Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Quebec provincial police headquarters on April 17, 2019, in Montreal.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Quebec police officers violated investigation rules in one out of every 10 cases probed by Quebec’s independent oversight body examining civilian deaths and serious injuries during police interventions, according to data and letters obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access-to-information request.

Violations occurred in 30 out of the 312 investigations the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) conducted between 2016 and 2022. Last year, there were violations in seven cases – the most ever recorded.

“Each one of the breaches seems unacceptable to me and should be followed by legal consequences,” said Alexandre Popovic, a spokesperson for the CRAP coalition, an organization against police brutality. But this is not the case: The Globe could find no evidence that any of the breaches resulted in any kind of consequences other than warnings for the officers involved or their employers.

Letters from BEI director Pierre Goulet to police chiefs say that officers violated the rules by notifying the Bureau days late after an incident, consulting with each other and reviewing recordings of events before filing their reports, and failing to include details in them, among other infractions, thus seriously hampering or delaying investigations.

The Globe recently reported that most municipal police officers now refuse to answer the BEI’s questions during investigations. But some officers even refuse to meet with BEI investigators, a violation of their legal obligations.

In a July 25, 2018, incident, officers from the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police, responded to a call about an armed man walking in Lac-Brome, Que.

Six officers were dispatched and discovered 17-year-old Riley Fairholm, a distressed teenager who had made the call on himself. Officers repeatedly asked Riley to drop his weapon – later found to be an air gun – before one officer shot him in the head. According to a public inquiry by the coroner’s office, police did not make any resuscitation efforts while waiting for an ambulance. The entire incident lasted less than two minutes.

One officer – who was not publicly identified – refused to meet with investigators to answer questions, the BEI said. No charges were filed against any of the officers, but Riley’s parents sued the provincial police and officer Joël Desruisseaux, named in the lawsuit as the one who opened fire, and another officer who was on the scene.

“What the officers say was an attempted discussion consisted only of repeating the same orders over a loudspeaker, without being able to hear or see Riley,” as the officer talking was inside his car, court filings say. “Thus, the police never tried to establish a dialogue,” and “did not apply any de-escalation measures” before Constable Desruisseaux “used excessive and disproportionate force on a 17-year-old boy in distress,” the lawsuit alleges.

Officers refused to meet with BEI investigators in a total of three cases, according to the data obtained by The Globe.

The most common violation of investigation rules is failing to immediately inform the BEI after an event that should trigger an investigation. That has happened at least 14 times since 2016.

In a recent incident, two police officers approached a man lying on the sidewalk in Longueuil, on the south shore of Montreal, on Sept. 3, 2022.

“Officers ask him to get up, because he cannot lie on the ground, the subject replies that he wants to lie down,” Mr. Goulet wrote in a letter to then-Longueuil police chief Louise Gendron in January. This letter, along with others related to rule violations, was also obtained through an access-to-information request.

“An officer helps the subject to stand up. When he is standing, officers notice that he has a bruise and recent bleeding on his forehead on the left side. The subject unexpectedly falls onto his back, hits his head on the ground and loses consciousness,” Mr. Goulet wrote.

After taking the man to hospital, “police are informed by the doctor that the subject’s life could be in danger due to bleeding in the head,” Mr. Goulet wrote.

Even though police were required to inform the BEI after he lost consciousness, they only did so 10 days later, on Sept. 13, when the 51-year-old man died.

Mr. Goulet noted that this violation is subject to a fine of $500 to $10,000, but the letter does not say whether anyone was punished. The director asked Ms. Gendron to “ensure that your representatives fully understand your obligations so that this situation does not reoccur.”

The BEI’s investigation into this event is continuing.

Longueuil police spokesperson Francis Charette declined to answer The Globe’s questions on sanctions, referring them instead to the force’s access-to-information team.

The Montreal police, which violated BEI investigation rules during nine investigations, more than any other force, and the provincial police, which violated rules in eight cases, both also declined to answer questions.

The BEI said no fines were ever imposed over breaches, and that other potential sanctions are under the purview of police chiefs and Quebec’s police ethics commissioner.

Michelle-Audrey Avoine, a spokesperson for the commissioner, said that so far, none of the breaches has been cited or sanctioned before the police ethics committee, but that several were still under investigation or the subject of legal analysis. She said she could not say which ones or give any details because they remain confidential until a citation occurs.

Only one BEI investigation has led to criminal charges against a police officer after a civilian suffered serious injuries. The officer, Danny Poliquin of the provincial police, was acquitted last year. No charges have been laid against any of the officers involved in 192 civilian deaths since the BEI’s creation in 2016.

As of Thursday, there were 51 investigations either continuing or where the BEI report was sent to the Crown prosecutor, who ultimately determines whether charges are warranted.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe