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Montreal shooting reignites police oversight debate Add to ...

Serge Limoges is preparing to bury his son on Sunday, unable to contain his rage that his child fell to a police bullet intended for someone else.

Patrick Limoges was walking to work on Tuesday in Montreal when a stray police bullet hit him, sending him collapsing to the ground "like a doll," according to an eyewitness. The death of the 36-year-old hospital maintenance worker has left his family, along with many others in the province, wondering if police will be held accountable.

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Mr. Limoges was struck, apparently in the back of the neck, while walking across the street from a police confrontation with a knife-wielding man in downtown Montreal. That man, Mario Hamel, was also killed.

"The police won't bring my son back," Mr. Limoges said, his voice breaking. "But the police took him away. It was a terrible mess. My son had nothing to do with anything, that is what is so incomprehensible. I want justice. But it's the police doing the investigation, not me."

The deaths of the two men on a Montreal street shocked the city, but now it's the investigation into their deaths that has become a source of growing criticism. Unlike most provinces, Quebec leaves responsibility for such investigations in the hands of police; the probe into Tuesday's deaths by Montreal police was handed over to the provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec.

By Thursday afternoon, the Sûreté admitted they had not yet interviewed the four police officers involved in Tuesday's shooting. Civilian oversight agencies in provinces such as Ontario require police witnesses to be interviewed within 24 hours, a process aimed at obtaining evidence that's as fresh as possible, and to prevent police from corroborating their versions of events.

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay added to growing pressure on the provincial government to amend the rules on police probes. "Unfortunately it takes tragic events to accelerate the sense of urgency," the mayor said Friday. "I hope we won't wait longer to find a solution, because it's a question of credibility."

Some have pointed to Quebec's traditionally powerful police unions as cause for blocking the type of civilian police oversight that has taken root in other provinces. Successive governments in Quebec have resisted calls for change for decades.

However, some see this week's death of an innocent bystander as a tipping point; hundreds of people protested in a street march after Tuesday's incident. Raymonde Saint-Germain, the provincial Ombudsman, says the public response to the shootings has shown that citizens have lost trust in their police.

"It's gotten to the point where the investigation has barely begun, and the public has already shown it has no confidence," Ms. Saint-Germain said in an interview. "The public's trust is eroding constantly, from one incident to the other." She called last year for an independent oversight agency in Quebec that includes civilians, modelled on Ontario and British Columbia.

"Quebec is now falling behind other provinces," she said. "But the status quo is no longer viable. Our threshold for tolerance has passed. Civilian oversight is essential."

 

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