NEWS
10/05/2011 11:55 EDT | Updated 12/05/2011 05:12 EST

Montreal's top cop: police are best-equipped to investigate police

MONTREAL - Montreal's police chief says when officers are involved in a serious injury or death, such cases should continue to be investigated by other police officers.

Marc Parent is defending the status quo in Quebec, which has come under fire amid criticism that police-on-police investigations lack transparency and are easily tampered with.

Parent said in an interview that the problem is one of perception and he said that could be resolved by adding some civilian oversight — as long as detectives continue to lead the investigation.

"There is a problem of perception of transparency among citizens when it comes to independent investigations," Parent said this week in an interview with The Canadian Press, after he marked the end of his first year on the job.

"What I think we should be looking at is how to integrate civilians into the existing teams; they would accompany investigators but not be in charge of working on crime scenes."

The current procedure in Quebec, when police kill someone, is for another force within the province to handle the investigation.

That practice is starting to disappear in other Canadian provinces. Two have announced plans to implement civilian-run oversight units and there are reports that Quebec may follow. Ontario and Alberta already have oversight units and Nova Scotia and B.C. are following suit.

Parent, who commands Quebec's largest municipal police force, isn't willing to back a civilian-run operation. He said he's expressed his concerns to the provincial government.

"I still believe that the best people to do investigations on the ground of crime scenes are major-crimes detectives," Parent said.

"They have the expertise, the experience, and (they) do these things on a regular basis."

Calls for an independent unit have existed for years in Quebec.

More recently, a coroner's inquiry into the 2008 shooting death of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva during an arrest in Montreal has revealed a lack of transparency and accountability.

Testimony suggested regular police procedures were ignored; the final coroner's report has yet to be released.

The debate was rekindled last June, after police bullets killed two people — including an innocent bystander, hospital worker Patrick Limoges, as he headed to work.

Montreal police had been involved in an altercation with Mario Hamel, a homeless man who was also killed.

Ultimately, Parent said the decision of how to proceed will be up to the Quebec government.

Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil said in June, after the shooting, that he was willing to reconsider the investigation process. A report in Montreal La Presse last month said Dutil is leaning toward models used in Alberta and B.C., with civilian oversight.

Provinces are increasingly turning toward the independent body model — most with a former Crown prosecutor at the helm — to look into police-related incidents.

Ontario was the first to introduce a Special Investigations Unit in 1990.

Alberta has a Serious Incident Response Team, a provincially funded, civilian-run team that investigates incidents involving Alberta police officers that have resulted in serious injury or death.

This year, B.C. announced its intention to introduce a new office that would be led by a civilian who has never worked as a police officer. The office would be in charge of investigating municipal forces and the RCMP.

And last month, Nova Scotia introduced a former Crown prosecutor as head of the Serious Incident Response Team to investigate alleged police misconduct; the unit should be up and running by next year.

Quebec's ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain weighed in this year, too, telling the provincial legislature that civilians need to be included to eliminate any appearance of bias.

She suggested a civilian body would bring impartiality to the process.