QUEBEC — A man who has been charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault after his ex-wife was allegedly set on fire in Quebec City will remain behind bars until further notice, a judge ruled Monday.
Frej Haj Messaoud was ordered to remain in detention until at least his next court date after the Crown objected to his release.
The 39-year-old is accused of setting fire to his ex-wife on Friday night in the city's St-Sauveur neighbourhood as her young children and mother looked on.
A witness described the woman screaming in pain as people helped tear off her burning clothes and tried to smother the flames with a blanket.
The 27-year-old victim suffered major injuries to her face, back and hands, and police said that as of Sunday she was still fighting for her life.
Prosecutor Sabrina Lambert-Michel told reporters the Crown objected to the accused's release both to ensure his presence before the court and "to ensure the protection of the public given the nature and severity of the accusations."
The case returns to court on Friday, when the judge and lawyers are expected to discuss the details of a bail hearing.
In a statement, Taxi Coop Quebec confirmed that Haj Messaoud was a driver employed by one of its members. The company said it has suspended him and is co-operating with the police investigation.
"Remember that a person with a criminal record cannot be a taxi driver and that a conviction would mean expulsion," general manager Martin Noel said.
Earlier Monday, Quebec City police said they were opening an investigation after one of its officers was seen carrying a fire extinguisher while escorting the handcuffed suspect into a van. The footage, which played on local television, was interpreted as an inappropriate joke by some members of the public.
The force said it was looking into the incident, but warned against hasty conclusions.
"While the scene might suggest that this is a bad joke on the part of the police, it would be premature to draw immediate conclusions without having taken the time to investigate and establish all the facts and circumstances surrounding this event," the police said in a statement.
The Quebec City police brotherhood, on the other hand, said the fire extinguisher was a "preventative security measure" taken while transporting the suspect.
"Unable to ignore the possibility of people gathering to make the accused suffer the same fate as that of his ex-spouse, police at the detention centre asked police to bring an extinguisher while accompanying the suspect outside," said the brotherhood, which deplored the fact that its officers were being accused of lacking professionalism.
— By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal