Death shows lack of police training to deal with people in crisis

A 2017 fatal Montreal police shooting of a man underlined a lack of sufficient training to de-escalate situations when faced with people in the midst of a mental health crisis, found Quebec coroner Luc Malouin.

Pierre Coriolan, 58, was tasered, struck with a rubber bullet and shot three times. Malouin castigated police for using rapid-response tactical training, whose aim is to isolate and control the threatening person. But it is not appropriate approach to deal with people whose mental state is “disturbed,” said Malouin in his 33-page report.

“This intervention does not meet what is expected of police officers trained in recent years. And, in my humble opinion, this is the biggest problem of this intervention: police officers who have not had the most recent training in intervention with people in crisis (and) therefore acted with outdated methods that were in no way up to date with current knowledge.”

Those in the line of duty recognize that training is deficient. According to a 2021 report by an expert panel on Quebec policing, nearly 40 per cent of police consider mental health crisis management training to be inadequate. More than 70 per cent of patrol officers working for the Quebec provincial police believe their training is “deficient” to deal with people facing mental health issues. At present, about 480 hours of training in the police college training program are devoted to “interventions of a social nature.”

From the report:

On-duty police officers “lack the tools, resources and training to fulfil their social role, particularly in terms of intervention with people with mental health problems, sexual violence, domestic violence, or to make effective contact with members of ethnocultural communities.

From a police perspective, the gap between training and the challenges encountered on the street is based on the fact that many of the skills and behaviours adapted to the new realities are not easily acquired in schools or through refresher training, but rather are the result of the experience acquired or the basic temperament of the police officer. (my underlining)

In 2019 Quebec police received more than 80,000 calls to deal with people facing mental distress.

Yet another lead counsel of a public inquiry resigns

This is a case of déjà vu all over again.

When Bernard Amyot resigned as the lead counsel of a public inquiry that will shortly be investigating surveillance of journalists by Quebec police, it marked the third time in seven years that a lawyer who sought to make a mark in public affairs had his hopes dashed.

Amyot, an ambitious Montreal lawyer with solid credentials, was appointed days before Christmas as lead counsel of the Commission of Inquiry on the Protection of the Confidentiality of Journalistic Sources by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Jacques Chamberland, the chair of the commission. Less than three weeks later, an opinion piece penned by Amyot nine years ago came to haunt him. He had castigated Montreal columnist Patrick Lagacé for being a pseudo journalist who lacked vigor:

“Lagacé, who is neither a journalist nor an analyst, all the same claims the right to preach to everyone, however without deigning to impose on himself, in a measured and rational manner, the necessary rigour to debate ideas.”

Calls for his resignation by the organization that represents Quebec journalists soon followed because the opinion piece raised doubts about his neutrality. Lagacé, after all, is a central figure behind the scandal that prompted the Quebec government to launch the inquiry. Last fall it was revealed that the high-profile journalist had been the target of a months-long covert police operation that tracked calls and texts on his iPhone because law enforcement authorities were trying to find the source of an internal leak to the media.

In a statement Amyot said “doubts have been raised about me, and even though these doubts have no legal basis, I am making the decision to withdraw from my position as lead counsel.”

In 2012 renown Montreal lawyer Sylvain Lussier too felt compelled to resign a week after being nominated lead counsel of Quebec’s public inquiry into the province’s construction industry, which came to be known as the Charbonneau Commission. “Doubts” had been raised about a possible appearance of conflict of interest over an old case he had worked on as a lawyer, and while Lussier asserted that the concerns had “no basis in fact or in law,” trepidation over the integrity of the inquiry prompted him to step down.

In 2010 Québec City lawyer Pierre Cimon also saw slip away his opportunity to leave his mark as lead counsel of a public inquiry that examined the way judges are nominated in Quebec, or the Bastarache inquiry as it is better known. Barely a week after being appointed by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache, Cimon bitterly resigned after being caught in a political maelstrom that raised doubts over his impartiality following revelations that he had regularly contributed to the Quebec Liberal Party. Between 2002 and 2007, Cimon made five donations ranging from $250 to $500 – far less than what he gives to the Barreau du Québec’s Foundation or his local parish.

“I donate to the local parish even though I am not a churchgoer,” Cimon told me at the time. “I donate because I believe churches play an important social role. It doesn’t mean that I practice and believe in the church’s dogma or agree with Cardinal Marc Ouellet’s position that abortion should be criminalized. The same holds true for the donations I made to the Liberals. I am a federalist, and that was the only place I could donate.”

Though the trial lawyer asserts he is apolitical, never attended a political meeting nor solicited or received any benefit from any government, and does not even know anyone stemming from ranks of the Liberals, he felt he had no choice to step down in order to avoid doubt being cast on the impartiality of the Bastarache Commission and to ensure the serenity of its procedures.

The Quebec Act respecting public inquiry commissions is silent about how the commission’s counsel are appointed. It does not state who has the power to appoint the counsel nor does it stipulate whether a procedure should be followed. That is not a unique situation. The Ontario Public Inquiries Act too provides no “provision for this crucial step in an inquiry’s life,” pointed out a 1992 Report on Public Inquiries by the Ontario Law Reform Commission. (That is still the case today).

In practice, the power to select an inquiry’s counsel is granted to the chair of the commission. “There are no rules or guidelines,” told me a lawyer familiar with the inner workings of public inquiries. A Protocol on the appointment of judges to commissions of inquiry that was adopted by the Canadian Judicial Council in 2010 states that’s the way it should be. “The judge should have complete independence in selecting his or her staff, in particular the commission counsel,” says the Protocol.

But the three resignations strongly suggest that it is perhaps time to review how judges appoint counsel to public inquiries. “I have seen how public inquiries can restore confidence and fix institutions – and I have also seen the tremendous impact on individuals whose lives are forever changed through their participation in the process,” once remarked former Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Dennis O’Connor, who sat as Commissioner on both the Walkerton and Arar Inquiries. At a time when public confidence in the justice system is under siege, it is incumbent upon judges appointed to head public inquiries to put in place proper vetting procedures that take into account not only conflicts of interest but perceived conflicts of interest that may cast doubt upon the players even though the qualms may have “no legal basis.” It certainly would help if they were media savvy and aware that in this day of age of unhealthy partisanship and intense media scrutiny, aided and abetted by the omnipresence of social media, that perceived conflicts of interest take on a life of its own.

Lawyers appointed as lead counsel of public inquiries too bear a responsibility of side-stepping potential ethical minefields. The president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, Stéphane Giroux, noted that a simple Google search revealed that Amyot had written a “very disturbing” article that led to his resignation. Lagacé, upon learning of Amyot’s resignation, said that he was astonished that Amyot had accepted the mandate to act as lead counsel of the inquiry in the first place. “He is no doubt a good lawyer, I have nothing to say about that, but he knew what he had written about journalism, the media and certain individuals such as myself. I find it surprising that he had accepted, but he redeemed himself by recusing.”

But there’s no reason for yet another public inquiry to be subjected to an unnecessary blot. More is and should be expected.

Quebec companies barred from bidding on public contracts have little chance of obtaining legal relief

Companies that have been barred from bidding on public contracts stand little chance of obtaining injunctive relief that would temporarily suspend a new law aimed at curbing corruption in the construction industry, following a closely-watched ruling by Quebec Superior Court.

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Damage control

The professional corporations overseeing lawyers and engineers declared recently that they now intend to get even tougher on crooked professionals. Zero tolerance, declared Nicholas Plourde, who stepped down earlier this month as the head of the Quebec bar. The president of the Quebec engineering professional corporation stated that his organization is “determined to get to the heart of the matter and restore public trust.

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Witnesses testifying in public inquiries NOT necessarily protected

The lead counsel of a commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption in Quebec’s construction industry inadvertently found himself in the spotlight over a thorny legal question surrounding the immunity of witnesses who testify before the inquiry.

Sylvain Lussier, lead Commission counsel of the Charbonneau Commission, said that the sworn testimony of witnesses who testify during public inquiries cannot be used against them in criminal proceedings. But the same may not hold true for civil proceedings.

He then backtracked after his team ostensibly examined the jurisprudence, and asserted that witnesses are protected from civil suits.

Except that Lussier said nothing new.

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News roundup – Bastarache, Hydro-Quebec & Innu, & scandal-plagued construction industry

More fallout from the Bastarache report. A former associate deputy-minister who corroborated Marc Bellemare’s version of events is considering going to court. During the Bastarache commission Georges Lalande produced Post-it notes as evidence that he said substantiated Bellemare’s but former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache concluded that it did not did not meet the reliability criteria established by the general rules of evidence. In an interview, Lalande said he felt he was defamed.

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Bastarache Commission’s report published

Evidence filed by Marc Bellemare — Cryptic notes he scrawled on a piece of cardboard while watching a hockey game on the day of his resignation.

The jury is out. Now that the Bastarache Commission’s 290-page report on Quebec’s judicial nomination system has been published (including a 34-page English summary), political spinning is in full grind. The report exonerates Quebec Premier Jean Charest, dismisses allegations made by former justice minister Marc Bellemare that the judicial appointment process in Quebec was tainted six years ago, and makes 46 recommendations to address weaknesses in the Quebec judicial selection and appointment process.

Bellemare dismissed the report, Quebec’s opposition parties claim the report was a farce, and editorials weighed in with their observations.

Bellemare is sticking to his story. The former minister believes that the public at large will believe his version of events, regardless of the findings of the report. He may have a point. A poll taken by CROP, taken on the Internet, says that 66 per cent still believe Bellemare’s allegations, that is, that he faced undue pressure from Quebec Liberal Party fundraisers (with the consent of Premier Charest) to nominate two judges of the Court of Quebec and promote a third during his tenure as justice minister from April 2003 until April 2004.

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois accused the Bastarache commission of ignoring reality while the right-wing party ADQ deplored the gapping omissions.

In its editorial the Montreal Gazette said that the commission report’s recommendations for improving the appointment process and “enhancing the composition of the provincial judiciary are pertinent.”

The well-respected French-language Montreal newspaper La Presse has several opinion pieces on the Bastarache, all worth reading, beginning with legal columnist Yves Boisvert who notes that the “prudent” report has made worthwhile recommendations to improve the judicial nomination process.

Alain Dubuc says that the provincial government has no choice but to act quickly to implement the changes recommended by the former Supreme Court justice while political columnist Vincent Marisal states that lost Premier Charest lost his bet – the findings of the Bastarache report will do nothing to alleviate the pressure on the highly unpopular Premier to hold an inquiry into the construction industry. Rumours of corruption and illicit political ties with the governing party have been growing over the past year.

The Globe and Mail editorial holds that Premier Charest was “unjustly made to wear the failings of the judicial appointments system,” while the influential French-language paper Le Devoir does not seem to hold much hope that things will change.

Some pertinent background material I wrote. It focuses on inquiries, immunity within the context of inquiries and recommendations to improve the judicial nomination system made by a panel of experts commissioned by the Bastarache inquiry, recommendations that the Bastarache paid heed to.

A lot of links, a lot of reading, but all worthwhile as it provides a unique glimpse on how the judicial nomination system has surprisingly captured the attention of Quebecers.

News roundup: National securities regulator challenge, labour strife, Lt-Governor heads to court & Bastarache

Hearing before the Quebec Court of Appeal on national securities regulator challenge by the Quebec government expected to last a full week.


Quebec’s legal system may end up being crippled next week as crown prosecutors and lawyers step up their pressure tactics. Ninety per cent of membership representing Quebec government lawyers voted for a strike on Monday. Crown prosecutors are expected to vote on pressure tactics this Saturday. For more background, here’s a story I wrote about the grievances lodged by an organization representing provincial government lawyers.

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Experts make recommendations to improve judicial nomination process

At the risk of discouraging the “best” candidates from applying for appointment to the judiciary, Quebec’s system of nominating judges should bolster disclosure requirements to enhance transparency and accountability while constraining the discretionary powers of the Minister of Justice by compelling him to select from a short, if not ranked, list of candidates, according to series of comprehensive and wide-ranging recommendations made by experts commissioned by the Bastarache Commission.

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