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Chief Marc Parent: 5 events that shook the Montreal police under his tenure

05/07/2015 05:15 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT
Chief Marc Parent has served at helm of the Montreal police during some of the most trying years in the city's recent history.

Student protests spilling into the streets raised tensions between demonstrators and police and put officers' actions on public display. Racial profiling complaints continued to plague the service. Internal moles threatened the SPVM's integrity and a high-profile incident involving municipal workers trashing City Hall left many questioning why the police didn't do more. 

Parent has largely stood behind his officers through those tribulations, though has admitted when the service came up short.

Take a look back at how he weathered some of significant events of the past five years. 

1. Use of force incidents

Several high-profile cases involving significant or fatal police use of force occurred during the five years Parent headed the SPVM. This week, another incident came to light after several videos surfaced of an officer punching a protester in the face during an arrest at an anti-austerity protest. Other incidents included:

- The 2011 fatal police shooting of a homeless man who had been seen wielding a knife and a bystander at the corner of St-Denis and Ste-Catherine streets. 

- The January 2012 fatal shooting of a man in Montreal's Bonaventure Metro station. The man came at police with a knife. 

- The 2012 videos that surfaced of Stephanie Trudeau, also know as Officer 728, pepper spraying seemingly placated protesters in the face with pepper spray and putting another man in a headlock. 

- The 2013 fatal shooting Alain Malgoire outside the Berri  bus station in downtown Montreal.

Because of ongoing investigations, Parent has rarely commented on specific incidents. However, during his tenure, new crisis intervention units — called RICs — were introduced to try and better bridge the gap between police and people suffering from mental health issues. They were intended to compliment the psycho-social emergency support team already in place. 

2. Student protests

In the summer of 2012, Montreal's streets were the scene of daily protests against the government's proposed tuition increases. The protests, while many were peaceful, also erupted into violence at times. Montreal police were criticized for their heavy handedness in quelling the protests.

At the commission looking into the events surrounding the protests, Parent admitted that there were some situations where his officers may have gone too far, but overall defended the SPVM's handling of the protests.

"I can tell you that I cannot hide by pride of my officers because we're talking about a lot of  things that didn't work as we'd like or that call [some things] into question, but they did an outstanding job," Parent told the Ménard Commission.

3. Moles

Two significant cases involving police moles emerged while Parent was at the helm. In both cases, the veteran officers were accused of selling information, or trying to sell information, to members of organized crime:

- In March 2014, former Montreal police sergeant-detective Benoît Roberge pleaded guilty to one charge of gangsterism and one charge of breach of trust for selling information to the Hells Angels biker gang. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

- In January 2012, media reports identified retired SPVM veteran Ian Davidson as the mole who allegedly tried to sell a list of informants to the mafia for a six-figure sum. Davidson later killed himself.

Parent said his department was "appalled " and " shocked" by the leaks.

"When you say a ton of bricks, for his colleagues that work with him for five years, who was a partner with him, it's quite something," he told a news conference after Roberge's charges were announced charged.

4. City Hall melee

On August 18, a mob of public sector workers, including some firefighters, burst into Montreal City Hall council chambers, shouting and tossing papers in the air in protest of provincial reforms of municipal workers pension plans. While police were on scene, officers did nothing to stop it.

Parent later said his officers should have intervened.

"I can tell you since then, we have had many demonstrations and we [had a] different approach," he said in December. "We have more managers in the field and also we changed our approach with all the demonstrations."

5. Racial profiling

Parent rose to the top post two years after the death of Freddy Villanueva, fatally shot by a Montreal police officer in an incident that has become a galvanizing moment for the anti-police brutality movement.

Parent was the service's first chief to admit there was a racial profiling problem among its ranks, but promised to start to address the issue through better training.

In February, Montreal singer Freddie James came forward with another profiling complaint. He said he was tailed and then pulled over by a police officer for no apparent reason while driving his BMW in the West Island.

Parent said there are mechanisms to help facilitate conciliation in cases of racial profiling, but the service still struggles to recruit non-white officers. Only 10 per cent of the Montreal police service are members of a visible minority.

"For some, it's a trust issue, maybe. For others, maybe it's not a respectable profession for them," he said.

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