Crown prosecutors who did not lay criminal charges against a speeding police officer who killed a young boy say they did not know the cop was tailing a Liberal political operative at the time of the crash.
For nine months since the accident, the family of the dead boy and other Quebeckers have wondered what could have been so urgent to cause a police officer to drive 72 kilometres per hour over the speed limit in a residential area. They only knew he was not responding to an emergency in his unmarked car.
It turns out prosecutors didn't know exactly, either. Instead, an official for the prosecutions office said Friday they learned from a newspaper that the provincial police officer was conducting an undercover operation looking into corruption allegations against the Liberal Party.
"We knew the officer felt he was carrying out important surveillance duties, that he felt he needed to be somewhere fast," said René Verret, the spokesman for the prosecutions office who emerged late Friday to explain the decision to let the officer walk. "For them, it was important to catch up to their target. We did not have the other information."
Mr. Verret added officers are entitled to speed in non-emergency situations, such as surveillance, if conditions permit and the business is important. In this case, the streets were dry and quiet and it was daylight, he said.
The officer involved in the accident last Feburary was part of an investigation by the province's permanent anti-corruption unit, UPAC. Investigators wanted to follow Robert Parent, executive director of the Liberals from 2003 to 2008, because he had become less co-operative in their investigation, according to a Sûreté du Québec document uncovered by La Presse. Officers wanted to know if he was in contact with other witnesses, and they were worried they were losing their tail on a 2012 Mercedes.
The opposition has called for Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée to appoint an independent prosecutor to re-examine the case.
"It's necessary the Justice Minister intervene so an independent light can be shed on it," said Alexandre Cloutier, the Parti Québécois justice critic. "Is this a case of a double standard? A lot of Quebeckers are asking whether a normal person rolling at 122 kilometres in a 50 zone would have been brought to justice. The answer, obviously, is yes."
Ms. Vallée said Quebec Crown prosecutors made their decision not to charge the officer free of political interference, and she will not get involved now. The Crown prosecutors' office is "an independent body and should be above any political consideration," Ms. Vallée said. Premier Philippe Couillard echoed the sentiment, saying it would be improper to bow to public and media pressure.
The prosecutor outlined other new details to explain why the officer was not charged.
The father of the dead boy, Mike Belance, was turning left when he was struck by the oncoming police vehicle. When Mr. Belance entered the intersection, the police officer was just 34 metres away, the Crown spokesman said. The officer slowed down to 108 kilometres an hour at impact.
Mr. Belance told investigators he knew he could have waited for a turn signal instead of turning left on a green light. He also said he knew the oncoming car was speeding. "He said in his statement he should have waited," Mr. Verret said. "It was one factor prosecutors took into account."
The Belance family, which has asked that their son's name stay out of the papers, could not be reached Friday.
Initial reports suggested the Sûreté officer was on his way to relieve a surveillance team, but the Crown says his was one of three cars taking part in the surveillance operation.