MONTREAL — Quebec's public security minister suspended the Montreal police chief on Wednesday after a damning report criticized Philippe Pichet's inability to restore public faith in the much-maligned force.
Pichet, who was appointed to the top job in 2015, will be replaced by Martin Prud'homme, the current No.1 within the Quebec provincial police.
Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said he had no choice but to suspend Pichet given a report he received last week into the inner workings of the Montreal police department.
In his report, Michel Bouchard spoke of a "deep malaise" and said the "confidence of civil and police personnel in the police leadership is at an extremely worrying level."
Coiteux said even though many of the problems mentioned by Bouchard predated Pichet's arrival, he concluded the police chief had not taken the necessary steps despite "the gravity of the situation."
"As well, certain points directly involved the current director," Coiteux said. "Much of what Mr. Bouchard heard reflected a lack of confidence in Mr. Pichet to bring about considerable changes in the Montreal police force.
"Mr. Bouchard expresses serious doubts about Mr. Pichet's capacity to remedy the situation. In light of this, I consider that public interest and the healthy management of justice call for his suspension."
Prud'homme's mandate expires on Dec. 31, 2018, when he will return to the provincial force.
Pichet's tenure was marked by several controversies, including a spying scandal involving prominent reporters that led to a public inquiry on protecting the confidentiality of journalistic sources.
In October, provincial police raided Montreal police headquarters in a case involving alleged fraud and breach of trust, resulting in Pichet's chief of staff being suspended.
Pichet said at the time an investigation into Imad Sawaya had taken place in 2015 amid allegations regarding overtime and bonuses, but that the case was studied and no anomaly was found.
Back in March, Pichet said it could take between five and 10 years to bring about a change to the internal culture within the embattled force.
His plan to restore public confidence in Montreal law enforcement included nearly 40 recommendations addressing a wide array of issues.
"Despite the difficulties we're living with and the issues we have in terms of investigations and internal affairs, the police force is continuing to move forward, working to give citizens a better service with a concrete plan,'' Pichet said.
"As a police force, we know where we're going and we're taking responsibility.''
In an effort to tackle allegations the force was split into factions, Pichet recommended that senior officers be centralized in one office.
The police chief also suggested revising the force's code of ethics and said the internal affairs division would undergo a complete review.
Bouchard, who previously worked in the federal and Quebec justice departments, was asked last March to investigate allegations of ''systemic issues'' within the Montreal force, particularly with its internal investigations practices.
Two former organized crime investigators with the force had alleged members of its internal affairs department embellished or fabricated evidence against lower-ranking officers who fell out of favour.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press