Physician Heal Thyself!
This is a good first step but it is actually bad advice. It’s like the addict’s lament; “I’ve proven you wrong on dozens of occasions, throughout the years, but THIS TIME I’m gonna change, All through the force of will power.”
The truth is these are just words. Without a strategy and goals, without a means to measure results, without assistance from others; self-willed change rarely happens.
And this is the situation in which we find ourselves with Quebec police.
I sat down with the Surete du Quebec in Montreal a few weeks ago. This is what I heard:
- It’s better now, they have new, motivated investigators who work tirelessly to solve crimes.
- They have new technologies that can better advance investigations.
- I am just a guy working with newspaper files and historic documents; the SQ has access to MUCH more information.
It’s the same thing we heard in the CBC online article posted this week:
Lt. Martine Asselin, the spokeswoman for the SQ’s cold case unit, acknowledges it was tougher then to solve cases.
“A lot of things have changed since those years: the evolution of the techniques and the evolution of the DNA and the way to treat the evidence has also changed,” she said.
“The communications between the police forces is very present. We have a task force to manage serial killers or serial sexual assaults,” Asselin said.
The cold case unit has recently added more officers, and Asselin said the provincial police force is looking seriously at these unsolved crimes. As for the decrease in the number of homicides over the years, Asselin credits improved police techniques, including those aimed at crime prevention.
Let’s address the last point first. The SQ can take all the credit it wants for the reduction in violent crime over the years. The reality is that nobody knows what has caused the reduction in violent crime in North America over the last three decades, and I don’t know of a police agency or academic anywhere that is claiming that they know the answer.
But since we’re talking crime statistics, here’s what I do know. Over three decades, Quebec has had one of the worst homicide clearance rates of any province in Canada. That’s not my opinion, that is according to Statscan’s 2005 report, Homicide in Canada. From 1976 to 2005 Quebec had a homicide clearance rate of 74%. The average for Canada was 84%. Even worse, here are the homicide clearance rates for the major forces in Quebec over the same period – among the very worst in the country:
Surete du Quebec: 80%
Longueuil police: 74%
Laval police: 67%
Montreal police: 65%
The SQ Cold Case Website
There’s been a lot of chatter about my sister’s case being put up on the Surete du Quebec’s Cold-Case website, as if this signifies that the case has been “re-opened”. To begin with, I never said that and the police never said that, that was just a headline. Theresa’s case was never closed. Putting the case on a police website is a symbolic and important victory, a transparent and accountable acknowledgement that the police recognize her death as a violent crime.
When I met with the Surete du Quebec I asked them, “since the case has been up on the website, how many calls / tips have you received?”.
That’s was not surprising to me. The police have lost so much credibility in these matters that it will take a lot of time before the public trusts them enough to come forward with information. The truth is they need to do more than hide behind a website to restore good will with the public. Much more. I’m not going to waste words on this, there are many fine examples of community policing efforts in North America, anyone can look it up, but the basis if community policing is to get out into the community and act like a societal partner, not simply as a another perceived threat to that community, and believe me, police in Quebec are seen as a societal threat.
Back to the issue of public engagement. In the same time period that the police had my sister’s case up on their website, how many credible contacts / tips did I receive?
Answer? Two, both of which I turned over to the police.
For those of you keeping score:
Who Killed Theresa?=2, SQ=0
Ok, enough with the silliness, I will get to my point. I asked the SQ, “when will you get ALL the cases up on the website“; Bazinet, Houle, Camirand, Tremblay, etc…
I was told that they needed to take it slow, if they put too much information out there, they could risk an overload on their resources.
Really? You can’t have it both ways. You cannot – on the one hand – say that no one visits your website, then turn around and say putting more cases on that website will crash the system. The point here is transparency, acknowledgement and accountability. The SQ cold-cases of Louise Camirand, Jocelyne Houle, Denise Bazinet and Chantal Tremblay need to be presented on the SQ website immediately to demonstrate to the public that they are the police agency accountable for solving these crimes.
Speaking of Chantal Tremblay. Recall that this is a case from 1977. Chantal went missing in March of 1977 and her remains were found nine months later in somewhat of a police jurisdictional no-mans-land on the border of Rosemere and Terrerbonne. There’s very little information on Chantal, so I’ve been trying to determine who owns the case; SQ, Terrebonne, or the intermunicipal police of Therese-De-Blainville (which now represents Rosemere).
I am now going to relate to you a series of correspondences that transpired between me and the police. This is nothing personal, my intention is not to embarrass them, this is an important demonstration of a problem that needs to be addressed.
The Surete du Quebec attempted to find the Chantal Tremblay case, they concluded that it wasn’t their case. The Therese-De-Blainville police looked into the matter, they concluded that it too wasn’t their case either, and advised me to contact the Surete du Quebec.
At this point the SQ called time, and generously offered to get to the bottom of the matter to locate the case of Chantal Tremblay.
The next morning the Surete du Quebec informed me that the case of Chantal Tremblay was in fact an unsolved-murder, and that they would immediately assign an investigator to her file.
While I appreciated the fast follow-up, the situation hardly inspired confidence, and I expressed my dissatisfaction to the SQ. They responded that maybe it was the case that I knew the name of every unsolved homicide, but that they didn’t, and that they never promised that they did.
Wait a minute.
That is EXACTLY what they promised. They assured me that I may think I know everything with my old newspapers and historical files, but they had access to much more information and technologies.
I realize that being called out like this is difficult to hear. Believe me, it brings me no pleasure in doing it.
It is even less of a pleasure feeling a lack of confidence in the investigative capabilities of the agency tasked with solving these crimes.
It’s not like the police can claim they are being blind-sided, or didn’t see this coming. In 2013 I gave a summary of all these cases and suggested / cautioned that they should be looked at (link here). In February I stated explicitly I was disappointed that nothing had been advanced since that time, and gave fair warning that I was going to provoke and embarrass them (link here). No one can accuse me of pathetic “gotcha” tactics.
We family members hanging on with these cold-cases, with hopes of resolutions to the horrors and trauma we have experienced, are faced with a paradox. By calling attention to the issues, we risk losing the communication and cooperation of the police; the only means of bringing these cases to justice. But by being silent and complicit, we again run the risk that these crimes will never be solved.
The police can say they are doing better, and we can call that into question, but the fact remains there is a measure for evaluating who is right and who is wrong: the homicide clearance rate. Solve a cold case, move the needle, watch the line on the graph go down; that is the only metric for evaluating the effectiveness of homicide investigation.
Update: The file of Chantal Tremblay is missing from the Quebec public archives (BANQ).