This week the Montreal police / SPVM announced the creation of a cold case unit consisting of one lieutenant-detective and six investigators whose only job will be to address the city’s unsolved homicides and disappearances — since 1980, there have been about 800 such cases, including 558 homicides.
Congratulations are definitely in order, this is progress. It’s a hell of a lot better than the system the Montreal police were previously operating under: on duty detectives looking at cold cases only when they weren’t pursuing active investigations (translation = never), detectives retiring and cold cases never looked at again.
But before we get too giddy let’s consider what this means, and what it does not.
Pundits on the Radio Canada morning shows – clearly reading directly from the SPVM’s media talking points – were quick to observe how detectives could now take a “fresh approach” with the help of “advanced techniques” in DNA technology. This is only true if you bother to preserve case evidence. Like many forces in Quebec, the SPVM has a poor track record of preserving evidence. Of the four cold cases I have predominantly covered from the 1970s / early 80s under SPVM jurisdiction (Lison Blais, Katherine Hawkes, Nicole Gaudreault and Tammy Leakey) half of those families have received official notice from the SPVM that the DNA evidence has been destroyed.
The new squad – which will consist not of new detectives, but current offices redeployed from other units – would do well to learn some lessons from the Surete du Quebec’s cold case experience.
Created in 2004, the SQ started with approximately 3 detectives and a backlog of approximately 600 uncleared homicides. In early 2018 they added an additional 25 new officers to the unit. Since 2004 they have cleared 10 cold case homicides. It should be noted for over a decade the number was 3 cold cases cleared; it’s only very recently that they announced solving the additional 7 cases. That’s 10 case in 14 years. “Experts” will tell you that’s pretty good clearance record. It’s not good enough for me.
It’s worth reminding everyone that in the 2005 Statistics Canada report “Homicide in Canada” The Montreal police had the absolute worst clearance rate for all major Canadian cities from 1976 through 2005:
The estimated uncleared total of all Quebec cold cases is approximately 1,700.
How did this come to be?
For some insight, let’s go back to this 1966 article from The Gazette, “Unsolved Murders Piling Up in Police HQ”. It’s short so I’ll quote the whole thing:
“Montreal and Quebec Provincial Police face a combined total of 62 unsolved murders dating back to 1953. They solved 63 in that same period.
Of the total number of unsolved murders, 43 were committed in Montreal while the other 19 were carried out in various centers across the province.
The victims included 24 underworld characters while 27 others were businessmen, merchants, housewives, and old age pensioners killed during robberies. The other killings have been classified as crimes of passion involving homosexuals and prostitutes.
The investigations are continuing – in one way or another – on all the unsolved murders. None of the unsolved cases has been closed.
Not included in these figures are the series of murders uncovered several months ago during an intensive investigation of fraudulent bankruptcies and arson-for-profit cases in the province. While several suspects are being held in connection with the lime-pit murders, none has undergone trial on murder charges as of yet.
Also not included is the murder of a 35-year-old woman, Mrs. Lysanne Lauziere, whose body was unearthed a few weeks ago from a shallow grave in a field 60 miles north of Montreal. Two men have formally been charged with the murder but have yet to stand trial on the charge.”
Ignoring the misogynistic , homophobic categorizations which are not surprising for 1966, anything else stand out for you?
There are no stranger homicides. T
They won’t emerge until the 1970s when Allo Police begins to recognize this horrifying phenomenon that will reach its apex in 1977.
Why does Quebec have the worst homicide clearance rate in Canada? Answering that would take quite a long time, read my upcoming book. I will give you a clue: any agency that is so focused on itself, on preserving its image, is too inward looking to even begin solving major problems of society.
Just look at the response from the Montreal Police Union after SPVM Director Sylvain Caron announced the major changes to the deployment of officers:
Dear brothers and sisters,
La Presse reported this morning a restructurin`g of the SPVM.
The way in which the information first went to the concerned members suffered from a certain lack of respect, which we denounced to the management.
The Brotherhood reminds the Service that special attention must be paid to labor relations in a context where police officers, not so long ago, have been greatly affected by the many dysfunctions of a problematic management.
It should also be remembered that during this time and despite extraordinary adversity, the police officers were able to ensure an impeccable quality of service.
That being said, with the past in the past, our current concerns go far beyond the fact that “no one will be unemployed tomorrow morning” as we read in La Presse.
Indeed, the changes decided by the management will have direct and indirect effects for many of you.
Therefore, the Brotherhood will ensure that the terms and conditions of these changes are in accordance with the rights that are granted to you by the collective agreement and the respect due to you.
To this end, we have convened the union representatives of the affected units to a conference call that will take place today.
In the context of a transition to which the fraternity will put its vigilance, follow-ups will subsequently be directed to the people affected.
Research and Communications
Mario Lanoie’s response boils down to a grand “fuck you” to any attempts to adapt and change, essentially telling rank and file officers that “you don’t do anything different until we tell you to do different.”