Faced with a dramatic increase in forest disappearances in recent years, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) is significantly increasing its resources for search and rescue operations, in order to maintain its ability to respond quickly to such situations throughout Québec.
Posted at 12 noon
“In the course of history, we have never had so many people trained and equipped for search and rescue operations,” explains Deputy Director-General Patrick Bélanger, Head of Territorial Surveillance, on the sidelines of the study of budget appropriations to the National Assembly.
The SQ was recently criticized for its investigation of the file of sisters Romy and Norah Carpentier, who were murdered by their father nearly two years ago after fleeing into the woods. Retired police officers in an interview with Radio-Canada denounced what they described as a lack of staff and disorganization, which caused the coroner in charge of the case, M.and Sophie Régnière, to request further investigation. The elected officials returned to the subject during the credits study. Saint-Apollinaire’s firefighters also publicly stated that they offered to help search for the girls, but the police refused.
The police board says it has learned lessons from this sad affair, especially about the importance of alerting the population as soon as possible when the search is started. But it adamantly denies having been understaffed. All the necessary resources were available, answers Patrick Bélanger. The latter says some of the criticism was hard to swallow for the police involved in the operation.
“These people have worked very hard. All our people who were deployed there had only one wish, to find people. No human being would have been impervious to this situation, with two children potentially at risk. Yes, the criticism has been hard on our members who have worked so hard,” he said, pointing out that the Carpentier girls’ case involved a fugitive trying to evade police who could have been dangerous, rather than a simple one. citizen lost in the forest who wants to be found.
Research activities on the rise
In spite of everything, the resources for rescue operations within the SQ are being increased, for the simple reason that the number of operations of this type has been constantly increasing in recent years, notes the Deputy Director General. We have increased from 180 searches in 2018 to 428 in 2021.
Due to the sharp increase in search and disappearance files, we have no choice but to adapt.
Patrick Bélanger, Deputy Director General of the Sûreté du Québec
Police attribute the increase in part to rising mental health records, which translate into a rise in distressed citizens disappearing into the forests, as well as the popularity of outdoor pursuits that push people further and further in search of thrills .
The number of police officers trained, equipped and ready to be rapidly deployed to rescue operations has risen from 72 to 125 across the territory, and could increase further. A special team of eight agents, stationed in Abitibi, on the north coast and in Lac-Saint-Jean, is also specifically responsible for launching searches in the north in the event of disappearance, while waiting for the bulk of the troops from the South to join them.
Three dog handlers will soon be added to the 16 already in office. The number of ground search coordinators, ‘super specialists’ according to Mr. Bélanger, has been increased from two to four, so that the police are never discovered if one of them goes on holiday.
The Deputy Director General notes that despite the difficulty of the task, there is no shortage of volunteers.
“We have passionate people, people who are extremely committed to the mission, efficient, rain or shine. Sometimes they don’t have it easy, in extremely dense forests, looking for clues. But they are always there,” he says.