A top-ranking official in the Montreal police service was relieved of his duties as allegations of abuse of power, fabrication of evidence and bribery throw the force into a major crisis.
Bernard Lamothe, deputy director of the Montreal police service, was suspended Friday "until all light can be shed" on unspecified allegations against the officer, Police Chief Philippe Pichet told his officers in an e-mail.
Mr. Lamothe was in charge of strategy and was one of four deputies on Chief Pichet's leadership team. Mr. Lamothe had also served in senior roles in the organized-crime unit.
For weeks, Quebec news organizations have revealed tales of feuding factions within the police force, including office backstabbing, dirty tricks in the field, fabrication and suppression of evidence against fellow officers and taking bribes from organized-crime co-conspirators.
None of those allegations were linked directly to Mr. Lamothe. On Friday, Chief Pichet would only say he suspended the senior officer after receiving information from the Sûreté du Québec. No charges have been laid against any officer amid the revelations.
The scandals led Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux on Friday to choose former Crown prosecutor and deputy minister of justice Michel Bouchard to lead an administrative investigation into practices at the Montreal police internal-affairs division. The Minister had already ordered a criminal investigation by a team of officers from the SQ, the RCMP, the newly formed independent investigation agency and several municipal police forces outside Montreal.
Opposition members called for the police force to be placed in trusteeship under civilian watch and for the resignation of Chief Pichet, who has been on the job 18 months after rising through the ranks. "My resignation won't change the culture. There's work to do. Changing the culture here will take years to do," Chief Pichet said.
Mr. Coiteux stopped short of giving the chief an endorsement, urging him to take "decisive steps" to clean house in his police force. "Let's be a little patient. Let's be serious. We make decisions after light has been shed, after the investigations are done, both criminal and internal investigations," he told reporters Friday. "We don't take precipitous action based on what we read in the newspaper on any given morning."
The papers and airwaves in recent weeks have provided ample material. A judge this week released 2015 police recordings to La Presse and Le Journal, which published accounts Friday of mob lawyer Loris Cavaliere discussing police investigations with two clients. The lawyer asked one of the clients if he was worried about police arresting him. "I'm not worried that's why we pay them," he answered.
Mr. Cavaliere, who has worked with murdered mafia leader Nicolo Rizzuto, pleaded guilty a month ago to charges of gangsterism and was sentenced to 34 months in prison.
On Thursday, the head of the police union, Yves Francoeur, told a Montreal radio station he had brought three complaints about misconduct to senior police executives. In one case, he complained about close relationships between senior officers and members of organized-crime groups.
As recently as November, he said he complained to Chief Pichet about interference from a senior police executive who forced a detective to drop a criminal investigation.
Mr. Francoeur said the allegation was passed on to the head of internal affairs; instead of a proper investigation, the officer who brought the complaint was harassed. "We have a black eye. Police officers are frustrated. Everyone is paying for a small group who were not following the rules," Mr. Francoeur said. "There is a housecleaning to do. It's clear. They've lost control."
The union head said top-ranked officials in the police force are conspiring to undermine the chief.
Two weeks ago, former police officers Giovanni Di Feo and Jimmy Cacchione told the TVA network that the Montreal police internal-affairs division fabricated evidence against police officers who fall out of favour, launching real or pretend investigations using search warrants to get phone records and other documents to intimidate officers.
The two officers were forced into retirement in 2014 after they were accused of wrongdoing. No charges were ever laid against them and they received a settlement after their departures.
Last fall, the police force was accused of abusing press freedom by obtaining phone records on the telephone of La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé as they investigated a police officer with whom Mr. Lagacé had contact.
The police also obtained authorization to tap his phone and track its GPS co-ordinates although the police force maintains it never did so. Later, it was revealed the the Sûreté du Québec obtained records on seven other journalists. A separate inquiry into those searches is also under way.