Turmoil in Quebec's police ranks expanded to the provincial force Wednesday with the surprise news that the head of the Sûreté du Québec is being replaced.
The Parti Québécois government quietly passed a decree naming Mario Laprise the new chief of the provincial police force, ending Richard Deschesnes' five-year contract nine months in advance.
The handover comes as a public inquiry is exposing rapid-fire allegations about corrupt and unethical practices in government construction contracting at the provincial and municipal level. In a separate effort, a special anti-corruption squad has made several recent high-profile busts and raids.
When in opposition, the PQ accused the Liberal government of Jean Charest of trying to cover up the allegations and of stifling police investigations.
Pierre Veilleux, head of the provincial police association, said the firing of Mr. Deschesnes came as a shock. He said Mr. Deschesnes has been a solid leader. He suggested the change may simply be part of the turnover of a new government, when the heads of various agencies are often replaced.
"I know the PQ put on a lot of pressure for investigations, but in recent weeks we have started to see the result of those efforts, with the commission, and the searches and arrests conducted recently. In many ways, the PQ is collecting the fruit of Mr. Deschesnes' efforts," Mr. Veilleux said.
Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron could not be reached Wednesday evening.
On Tuesday, the union representing Montreal police officers asked the province to take over supervision of the police force from the city, saying Mayor Gérald Tremblay has lost the moral authority to provide oversight. Calls for Mr. Tremblay's resignation have been echoing for weeks. On Wednesday, the mayor said he would reveal whether he will run in the 2013 civic election soon.
Mr. Laprise is best known in Quebec for heading up the Carcajou squad which put dozens of motorcycle gang members in jail in the 1990s, bringing an end to a bloody biker war. Mr. Laprise left the SQ in 2005 to run security for Hydro-Québec.