, a girlfriend, a mistress. The police have so much information today and so do police unions.”

Members of the PQ cabinet and caucus got a public taste of police union intimidation last November when 200 officers turned up, uniformed and armed, at a party meeting in Drummondville and pushed past local police to jostle them and shout insults.

Union president Tony Cannavino, who was among the demonstrators, is cited in the Poitras report as being suspected of having leaned on Simard, the whistle- blower, not to testify against his colleagues in the Matticks affair.

Simard says he moved from Montreal to Quebec city following threats, including having Cannavino ask him: ”How does it feel to be a goddamn rat? Your time will come, my friend.”

Cannavino denies having made the remarks.Menard, meanwhile, is optimistic that contract talks with the Surete union – currently stalled – will pan out. As evidence that things are changing in the police, he cites a recent court case in Granby, Que., in which two Surete officers were found guilty – on the testimony of a colleague – of falsifying an alcohol breathalyzer report to protect the daughter of another colleague.

”Bringing these people before the court is a sign that the Surete du Quebec was able to break the law of silence,” Menard says.

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And if all that isn’t bad enough, here’s the final insult to injury (oh well, you can’t say The Gazette didn’t make a valiant effort):

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
August 26, 2000, Saturday

Editorial / Op-ed

HEADLINE: Golfing with the SQ

When Public Security Minister Serge Menard declared on Thursday a new get-tough policy toward the Surete du Quebec officers’ union, the response of the union’s leader was one of surprise. Golly, said Tony Cannavino in so many words, the minister had made no mention of such a hard line just a few days before, when they had golfed together.

Golf. That friendly day on the links says a lot about what ails relations between the Public Security Ministry and the union. And not just relations under Mr. Menard, but relations going back decades. The relationship is based on inequality: a lone minister, surrounded by a handful of aides, vs. a union representing 3,600 money-hungry gunslingers who are openly ignoring public safety on the highways in their continuing contract dispute with the government

.For 11 long months, they have put their outrageous pay demands ahead of the traveling public’s safety. The highway system has come to look like the Calgary Stampede with vehicles speeding and weaving as never before.

It’s no surprise that in the first half of this year road deaths are up 3 per cent and injuries 5 per cent over the same period last year, or that road fatalities in July were 22 per cent higher than in the same month last year.

One hopes, therefore, that Mr. Menard’s no-nonsense statement on Thursday, followed by Premier Bouchard’s show of support for him yesterday, signals a true recognition that trying to be buddies with the SQ union is a fool’s game.

Mr. Menard said that unless the cops are back enforcing the Highway Code by Labour Day, the government may hit the union or its leaders with financial penalties. He did not rule out trusteeship. Good.In the negotiations for a new contract, the sticking point is the government’s insistence that the police accept the same 9-per- cent wage hike over four years that 450,000 other provincial workers have already agreed to; the officers want an extra 6.9 per cent to catch up with their Montreal Urban Community counterparts.

It would be a feat for Mr. Cannavino to explain why his cops deserve a bigger raise than nurses or schoolteachers. They certainly don’t work harder. And no other organization in the province has been accused of the sort of arrogance and rot that the Poitras Commission found in the SQ. Looked at objectively, the government’s 9- per-cent offer is unduly generous.

In recent months, the government flinched when it came to enforcing the law against those intimidating SQ demonstrators who, wearing uniforms and guns (but not nametags), shoved cabinet ministers attending a political meeting in Drummondville. After public indignation over that incident blew over, prosecutors declined to press charges.

If union members keep dragging their feet after Labour Day, the question will be whether the government will make good on its ultimatum or find some face-saving way to revert to its usual meekness.The public wants a government that takes its responsibilities seriously. That means playing hardball with the SQ union, not golf.

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And the Grand Finale:

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
June 2, 2004 Wednesday

HEADLINE:

Police commission calls it quits: Closes inquiry into Matticks affair. Of nine SQ officers under investigation only one remains on the force

Bogged down by legal challenges initiated by nine Surete du Quebec officers who face ethics hearings stemming from the Matticks affair, the head of the police ethics committee has asked that the case against them be closed prematurely.

Paul Monty asked the committee Monday to end the hearings, which have cost $25 million and resulted in 28 motions filed in Quebec Court, Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal. The case had found its way back in front of the committee. A response from the committee is expected shortly.Judging from experience, Monty said the file could remain open for a long period of time and at taxpayers’ expense.

“It’s been 10 years this has been going on. We’re pulling the plug so the costs come to an end,” Monty said in an interview yesterday.

Of the nine officers, only Michel Patry remains with the SQ. The other eight – Dany Fafard, Lucien Landry, Roger Primeau, Claude Charron, Pierre Duclos, Mario Simard, Mario Morrissette and Laurent Laflamme – have retired.In all, they face a total of 61 accusations of violating the Quebec Police Ethics Code.

In May 1994, brothers Gerald and Richard Matticks and five others affiliated with the West End Gang were arrested and charged after a shipment of 26.5 tonnes of hashish, worth an estimated $360 million, was seized at the Port of Montreal.

In June 1995, Quebec Court Judge Micheline Corbeil-Laramee ordered a stay on the charges against the Matticks brothers because the main evidence in the case had been planted.Also in 1995, four SQ officers were charged with fabricating evidence, perjury and obstructing justice in the Matticks affair. A jury acquitted them in June 1996.

Lawrence Poitras, former chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, was appointed in 1996 to look into the SQ’s investigative procedures and the after-effects of the botched drug investigation, which came to be known as the Matticks affair.

The Poitras commission, which cost $30 million, submitted a 1,700-page report in 1999 that called the provincial police a disorganized body that routinely broke the law during criminal investigations, lacked professionalism and engaged in turf wars with other police forces.

The lengthy delays are what caused Monty to come to his decision regarding the officers. But Monty added that he has learned a lesson: the committee will not attempt to charge so many police officers together again.”We will look at each police officer individually,” he said.Monty said there was no reason to keep going. The only active officer risked a suspension of a few months or a few years. The retired officers wouldn’t have felt any real repercussions

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But wait! The Gazette has one last gasp… four years later

The Gazette (Montreal)
August 27, 2004 Friday

EDITORIAL / OP-ED;

HEADLINE: Unhealthy SQ culture must be changed

The people of Quebec live in a democracy, governed by the rule of law. For our tax money, then, we need and deserve a professional, well-trained provincial police force. But the Surete du Quebec too often behaves, still, like what it originally was, Maurice Duplessis’s goon squad. The $30-million Poitras commission report of 1999 had steam rising from each of its 1,700 pages of furious criticisms of the SQ. But nothing seems to have changed; the provincial police force still has a tendency to carry on as though it were a law unto itself.

This week, the Court of Quebec upheld the firing of Sgt. Bernard Bourgouin, a member of the SQ’s SWAT team, in a case that goes all the way back to 1994. It is far from reassuring that it took 10 years after an SQ officer assaulted a citizen that the force finally was able to show him the door. How can we change the SQ’s culture when wrongful behaviour can be sheltered for so long?

Quebec Court Judge Armando Aznar rejected an appeal by the SQ’s police union, which had argued that Bourgouin should not be fired.It took some nerve for the union to defend Bourgouin’s actions. Consider the facts: In 1994, Bourgouin took part in a raid on a house in St. Etienne de Bolton, in connection with a stolen crab shipment. Bourgouin hit one of the two suspects across the face so hard he broke the man’s cheekbone. Then he put the muzzle of his revolver in the handcuffed suspect’s mouth and told him to “shut up.”What brought this on? The man’s sole “error” – a term that could be used only by a police force unclear on the concept of justice – was to ask to see the officers’ warrant. This request was reasonable; it was difficult to recognize from their clothing that they were police.

By 1997 the ethics commission admitted it had run into a roadblock. All six police officers involved refused to answer questions, claiming to remember nothing. Adding insult to injury, the police report of the raid disappeared. No effort was made to look for it or reconstruct it.This was the same “unhealthy solidarity” the Poitras commission had condemned following its investigation into the Matticks affair. In that case, four SQ officers were charged with (and later acquitted of) having fabricated evidence in an attempt to win a conviction in a drug case. The faulty memory of Bourgouin’s fellow officers is alarmingly familiar to the “code of silence,” so valued by mobsters

.It gets worse. Bourgouin was promoted to sergeant in 1998, and in 2002, two top SQ officers said they hoped he would be promoted to lieutenant.

The problems that necessitated the Poitras commission have not gone away. That’s bad news for Quebecers.

It means that the Police Act passed by the Parti Quebecois in 2000 has not proved its worth. Critics of the act pointed out that the new law did not provide for an independent complaints procedure, without which the “blue wall of silence” will never come down.It’s time to go back to the drawing board: We need a new law, which this time should provide a public-security council and an independent investigator.

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And there you have it. 10 years of wasted effort. An era filled with heroes, and great villians, and great fools; and the tragedy continues because nothing has changed. And the public is the greatest fool because the government depends on our ability to forget.

But we won’t forget. If now minister of public security, Jacques Dupuis was such a great critic of the PQ government and advocate of justice reform, then it is on his watch, NOW that the public must ask for the full implementation of the Poitras recommendations. If that was in the public’s best interests then, then it is assuredly now; and if, as critic then, he believed in these reforms, then he must believe in them now.

So lobby your government for reform and don’t let them off the hook: you owe yourself that much.

If anyone would like to share there experiences, memories under Poitras please email me: it is no secret that I would like to make this the subject of my PhD.

JJA

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