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Sûreté chief’s exit raises further questions about political interference

A Sûreté Du Québec police car escorts a van believed to be containing alleged terrorist Chiheb Esseghaier from the courthouse in Montreal, Tuesday, April 23, 2013. Quebec has announced the departure of the province’s police chief in what has become a revolving door at the head of the powerful force. Mario Laprise leaves his post less than two years into his term, opening the way for the Sûreté du Québec to get its third chief since 2012.

Graham Hughes/The Globe and Mail

Quebec has announced the departure of the province's police chief in what has become a revolving door at the head of the powerful force.

Mario Laprise leaves his post less than two years into his term, opening the way for the Sûreté du Québec to get its third chief since 2012.

Public Security Minister Lise Thériault insisted Wednesday that Mr. Laprise was leaving of his own volition. However, Philippe Couillard's Liberals had criticized his nomination by the previous Parti Québécois government and pledged, once elected, to make the choice for future provincial police directors less partisan.

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Critics say the Sûreté is overly subject to political influence. The PQ forced police chief Richard Deschesnes out of his job soon after the party took power in 2012, naming Mr. Laprise to replace him.

Mr. Laprise is leaving early in a mandate that was supposed to extend to 2017.

Despite the Liberals' assurances, Mr. Laprise's exit only four months after the party assumed office is unlikely to dispel the impression of political interference.

"The [SQ] is supposed to be independent of political power," said François Doré, a retired Sûreté officer who spent 22 years in the force. "So this looks pretty curious."

Mr. Doré said the "writing was on the wall" that Mr. Laprise would not last long. While campaigning for premier, Mr. Couillard said he wanted a less political approach to SQ nominations. "Everyone expected a change," Mr. Doré said. "The only question was when."

Changing the chief at the SQ will inevitably create upheaval within the force, especially in its upper echelons.

"It's sure to cause turmoil," Mr. Doré said. "It's major."

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Ms. Thériault said an independent committee is being tasked with finding a suitable replacement, who would be in place by the end of the year.

The selection committee shows the government's desire to "confer greater transparency to the nomination process," Ms. Thériault said. Mr. Laprise is returning to work at Hydro-Québec, his previous employer. The deputy director of the force, Luc Fillion, will take over as interim chief.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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