Un peu plus haut – L’Affaire Patenaude / WKT3 #21

Not long after midnight on Saturday, November 25th, 1978 Marc Patenaude and his friend, Norman Desilets beat up a man in a restaurant in Montreal’s East-End. Unknown to Patenaude and Desilets was that the man they left on the floor of Chez Larry was Detective-Sargent Normand Ostiguy of the Montreal police’s anti-gang squad.

Arrest warrants were drawn-up. Desilets was brought in without incident. The arrest of Marc Patenaude went horribly wrong (or did it?). When police stormed his basement apartment, the first officer to breach the front door saw Patenaude pointing a gun in his direction. Shots were fired. In the confused melee that followed Marc Patenaude bled to death from a severed artery in his thigh, finally succumbing to his wounds in an ambulance, which took 90 minutes to get to his home in Pointe aux Trembles.

That is one version of this story. Today, L’Affaire Patenaude. This is Who Killed Theresa?

Sergent Normand Roy of the SPVM testifying

Version Two

The following is taken from the coroner inquiry, and reports conducted by Montreal coroner, Roch Heroux. Testimony began in January of 1979 with Heroux submitting his final report in August of that year. It’s worth noting that from the time of Patenaude’s death to Heroux’s final verdict that very little of this was reported in the media. Most of the headlines in November of 1978 were filled with the aftermath of Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre in Guyana. It would take a full decade before L’Affaire Patenaude came to light in the english media.

Coroner Roch Heroux

At approximately 9 p.m. on the evening of November 28, 1978 the Montreal police deployed a SWAT squad armed with military grade weapons to round up four suspects, two of whom were Patenaude and Desilets ( we don’t know the others). The team was under the command of Sergent Normand Roy and included five other officers; Andre Ouimet, Rejean Poulin, Urgel Nadeau, Noel Leduc, and Jacques Leblanc. They headed first to Desilets residence on rue Notre Dame in Pointe aux Trembles. According to Roy, Desilets was not armed and offered no residence.

The squad then headed for Patenaude’s apartment on the same street as Desilets, at 10965 rue Notre Dame. At the apartment entrance Roy shouted “Police” and demanded that the occupants immediately open the door. Next, officers Ouimet and Leduc deployed a battering ram and knocked down the front door. Then the team was met with a second door. At this point constable Ouimet testified that he could see someone armed with a gun aimed toward the officers. Seeing that constable Ouimet was now in danger and just inches from the armed man, Sergent Roy shoots three bursts from his military-style M-16, representing about 21 shots from the semi-automatic rifle. When the dust has settled, they find Patenaude bleeding to death on his kitchen floor, lying next to him is a Smith & Wesson revolver. Patenaude dies in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and Coroner Heroux exonerates the officers suggesting Marc Patenaude was responsible for his own death:

“Marc Patenaude, died on November 28, 1978, in Montreal, following a violent death without any criminal responsibility on the part of anyone.”

Coroner Roch Heroux

Who is the Coroner?

In Quebec cases we hear a lot about the influence of the coroner. For example in the Helene Hurtubise case that we covered last summer there was much to suggest that coroner Anne-Marie David more often than not worked in the interest of police rather than the interest of justice.

Why did the Quebec coroner wield so much power?

The following is largely taken from journalist John Cruickshank, and was written in 1980, so a lot has changed today. But this was the framework under which the Quebec coroner operated in the 70s and 80s.

The coroner’s office dates back at least as far as William the Conqueror’s invasion of Britain in 1066. It was introduced in Quebec under the British authority and won a place in law with The Quebec Act of 1774. Until 1892 Quebec’s coroner and his jury, were primarily focused on cases of murder and manslaughter. If the coroner’s court found evidence that a crime had been committed, the coroner was empowered to bring a charge against a “material witness” and send him before the superior court for trial.

A similar system existed in Britain until 1977 when the law was changed, stripping coroners of their legal powers but expanding their responsibilities to recommend measures which would prevent future deaths.

Since 1892 when the last really massive rewrite of the legislation was attempted, the Quebec coroner has been empowered to investigate sudden and violent deaths from criminal causes.

An American probably doesn’t understand the coroner system at all. Cities like New York and Los Angeles long ago abandoned the coroner’s office and coroner’s inquests, and opted for the medical examiner system. If your an American from this era? Your guy is Jack Klugman as Dr. Quincy, a forensic pathologist with the powers of a coroner.

Quincy ran from 1976 to 1983, and at that time a Quebec coroner wasn’t really anything like the Jack Klugman character. There were six full-time coroners; three in Montreal, two in Quebec City, and one who acted as a rover traveling around the province. The coroner was appointed by the Minister of Justice and had the legal status of a justice of the peace: that’s right, great power, but technically little more than a preacher. Sure they might be a doctor like Quincy, but more often than not, they were notaries or lawyers.

Coroner Roch Heroux

In an 1980 interview Coroner Roch Heroux – he from the Patenaude shooting – gave a very detailed and practical explanation of how the Quebec coroner’s office operated back in the day:

“If a person finds a body and sees that it’s murder they should first notify the police homicide branch, they have all the expertise and equipment to gather evidence on the spot. When they are done they send the body to me at the morgue.

I’ll ask the pathologist to perform an autopsy and declare the case a violent death.

The police proceed with their investigation and when they find a suspect they come to me with a demand for arrest. I provide them with a coroner’s warrant ( and that point is important, we’ll come back to it ) and the suspect is arraigned before me. I can then grant bail or hold the person as a material witness until an inquest is convened.

But the inquest must be convened within a week or we have to let the suspect go.

At the inquest the coroner hears testimony and may even question witnesses himself whenever he feels some point has been ignored by the crown prosecutor.

At the close of the inquest the coroner must determine whether a death was the result of a criminal act. If possible he must then determine who is criminally responsible.

There is no legal means to appeal a coroner’s verdict but the Minister of Justice may decide not to act on his recommendations.

But I don’t know of a case where the minister has not followed a criminal negligence decision with a prosecution.

Coroners play a very valuable function in overseeing police investigations. We’re her so that police themselves can’t prefer charges and our inquests insure that people aren’t accused uselessly.”

“Sors de la, hostie de chien” / Version 3

There were two other people in that Pointe aux Trembles apartment the night of the SWAT team raid; Marc Patenaude’s 18-year-old wife, Donna, and their 18-month-old baby girl, Luvia. If the Minister of Justice, Marc-André Bédard wouldn’t appeal Coroner Heroux’s verdict, she would have to take matters into her own hands. In 1979 Donna Patenaude filed a lawsuit against the six Montreal police officers responsible for killing her husband.

Donna Patenaude’s version of events are very different from the police account. The family was sitting down to dinner, moments before police crashed through the door Marc Patenaude was holding Luvia in his arms. When police shot him, it wasn’t a revolver in his hand, it was a plate of spaghetti.

Donna dove for the ground covering her baby, taking two bullets in the ass. While Marc Patenaude lay dying on the floor police refused to allow Donna to treat his wound. They also refused to allow her to feed her baby a bottle of milk. Police rushed Donna Patenaude in the early hours of the morning to the police station where they interrogated her and made her give testimony in which she was forced to say Marc Patenaude had a weapon in the house (one wonders where Luvia was during all of this). Donna Patenaude disputed Normand Roy’s claim that he shouted “police” prior to crashing through the door. A neighbor who observed the incident corroborated this, saying the police failed to identify themselves. The only words anyone recalled the police saying were, ” Get up out of there, you bloody bastard! “

Jean Marc Patenaude

Stories differ about the beating of the anti-gang Detective Sergent Normand Ostiguy, the incident that preceded the raid. No doubt it touched off feelings of revenge among his police colleagues. As Donna Patenaude’s lawyer expressed it, “It was like saying, ‘you have touched one of mine, I will use all my resources to get even'”. It was unusual for the matter to be taken out of the hands of the local police station and given to the SWAT team. It was argued that the Smith & Wesson revolver recovered at the scene was most likely a police plant, having no blood or Patenaude’s prints on it. Ostiguy’s beating – though severe – hardly justified the coroner issuing warrants for “attempted murder”.

Also in dispute were the SWAT team leader, Normand Roy’s claim that Norman Desilets’ arrest was without incident. “one guy came at me with his rifle. They knocked me down and they started to hit me with rifles, feet, fists, everything.” Desilets later said.

When Donna Patenaude gave her account of what happened the night of November 28, 1978 family members were skeptical:

“I said to her, “The police don’t do things like that,” recounted Rejeanne Patenaude. Marcel Patenaude stated, “People want to believe in the police. When you are not involved, you don’t know that such things are possible.”

In 1988 – ten years after the shooting – the six members of the Montreal Urban Community police SWAT team were ordered to pay $250,000 in damages to Donna Patenaude for the raid that killed her husband. Quebec Superior Court Justice Paul Martineau said that the SWAT methods were “like using a sledge hammer to kill a mosquito.”

It did not end there. Police appealed the verdict. When the Quebec Court of Appeal again sided with Donna Patenaude, police took the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1995 – sixteen years after Marc Patenaude’s death – the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the Montreal Urban Community police, and ordered them to pay what now amounted to $500,000 in damages. Donna Patenaude stated that her case should send a message to police officers, “that when they do something wrong, they have to answer for it like everyone else.”

The six officers – Normand Roy, Andre Ouimet, Noel Leduc, Urgel Nadeau, Rejean Poulin, and Jacques Leblanc – had all retired from the force between 1986 and 1995. To our knowledge, none had ever been reprimanded for their actions on the night of the shooting.


Jean Claude Bernheim is a criminologist in Quebec, and specifies in research on sociological theory, with a particular emphasis on the rights of the incarcerated. In 1979 he wrote a lengthy piece in Le Devoir about Patenaude. In 1980 he wrote a book, Les Complices: Police, Coroner et Mort Suspectes. Loosely translated that means “Partners in Crime: the police, the coroner and suspicious deaths”. So that gives you an idea of whose side he’s on. Bernheim also covers L’Affaire Patenaude in Les Complices. Last March I had the opportunity to interview Bernheim and here’s some of the things he said.

He said in the era of the 1970s right up until 1986 the coroner worked with police forces, and that the coroner, “made decisions not on facts but in the interests of the police.” He said that, “When police officers were involved in a case (meaning when they were potentially implicated in an investigation) the coroner – especially Roch Heroux – always takes the side of the police.”

“If you don’t respond to the coroner, you can be held responsible, and your testimony can be used against you.”

Jean-Claude Bernheim

Finally I asked him if it were possible for a coroner to lie in the interests of the police. Bernheim’s response? “Fully”.

Coda / Version Four

Ziggy Wiseman

In everything that has been said in the media about L’Affaire Patenaude – both in english and french – one very important detail is often left out:

Marc Patenaude was a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang.

His full name was Jean-Marc Patenaude, and he wasn’t just a member of the Outlaws, he was the muscle and right-hand man to Ziggy Wiseman, the man who controlled prostitution in Montreal in the early 1970s, before committing suicide in December 1978 just weeks after Patenaude’s death. La Presse understood this when reporter Lise Binsse said as much in a March 1979 article on the coroner inquiry process. But that’s the only time the underworld connection comes up. It is never mentioned in the english language newspapers. Why that is is uncertain: Was the Gazette solely interested in an angle of excessive force? The question is lost to history.

In his book on the Hell’s Angels, Yves Lavigne gives a different account of the beating of Normand Ostiguy. Ostiguy was sipping coffee at Chez Larry’s. Patenaude and Norman Desilets confront Ostiguy telling him “they don’t like cops”. So in this version the two Outlaw members know perfectly well that Ostiguy works for the anti-gang squad. They then beat Ostiguy senseless with ashtrays and sugar dispensers.

Now I’m not suggesting all of that leads me to a different conclusion, and that the SWAT team raid on Patenaude’s apartment was somehow justified. I am just stating that in Montreal? Just when you think you know the story, there’s another story.

This is Who Killed Theresa?

Other sources: Lynn Moore, Rod MacDonnell, John Cruickshank – The Montreal Gazette


2 thoughts on “Un peu plus haut – L’Affaire Patenaude / WKT3 #21”

  1. I’m a childhood friend of Jean Marc Patenaude and other members of his family. I lived in Pointe aux Trembles next door to his aunt and uncle. I read of his death in August of 1989 in the Winnipeg Free Press in an article called Bad Shooting by police officers across Canada. That article was about JJ Harper who was shot by Winnipeg Police. The last time we spent time together was in 1973 the year before I moved to Manitoba

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