A woman takes charge of the Sûreté du Québec, a first in the force's history

For the first time in its nearly 150-year history, a woman will be in charge of Quebec's provincial police force. 

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault announced Wednesday that Johanne Beausoleil, a civilian, will take over as interim director general of the Sûreté du Québec.

Until now, Beausoleil had been working for Montreal police. Before that she worked as an internal auditor for the SQ and at the Ministry of Public Security.

She officially begins her new job on Monday, taking over from the current interim director, Mario Bouchard, who is retiring after 31 years with the provincial police.

"She is a prime candidate. She knows the issues and challenges faced by police in Quebec today," Guilbault said at a news conference in Quebec City, where she was joined by Beausoleil.

"She is known for her integrity, ethics and her capacity to mobilize and adapt in sensitive situations."

At the news conference, reporters asked Beausoleil if being a woman, and a civilian, would make leading the SQ challenging.

Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC

"In fact, I think it will be complementary," Beausoleil said. "It's more a question of competencies. For those who don't know me, they will come to learn my approach … Human relations are important to me."

She said she's drawn on her past work experience to develop a list of priorities for the new job. These include improving the unity of the force, modernizing police techniques and paying more attention to the mental health of SQ officers.

Beausoleil has been given a three-year contract. Guilbault also prolonged the contracts of other high-placed interim positions at the SQ to promote stability. 

'There are pros and there are cons' to appointing a civilian, says premier

Premier François Legault said he has no problem appointing a civilian to head the SQ.

"There are pros and there are cons," he said. "What is important is that the person is a leader, that they are accepted by the employees of the SQ [and] that it's a person who has a proven track record in personnel management."

The SQ has been under interim leadership since March, when then chief Martin Prud'homme was suspended. He is under investigation due to an "allegation related to criminal offences," Guilbault said at the time.

Prud'homme has not been arrested or charged with any crime. Sources have told Radio-Canada that the investigation has to do with allegations that Prud'homme was involved in leaking information to the media.

When he was suspended, Prud'homme had recently returned to the SQ after a year-long assignment as interim chief of the Montreal police, which was facing its own organizational turmoil.

Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC

Pascal Bérubé, the Parti Québécois' interim leader, said he's had several interactions with Beausoleil during committee hearings at the National Assembly.

The fact she is a civilian could be an advantage, he said, allowing her to bring a fresh perspective to the SQ.

"But it's hard," Bérubé added. "[The SQ is] almost military with its hierarchy, and it's a man's world."

Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Massé, said her party is happy to see a civilian lead the provincial police force.

"We think that to put an end to the internal wars, having a civilian's perspective would be useful," she said.