30 hours with Pierre Hugues Boisvenu

I arrive at the airport in Montreal at 3:30. I have only carry-on and clear customs quickly so I’m actually out the front door of Pierre Elliot Trudeau at precisely 3:30. Pierre is there, we get in his car and drive directly to the main offices of the Surete du Quebec.

Montreal, is there anything more beautiful?

Small talk about Pierre’s Association, AFPAD and the upcoming Federal election. Traffic is horrible as most of Montreal’s roads are being reconstructed. Delays everywhere. Fortunately Pierre has a GPS and we arrive at the SQ front door at 4:15, Benoit is waiting at the front for us.

Parthenais: My favorite street

A quick scan through security, then up the the 4th floor offices. At the elevator there’s a poster on the bulletin board for the Association, and the walls are lined with historic photographs of the SQ. I think, “Christ, can I just stay here and look at these?” Ben gives us a boardroom, from the rear door enter Martin Hibert, director of cold cases, and his boss Roberto Bergeron director of major crimes. Under normal circumstances this would be quite intimidating, but I’ve got Pierre. In fact most of the initial conversation centers around Pierre and what’s going on locally. The SQ is set to begin an initiative next year where all 15 offices in the regions will have a paid victims’ representative on staff, Pierre wants to know how this is progressing; this is more important than anything having to do with one cold case.


The Headquarters of the Surete du Quebec at Parthenais

So what do me and the SQ talk about? I could write a book on what we talked about. But I’m not going to through stones. Let’s say this: Theresa’s case is cold and the police need fresh leads, unless people come forward to the police, this case won’t get solved. We need to get lucky. When we talk “cold case strategy” it’s difficult to see what the unit is doing differently from anyone else. I’m told the unit has three techniques: DNA analysis (we can scratch that one), the use of polygraph testing for interrogation, and paid informants. beyond this, I guess they check data bases. Anyway, I digress, I stress the need for the SQ to properly and thoroughly investigate Theresa’s case, but it’s hard to make your point when the police are completely satisfied with the job they’ve done up to now. Also, technically, the SQ still consider Theresa’s case a suspicious death, not foul-play or murder. Bottom line: more evidence, people please come forward.


A Buddhist temple in the shadow of the SQ HQ: I’m thinking this is good karma

Before leaving Roberto offers us a tour of the cold case unit, which is generous. Behind the curtain? Nothing special. Agents sitting around computers, lockers, some old newspaper clippings from old cases on the walls.


More good will: The SQ HQ is in spitting distance of old Delormier Downs, where Jack Robinson played for the Montreal Royals


The SQ has a horseshoe up its arse

We get in Pierre’s car. I ask him what he thinks. The SQ are being realistic and not unreasonable. In Quebec 40% of murders go unsolved. In the outlying regions the numbers are as high as 70%. Montreal alone has over 600 cold cases. Quebec police need to play catch-up. Still, progress is being made. In the days following Cedricka Provencher’s disappearance precious time was wasted because the SQ could not agree on how to treat the matter. She was a missing person; nothing criminal there, she could have been a runaway. Now the laws have changed. Today in Quebec when someone goes missing, police must treat it as a criminal matter until it is established that there was no foul-play.

The lecture at the University of Montreal is at 7:00 pm. Pierre quickly rushes to the classroom to set up his PowerPoint presentation. The professor, Philippe Bensimon who specializes in criminologie and prison research, is sympathetic to Pierre’s cause, but his focus is not Victimology – Pierre hopes to score a few converts.

The class is about 40 students, predominately women. Pierre takes the time to shake the hand of every single student. I first think this is over kill, until he later explains he’s taking a piece of their energy to prep himself for the lecture (hence AFPAD’s signature lapel ribbon which is yellow to represent light). Pierre spends about 1 1/2 hours documenting the history of AFPAD – the death of his two daughters, the start of the movement with 4 fathers, growth to where it now represents 420 families (about 2,000 members), policy changes for victims’ rights in Quebec. Some of the students are not on board with the cause. They claim even more money should be spent for rehabilitation of criminals. Pierre challenges them to the point of alienation. I starting thinking, “woah, he’s losing them”, but then later realize for every one he loses he gains about 3 – 4 converts to victimology. Clever.

A brisk 90 minute drive to Sherbrooke. We arrive around 10:30 pm in time for dinner. Pierre’s wife, Diane has made pasta. Pierre finishes it off with a meat sauce made with sausage. I should mention that Pierre is a really good cook. I’ve eaten with him many times and he can take anything and make it into something tasty. Wine over dinner. I learn Pierre has a masters degree in public administration, just like me. We stay up late talking about public policy, especially government financing and public-private partnerships like the Montreal hospital and the PEI bridge (it’s an area that fascinates me because, one way or another, the people are always dealt a losing hand).

We rise early and proceed to Lennoxville for the press conference at Champlain college. Breakfast at McDonald’s (which is surprisingly good). Pierre informs me that he will not address the press at the conference; there is already a controversy looming over Harper’s decision to charge 14-year-old offenders as adults and Pierre does not want to steal focus. Still, between McDonalds and the press conference he has time to dial in to a radio show and offer his opinion on the matter: let them be jailed at 14 and in so doing take them out of society during a violent offenders most productive years (teens to 25). Besides, it’s not like a life sentence in Canada is anything more than 15 years in prison.

To his word, at the press conference Pierre is silent and respectful and does not steal focus. When a reporter from the Tribune asks what he is doing there, Pierre answers that he’s attending to lend support to a friend, and fellow member of AFPAD. He then recounts for the report the story of how we both met in Hull, Quebec on the eve of the Federal government’s first victims conference (the one where no victims were invited), and how it took an American (me) to inform him that his government was actually hosting such a conference.


You guessed it: the press conference was held in this room. Life has a delicious sense of irony, doesn’t it?

Pierre leaves me for the afternoon with Champlain representatives. Later he picks me up in his convertible and we drive back into Sherbrooke. Along the way he is blasting songs from early 2000 (Steve Earle, Kidd Rock). This isn’t Pierre’s music… “Julie’s tape?”, I ask… Pierre smiles. And it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one clinging to memories.

We meet back at the house and decide on dinner arrangements. Should we go out for seafood or stay in and have baked oysters? I say go for the baked oysters. We leave the house to buy some at the local market. The seafood guy is this old French guy, really funny. Up until now I’ve been able to follow along with the French pretty good, but the conversation between these two? I couldn’t catch a word.


Lac Memphremegog: nothing finer

Home and Pierre and I share a beer while shucking about 4 dozen oysters. Pierre’s recipe… I’m not telling. It’s too good. Let’s just say it involves oysters, butter, cheese and a lot of good wine. He’s actually made it for me before, but I don’t tell him this… it’s so good!

A lot of good conversation over dinner about AFPAD and future goals, the rest of Canada… how the victims movement can’t seem to get its act together, the election. Later Pierre and Diane pull out their photos from a vacation in Costa Rica. Hundreds of photos of birds. No I wasn’t bored, I love birds… it’s something Diane and I have in common. A fine evening. At about 9:30 pm Pierre drives me to the Delta hotel where I am meeting my party. We hug and say goodbye, for now. Pierre tells me I need to come to Quebec at least once every year, if only to meet with the police and keep them honest. And so I will.

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