Blue Line

Coroner to hold public inquests into deadly Montreal fire, police killing

April 4, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Apr. 4, 2023, Montreal, Que. – Quebec’s chief coroner has accepted a request by the province’s public security minister to hold public inquests into the killing of a provincial police officer and a fire in Old Montreal that left seven people dead.

Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel said Tuesday he hoped the public hearings would lead to recommendations to help prevent similar deaths in the future and provide answers to Quebecers about the two high-profile fatal cases.

Provincial police Sgt. Maureen Breau was stabbed to death March 27 while attempting to make an arrest in Louiseville, Que. The man accused of killing her – who was shot dead by police – had a history of mental health issues and had been found not criminally responsible at least five times for past offences.

And on March 16, seven people died in a fire in an Old Montreal heritage building that housed illegal Airbnb rentals. The father of one of the victims has said his daughter told 911 operators as the fire spread through the building that her unit had no fire escape or windows.

Bonnardel told reporters in Quebec City he called for a public inquest into Breau’s death “to seek recommendations that will improve our processes in the future.”

“And, in parallel, to also start an inquest into the fire in Montreal, which will allow us to have, again, important recommendations on how to proceed.”

Isaac Brouillard Lessard, 35, the man police believe killed Breau, was considered a “significant risk to public safety” by the province’s mental health review board. Breau’s killing is being investigated by Montreal police; the province’s police watchdog – Bureau des enquetes independantes – is investigating Brouillard Lessard’s death.

Since Breau’s killing, the union representing provincial police officers has said it planned to submit a petition to the legislature, calling for improvements to the supervision of violent people who are released from custody.

Bonnardel said he understands why police officers are frustrated, adding that he asked his deputy minister to meet with their counterparts in the justice and social services departments to see how police officers can have access to patient data from the mental health review board.

“I understand their concerns,” he said of the province’s police officers.

Quebec’s chief coroner, Pascale Descary, said Tuesday afternoon that coroner Gehane Kamel would preside over both inquests. Kamel had already been tasked with investigating the Montreal fire.

The coroner’s office said in a news release that the inquest into Breau’s death will investigate the factors that contributed to her killing. The other inquest, the office said, will look for the probable cause and circumstances of the deaths of seven people in the fire: Camille Maheux, An Wu, Dania Zafar, Saniya Khan, Charlie Lacroix, Nathan Sears and Walid Belkahla.

A police investigation into the fire is ongoing and no charges have been laid.

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