Blue Line

Silent treatment: Quebec officers refusing to answer questions from police watchdog

July 21, 2023  By The Canadian Press

July 21, 2023, Montreal, Que. – The majority of police forces across Quebec are refusing to answer questions from investigators with the province’s independent police watchdog after a court affirmed the right of officers not to incriminate themselves.

The situation, first reported by The Globe and Mail, reflects an increasingly tense relationship between Quebec’s police forces and the body mandated to hold them accountable – and to help maintain the public’s trust in the institution of law enforcement.

Annick Charest, spokesperson for the Quebec federation of municipal police officers, says her organization never ordered its members to refuse to answer questions from investigators at the watchdog, known as the BEI, which is mandated to investigate whenever a citizen is killed or seriously wounded by police.

“The only advice the (federation) provided to its members is to immediately communicate with their lawyer,” she said in an email. “Afterward, it is up to the police officer involved and their lawyer to determine whether they will answer the BEI’s questions or not.”


Regardless of whether officers received instructions to stay silent, the data show that the overwhelming majority of them are not talking.

Between June 2022 and the end of May 2023, 100 per cent of police officers from six out of 13 municipal forces involved in BEI investigations refused to answer questions. The municipalities in which police have stopped talking include Longueuil, Laval, Trois-Rivieres, and Saguenay. For five other police forces, the refusal rate ranged from 50 per cent in three districts to 88 per cent among Montreal officers.

The silent treatment began after Quebec Superior Court ruled in June 2022 in favour of the police federation and the Montreal police union, known as the brotherhood. They had challenged the requirement that officers provide a detailed report to the BEI and answer its investigators’ questions after a police shooting or other incident during which someone is killed or seriously wounded.

Judge Marc St-Pierre ruled that police officers involved in an event leading to a BEI investigation are not obliged to submit a report and that they have the right to remain silent. The judge based his decision on the constitutional right of police officers not to be forced to incriminate themselves.

His ruling has not yet gone into effect, however, as the Quebec government has appealed. Police officers are technically still required to submit reports and meet with BEI investigators until the appeal is heard. And while police continue to provide the BEI with written reports detailing the officers’ versions of events, most have stopped talking to investigators.

The police federation, meanwhile, is unhappy that the BEI – which is an independent police force – is collecting data on officers’ refusal to be interviewed, despite the fact that they continue to submit detailed reports.

“All police officers from other provinces in Canada, during an investigation of this kind, have the right to remain silent, and we do not understand the doggedness of the BEI – which is a police body, let’s remember – to want to deprive our Quebec police officers of this fundamental right granted by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Charest said.

But the protest from police forces across Quebec is not unanimous: Quebec City police, for example, have responded to questions from BEI investigators 100 per cent of the time since the June 2022 court ruling – even though their union is part of the court challenge.

Martine Fortier, president of Quebec City’s police union, said her members support the federation, but she said the difference in the way police forces are responding to the court decision is based on the legal advice they have received.

“Certainly, it results from the advice given to them by their lawyers,” she said.

Quebec provincial police officers aren’t taking part in the court challenge, choosing only to be an “interested party” in the proceedings.

The BEI data indicate that provincial police officers involved in the watchdog’s investigations have responded to questions 95 per cent of the time. When asked why, Jacques Painchaud, president of the association of provincial police officers, declined to comment.

The relationship between the BEI and Quebec’s police forces – including provincial police and Quebec City police – has been strained for some time. Between 2018 and 2023, the watchdog sent 22 letters to the directors of various police forces, criticizing them for not complying with procedures during BEI investigations.

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