The committee tasked with rethinking Quebec policing says the province should reduce the number of police forces by more than half and refocus efforts to fight corruption toward cybercrimes, in a report with 138 recommendations released Tuesday.
The committee, headed by former Sherbrooke mayor Bernard Sévigny and created in 2019 by Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault, is made up of five experts. Its job was to come up with ways to modernize policing in Quebec.
Guilbault reacted briefly on Twitter Tuesday, praising "the conscientious work of the committee."
In Tuesday's report, the committee said the province's police forces aren't well prepared to deal with new forms of criminal behaviour, including cybercrimes and financial crimes such as fraud, money laundering and extortion.
The report calls for a specialized unit to deal with these forms of crimes, and suggests folding in the current anti-corruption unit, UPAC into a new entity that would also employ civilian experts.
In a news briefing Tuesday morning, Sévigny pointed out that only one in 1,000 victims of cyber crimes turns to police.
"Quebec does not have the means to divide its resources and work in silos," Sévigny said.
The committee also recommends consolidating the province's 31 police forces into 13.
In the greater Montreal area, that would mean two large new forces on the North Shore and another one on the South Shore. Only Longueuil's police force would survive, with all the other smaller South Shore forces merging.
The committee also recommended that forces that currently serve Bromont, Granby, Memphremagog, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Saint-Jérôme, Thetford Mines and the MRC des Collines-de-l'Outaouais all be rolled into the Sûreté du Québec.
Members of the committee said this would help make policing more efficient.
Too many disparities between police forces
The report mentions that during consultations, stakeholders highlighted disparities in the kinds of services some police forces offered compared to others.
"How can we expect the capacity of police forces to meet the required levels of service to be the same everywhere, when some of them barely have more than 20 police officers and others, more than 200," the report says.
Creating fewer and more equal police forces, the committee argues, would help ensure crime victims can have access to the same services, no matter where they are.
Committee member Marlene Jennings said that, too often, some police forces can't provide all the services they're supposed to.
"We firmly believe that that will provide the same level of service to any Quebec citizen, regardless of where they live. And they have a right to expect that," Jennings said in an interview.
Forces need to be 'proactive' to increase diversity
The report also addresses issues of diversity in the ranks and discrimination.
It recommends that the provincial government cover the cost of studying at the École nationale de police du Québec in Nicolet for candidates from cultural communities under-represented in Quebec police forces and establish "proactive" strategies for the recruitment of people from those communities.
Another recommendation calls for an amendment to the province's Police Act, to explicitly forbid police interventions based on discrimination,commonly called racial profiling.
Turning police watchdog into civilian body
The committee also recommends that the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, which investigates incidents involving police forces, be converted from a police force to an independent organization that would have to make public its reasons when it concludes that no crime has been committed when an officer has been investigated.
Guilbault is expected to vote on the report in the National Assembly Wednesday.