Second police officer relieved of duties, trucker arrested as heads roll over Highway 13 fiasco

Second police officer relieved of duties, trucker arrested as heads roll over Highway 13 fiasco

A senior-ranking provincial police officer has been put on administrative duty and a truck driver is facing criminal charges as the Sûreté du Québec seeks to lay blame for the traffic jam that left hundreds stranded overnight last week.

The SQ announced Sunday evening that it has put a second senior member of the force on desk duty amid an internal review of its response to the traffic jam on Highway 13.

More than 300 commuters were trapped for more than 12 hours during a snowstorm on the stretch of highway in Montreal's west end.

The first officer to be put on administrative duty was a captain and the commanding officer of the operation. The officer in Sunday's announcement is a lieutenant. Both officers could face disciplinary action.  

- TIMELINE: How did 300 drivers come to be trapped overnight, on a highway, in the middle of a snowstorm?

Police wouldn't comment further on why the officers were removed from regular duty, but the officers could face disciplinary action. 

Trucker says he was towed willingly

On Saturday, the SQ arrested trucker Palwinder Singh Johal, 57, in his Laval home. He was accused of refusing to allow his truck to be towed, thus holding up traffic overnight, resulting in the motorists being trapped.

Johal has not appeared in court for charges related to the traffic jam, but provincial police said he could face criminal charges including mischief.

However, Johal says he is more of a victim than the culprit.

He said his vehicle was not at the front of the traffic jam. His truck, he says, was about 10th in line.

He told CBC/Radio Canada he was surprised when he was arrested and is still being left in the dark about what's happening in his case.

"We know nothing. They told us nothing," Johal's son Paramjit said. "It's so weird."

Further, he said he was co-operative when the towing company started moving his vehicle. He showed his receipt and the credit card charged for the towing job.

Paramjit Johal said he believes his father was arrested because of the colour of his skin — which is brown.

Johal a scapegoat?

The spokesman for a Quebec trucking association said all blame in Tuesday's traffic jam lands on Quebec's transport ministry, not any of the people who found themselves trapped on the highway. 

On Tuesday night, ministry officials struggled to find snow plows to keep the road clear.

"They found the scapegoat they wanted," said Pierre Aubin, vice-president of the Quebec Trucking Association. "They are trying to take the pressure off the minister of transportation, the snow plow company, the SQ and the [transport ministry staff]."

Charged for unrelated crime

There was also a warrant for Johal's arrest in Ontario, related to a 2012 fraud investigation.

After arresting him on Saturday in connection with the Highway 13 traffic jam, the SQ handed him over to police in Kingston, Ont., and he spent the night in a local jail because of the fraud investigation. 

Johal made a court appearance via video conference on Sunday morning, Kingston police said. He was released following the court appearance. 

Investigators in Quebec are still trying to identify a second truck driver who was also on the road that night. He is considered an important witness.

Correction : A previous version of this story said two Sûreté du Québec officers were suspended. In fact, the officers were relieved of their regular duties and put on administrative duties. (Mar 20, 2017 12:32 PM)