[Quebec ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain’s report focused on an investigation by Quebec’s provincial police force, la Sûreté du Québec, of a Montreal police shooting. She found the investigation biased in favour of the police even though the Montreal officers were investigated by a different police force.]

Que. ombudsman calls for
special-investigations unit
for police shootings

Alexandre Robillard, Canadian Press, Feb. 16, 2010

QUEBEC — A devastating report Tuesday from a provincial ombudsman noted serious errors and signs of bias in cases where police officers investigate their own colleagues.

Quebec ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain expressed doubt about the ability of police officers to remain partial in cases where other cops are involved. She said a two-track justice system is being created by a lack of rules governing such investigations.

Her report follows similar controversies elsewhere in the country.

As it stands, when a Quebec officer is involved in a death, serious injury, or injury caused by a firearm, the file is handed to another police force for investigation.

Police have always defended the current system.

Saint-Germain wants to see a new special-investigations unit, run mainly by civilians, in cases where police are investigated.

“Nothing in the current system, with the exception of ethics rules, guarantees that officers responsible for an investigation don’t have professional, family or friendly ties to the officers under investigation,” the report said.

“The public is being asked to trust the designated police force’s investigation, without having the necessary guarantees to ensure the impartiality of the process.”

Saint-Germain began her study after the fatal shooting of Montreal teen Fredy Villanueva, killed during a 2008 scuffle while police were trying to arrest his brother.

She noted that the officers involved in that incident, unlike parties involved in other shootings, were not immediately separated to prevent them from co-operating on their story.

“This different treatment, which doesn’t seem to be justified in terms of conducting a proper investigation, hinders the credibility of investigators,” the report said.

The Villanueva shooting triggered a riot in Montreal North, and is now the subject of a public inquiry that has revealed a number of protocols were broken by one of the officers involved.

Earlier this month, the RCMP announced it will start using outside experts to investigate serious incidents involving Mounties.

The move came after findings by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP that said Mounties should not investigate their own members in the most serious cases — especially when someone has died — in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

But special-investigations units have not necessarily been free of the concerns that Saint-Germain raised in her report.

Her Ontario counterpart blasted the province’s SIU last year for failing to implement recommendations to improve the transparency and effectiveness of its investigations.

Among those recommendations is that officers who witness incidents should be interviewed immediately.

Andre Marin said at the time that the SIU’s investigations into police shootings were done “through blue-coloured glasses,” and he called the watchdog a “toothless tiger” that had lost the public’s confidence.