Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has joined calls for a full explanation from Montreal police and Quebec prosecutors for the arrest and six-day detention of a man falsely charged with attempting to murder a police officer.
The arrest and release of Mamadi III Fara Camara, who was a victim of mistaken identity, has already caused a split between Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, the city’s police department and the Quebec prosecutors who decided to lay the charges and then stay them.
Mr. Trudeau, who is the MP for the Papineau riding where the attack on the police officer took place Jan. 28, called the case troubling.
“I think there needs to be a full light shone on exactly what happened there,” Mr. Trudeau said. “The responsible authorities are very aware of the pressure there will be to figure out what went wrong.”
Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said she is working with the city of Montreal to find the optimal method of examining the case.
Montreal police Constable Sanjay Vig stopped Mr. Camara while he was driving in Montreal’s Park Extension neighbourhood. Constable Vig suspected Mr. Camara, a 31-year-old PhD student and lecturer in engineering at Polytechnique Montréal, had been talking on his mobile phone while driving.
Police say the constable was walking to his cruiser with his back to Mr. Camara when he was attacked and disarmed by another man, who also fired gunshots. The bullets missed Constable Vig, who was taken to hospital and is expected to recover.
Police immediately focused on Mr. Camara, who, police say, was identified by witnesses. Mr. Camara called 911 about the attack from his car, and returned to the scene after fleeing amid the gunfire. He told officers about the third man, the attacker, but they did not believe him.
Quebec’s prosecutions office issued a statement Friday saying they authorized charges a short time later before the investigation was complete because of the urgency of the situation. But, the statement added, prosecutors believed they had a reasonable likelihood of convicting Mr. Camara based on the evidence they had.
This week investigators reviewed traffic camera footage from the scene, which showed another person carried out the attack, and brought it to prosecutors. Prosecutors went to court Wednesday to stay all charges against Mr. Camara. He was uncuffed and walked out of court free.
Advocates have accused police of racial profiling Mr. Camara, who is black, and for engaging in tunnel vision in their investigation. “The investigation was completed too quickly, jumped to conclusions, and designating someone as the guilty party without all the facts,” said Max Stanley Bazin, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec.
On Thursday, Mayor Plante called for an independent investigation into handling of the case. “This man is innocent and it must be repeated loud and strong, because he was mistaken for someone else,” Ms. Plante said. She also suggested racial profiling may have played a role and called on Police Chief Sylvain Caron to explain what happened.
Later Thursday, Chief Caron said his officers handled the investigation professionally and that racial profiling had nothing to do with the case. He also said he is not ready to apologize to Mr. Camara or say he is innocent. “One has to be cautious before accusing a citizen, one must also be cautious before clearing them,” he said.
In a sudden reversal 24 hours later, on Friday evening, Chief Caron held another media event to say new forensic evidence has “allowed us to exonerate Mr. Camara.” The chief said he will meet Mr. Camara to apologize. “He is beyond reproach.”
After the police chief spoke Friday evening, Audrey Roy-Cloutier, a spokesperson for the provincial prosecutors office, issued a statement saying the case against Mr. Camara is “definitely closed.”
Montreal police union head Yves Francoeur sent a letter to Ms. Plante Friday accusing her of political interference and raising tensions by evoking racial profiling and declaring Mr. Camara innocent.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bazin of the Black Coalition of Quebec said Montreal police seem to have forgotten the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Prosecutors examined the evidence and let this man go and you have a police chief contradicting them,” Mr. Bazin said. “It’s indecent. We have a system where the presumption of innocence is supposed to mean something.”
Mr. Camara has not yet spoken publicly about his ordeal. His lawyers say he is afraid, trying to recover from events.
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