Real Chartrand was given a second chance. Then a third, then a fourth… a fifth, a sixth, a seventh. The career criminal was granted more opportunities to reform than most Quebec offenders. Over and over, judges who sat looking down on Chartrand saw the potential in him and opted for leniency.
Chartrand’s first breach of trust came before Judge J Redmond Roche. The 18-year-old was sent to jail for his participation in a 1960 armed robbery in the suburban Laval town of St. Dorothee that netted $11, a fur coat, a car, and a watch. He spent 5 1/2 months in jail awaiting trail, but because of his good behavior, and no previous record (and we can imagine, his age), Chartrand convinced the court he had been rehabilitated. Judge Roche agreed to parole Chartrand and he immediately committed new infractions. On October 12, 1961 Judge Roche pronounced the verdict:
“You failed to take advantage of the chance given you and my sentence is five years starting today.”“Man Lost Chance, 5 Years”, The Gazette, October 13, 1961
In July 1966 Real Chartrand fooled the Quebec justice system again. Chartrand was on temporary leave from the St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary undergoing some minor surgery at a local Montreal hospital. Somehow he had obtained a starter’s pistol and while taking a bathroom break, he ordered a young prison guard to strip off his uniform. Fleeing the hospital, Chartrand ran smack into another guard, a 63-year-old seasoned veteran who tried to apprehend him. Chartrand shot the man in the chest with the starter’s pistol, striking the cigarette package in his left shirt pocket ( the guard was not seriously injured). Real Chartrand was on the loose for four hours before Montreal police caught up with him in an East End rooming house. The warden of St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary immediately ordered a full inquiry into how Chartrand managed to escape.
The Fifth Chance
In 1971 Montreal’s Philippe-Pinel Institute for the Criminally Insane in co-operation with Canada’s National Parole Service took what they called, “a calculated risk.” In 1969 Chartrand had been transferred from the St. Vincent de Paul prison ( today known as the Laval Penitentiary) to the more lenient confines of the East End psychiatric facility ( for more on the Pinel Institute click here). By this time he was serving a 15-year sentence for some other infraction ( so he must have been given a fourth chance) which ran concurrently with the 14-year term handed down in 1966 for the hospital escape. The Pinel doctors prescribed what they called “a program of progressive rehabilitation.” Chartrand was awarded a series of day passes, initially escorted, but gradually for unescorted day trips, returning each evening to his guarded cell. Through the summer of 1971 the program was progressing as intended; Chartrand worked each day as a salesman at a furniture store and returned to Pinel before dark. The program was kept secret from the public because, in the words of Dr. Lionel Belliveau, medical superintendent of the Pinel Institute, “we don’t want the public to get upset.” Note here that around this time Chartrand applied for prison parole but, for reasons unknown, he was turned down.
“No, he didn’t always want to be a policeman. When he was a kid he wanted to be a priest.”Paul-Emile Labelle – “Dead policeman was Capt. Labelle’s son”, Chris Allan, The Gazette, October 14, 1971
Gabriel Labelle was on patrol with his partner, constable Gilbert Martin when the call came across on their squad car radio: “The dispatcher had given us the number of the wanted car, IX-4645. We saw it at a stop sign and gave chase.” The two Ste. Therese police officers – a tiny Laurentian foothill town about 20 miles north of Montreal – were new to the 22-man police force, Gabriel Labelle had served for under two years. Their suspect abandoned the stolen vehicle at the corner of rue Blainville and Avenue des Erables and a foot chase began through the small suburban streets:
“When the guy ran, Gaby chased him and fired three shots in the air. I couldn’t see what was happening for the the trees.”
Labelle and Martin were soon joined by their colleague, constable Jean-Claude Quesel. Vaulting a hedge between two gardens, Quesel then tripped over his fallen comrade. When he turned over the body, Quesel realized that the 24-year-old officer was dead, shot through the heart by a submachine gun.
The gunman managed to elude capture and took refuge in a nearby home, taking a mother and her 13-year-old daughter hostage. For the next nine hours, residents of this tiny community heard the drama play out over local radio stations as police, and what were described as “radio station personalities” negotiated the release of the hostages. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, October 12, 1971, exactly 10 years from the date of his sentence from Judge J Redmond Roche, 28-year-old Real Chartrand was arrested by police for the hostage taking, a suspected bank robbery, and as a material witness in the shooting of constable Gabriel Labelle. Terrebonne district coroner Jean-Louis Taillon called for an immediate full inquiry into the release of prison inmates prior to parole.
Here Everyone Knows Each Other
The Ste. Therese police force was headed by Gabriel Labelle’s father, Captain Paul-Emile Labelle. Gathering in the town hall, which also served as the police headquarters overlooking a small town square known as “The Fountain”, officers mourned the loss of their captain’s only son:
“And Gaby was always working hard, pushing. He was young and he wanted to show his father he was a good policeman…. [In Ste. Therese] it’s not like Montreal. Here everyone knows each other. It’s like losing one of your own kids. One of the family.”Sergeant Roger L’Esperance – “Dead policeman was Capt. Labelle’s son”, Chris Allan, The Gazette, October 14, 1971
In the 1970s, the murder of a police officer was considered the most serious offense in the Canadian Criminal Code, invoking the death penalty upon conviction. But reform had been evolving rapidly and the progressive changes were confusing. After the 1963 federal election of Lester Pearson, followed by the 1968 election of his successor, Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal governments created a five-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty, except for murders of police and corrections officers. This left a number of offenders’ cases in limbo, including Georges Marcotte, one of the criminals responsible for the shooting deaths of two policemen in the 1962 Montreal ‘Santa Claus’ murders. In 1966, Marcotte’s death sentence was commuted to a life sentence. In the matter of Real Chartrand, he was the first Quebec offender scheduled to stand trial for murder since the changes to the laws governing capital punishment.
During the coroner hearing to establish if the case could proceed to trial, Chartrand seemed bemused, more interested in flirting with a girlfriend in the courtroom than the proceedings. Witnesses lined up and identified Chartrand as the man who held up the Provincial bank in Ste. Augustin, about 15 minutes west of Ste. Therese in the Mirabel region. Poorly disguised in a trench coat and ill-fitting wig, Chartand fled with $1,268 in cash to Ste Therese where the shooting of constable Labelle occurred. During the hostage standoff, two lawyers and French radio commentator, Evelyn Letecheur negotiated for the release of the 13-year-old girl and her mother. One of the lawyers managed to get Chartrand to hand over a Commando Mark III submachine gun and two magazines. Ballistics confirmed that a bullet taken from constable Labelle’s body came from the weapon. Dr. Jean Hould testified Constable Labelle was shot once in the wrist and once through the heart, and estimated the shots were fired about six feet from the victim.
“Society must be protected, and if certain experts continue to favor the liberties of certain individuals instead of the freedom of the people the fences we’re slowly removing from the jails will slowly be returned.”Coroner Jean-Louis Taillon – ” Probe demanded of release system”, Eddie Collister, The Gazette, October 28, 1971
“He was an uncured patient”
If you think this is just the story of an offender getting too many chances from a soft justice system, you’d be wrong, we’re going to make a turn.
Real Chartrand’s trial for capital murder began over a year later in November, 1972. Much of the testimony was a replay of the witnesses offered at the coroner hearing, the playbook only changed when the defense brought Dr. Gilles Lefebvre to the stand, a former Pinel Institute psychiatrist. Lefebvre had not been Chartrand’s assigned psychiatrist. He was dismissed from the institute in January 1972, three months after the October 12th shooting incident, after a closed-door inquiry with institution management.
Dr. Lefebvre met Real Chartrand in the normal course of his daily duties at Pinel. In a breach of patient and physician interactions, the 38-year-old psychiatrist told the 28-year-old Chartrand about “certain personal problems” he was having. Specifically Lefebvre said he had “received threats and was fearful of the underworld.” He went on to testify that “he was being blackmailed in connection with his past sexual life and that he had enlisted Chartrand’s help.”
Lefebvre and Chartrand quickly developed a close relationship. The doctor bought Chartrand clothing and a car, bestowing on the young patient gifts in excess of $3,000. Over the course of the year proceeding the October 12 shooting, Chartrand had been granted over 200 leave passes, all reportedly without incident. On Saturday, October 9, 1971 Lefebvre took Chartand to dinner at a fancy St. Hubert street restaurant, in the heart of Montreal’s vibrant Plateau neighborhood. Leaving the restaurant, the two friends made a stop at a drug store where Dr. Lefebvre purchased a sleeping pill prescription for Chartrand, even though the use of outside medications was strictly prohibited by Pinel Institute policy. The final witness that day was Chartrand’s actual consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Andre Mauffette who testified that, “the relationship between Chartrand and [Dr. Lefebvre] at the institution nullified any good the treatment might have done to rehabilitate Chartrand.”
Dr. Mauffette returned to the witness stand the following day, November 15, 1972 to give further light to the “questionable relationship” between Chartrand and Dr. Gilles Lefebvre. Dr. Mauffette told of a conversation he had had with Chartrand 45 days after the shooting, when Chartrand had been returned to custody:
“Chartrand told me to give his regards to everyone at Pinel but Dr. Lefebvre…. this individual made advances toward me. I felt like I was caught in an impossible situation”Real Chartrand – “Doctor’s advances affected Chartrand, expert tells court”, James Duff, The Gazette, November 16, 1972
Dr. Mauffette continued that the anxiety created by this inappropriate relationship would have been a contributing factor to Chartrand’s state of being before the shooting, “To me, this means that this state of anxiety was a very important consideration on the days preceding the crime and on Oct. 12 itself.” When he was admitted to Pinel in 1969 Chartrand was assessed as of above average intelligence, “always aware of the nature and quality of his acts.” But he was suffering from “suicidal depressive states and auditory and visual hallucinations.” Chartrand had been put on a program to slowly wean him off prescription medications. Giving Chartrand a bottle of Doriden sleeping pills would have exacerbated his depressive state.
“I refuse clemency”
On November 20, 1972 a 12-man jury found Real Chartrand guilty of the capital murder of Ste. Therese police constable Gabriel Labelle. The jury asked for clemency. When Superior Court Judge Guy Mathieu asked Chartrand if he had anything to say he responded in a clear and steady voice, “I refuse clemency.” For the first time since the sentencing of the Santa Claus murderers – possibly for the last time in a Quebec court – Judge Mathieu read the following sentence:
“You will be driven from here to a secure place where you will be kept until the 28th day of April, 1973, and hanged by the neck until you are dead – and may God have mercy on your soul.”Superior Court Judge Guy Mathieu – “Police killer gets death sentence”, The Gazette, November 21, 1972
In September 1973 Chartrand lost his appeal before Quebec’s Superior Court who ruled he had not proven he was legally insane at the time of the crime. Chartrand appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. By 1975 there were eight men on Canada’s death row waiting for appeals or for the Trudeau government to definitively abolish the death penalty:
On June 26, 1975 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously dismissed Chartrand’s appeal, with the eight judges unconvinced that Chartrand was not mentally responsible for the murder. Chartrand’s hanging was then scheduled for October 1975, but the execution was stayed until 1976 while Canadian Parliament continued to debate the question of capital punishment. With the execution date again looming, Bill C-84 passed by a narrow margin abolishing the death penalty at the eleventh hour, on July 14, 1976. Chartrand hanging had been scheduled for the following day, July 15th. The Trudeau cabinet commuted the sentence to life in prison without parole for 25 years. Real Chartrand got his sixth chance.
“He’s very conscious that he’s carrying the fate of others on his shoulders.”
Ten years later, Real Chartrand was again before the courts, this time asking for his seventh chance. In March 1987 Chartrand faced a Sainte Jerome Superior Court jury, this time in a precedent setting case seeking the right to a parole hearing after serving 15 years of a 25-year prison sentence. In the Ste. Jerome trial, Chartrand took the witness stand for the first time. He told a grim tale of his childhood. His father was an alcoholic who beat his mother. Chartrand grew up in poverty in Montreal’s Villeray – Parc Extension district. At times his family lived in a garages, once an abandoned dog kennel. He and his brother would routinely pick pockets and rob grocery stores to provide for his 5 younger brothers and sisters. He developed an early resentment against authority figures. At the age of eight he was caught shooting out the windows of a police chief’s house.
A member of the Church Council for Justice and Corrections, Marie Beemans described Chartrand as, “one of the gentlest people I’ve ever met.” Parole officials testified that Chartrand had been completely rehabilitated. Asked whether she thought Chartrand would ever kill again, psychiatrist Lousie Grignon replied, “The chances are one in a million.” Parole board member, Claude Fillion told the jury he would welcome the convicted police killer into his home “as if he were my own brother.”
In early April, Real Chartrand won the right to seek parole. The court’s verdict was ground breaking, today the effect of Chartrand’s appeal is commonly referred to as two thirds sentencing, where an offender can apply for parole after serving two thirds of their prison sentence. By July 1987, the National Parole Board began granting Real Chartrand unescorted leaves from prison. Even Paul-Emile Labelle the father of the victim, Gabrielle Labelle and former police captain for Ste. Therese agreed it was the right thing to do:
“If he’s (Chartrand) OK today, then I don’t see why he shouldn’t be given a chance to live a normal life.”Paul-Emile Labelle – “My son’s killer deserves chance dad says after jail leave granted”, Eloise Morin, The Gazette, July 10, 1987
Others weren’t so sure:
“With the rejection of the death penalty, there is a growing worry among police officers…. Mr. Chartrand has been given a chance few criminals have ever had… I just hope that in the future we don’t discover that society erred in giving him this chance.”Jean-Guy Roch, President of the Quebec Police Federation – “Municipal police officers worry killers may get early parole, leader says”, Eloise Morin, The Gazette, July 11, 1987
In 1989 Real Chartrand was granted unconditional parole and walked out of prison a free man. Interviewed by radio commentator Claude Poirier, the now 45-year-old former offender offered, “I want to live a peaceful, productive life – working and paying my taxes.” By April 1989, Chartrand was living in a Montreal halfway house, and was interviewing for a job with a communications firm where he hoped to work as an electronics technician.
From the reporting of Eloise Morin
One of the items to come forward in Chartrand’s 1987 appeal for parole was the 1972 closed-door inquiry report produced by the Pinel Institute in the wake of Chartrand’s multiple unescorted absences from the psychiatric facility. Authored by Montreal lawyer Jacques Clement, the Clement report recommended that Dr. Sleep / Dr. Gilles Lefebvre be fired from Pinel and never again employed as an administrator at the institute or any other hospital in Quebec where dangerously mentally ill patients are treated. Upon reading the report, the Quebec Corporation of Physicians and Surgeons revoked Lefebvre’s license for two months.
The section in the Clement report concerning the Chartrand affaire had never been made public. Following his dismissal and the Chartrand murder trial, Lefebvre spent seven years in exile in Morocco. In his two years at Pinel, Lefebvre was initially Chartrand’s attending psychiatrist, but his case was handed over to Dr. Andre Mauffette in 1970 when Lefebvre was appointed assistant superintendent of Pinel. Lefebvre continued to telephone Chartrand and visit him in his cell, despite requests from Mauffette asking him to stop. It was in January of 1971 when Lefebvre approached Chartrand with his “certain personal problems”, saying Carol Lavoie, a known criminal who was living with Lefebvre in his Outremont home, demanded $300 or he would disclose that the doctor was a homosexual. At this point Chartrand called upon a criminal associate to terminate the blackmail efforts, and Lefebvre paid $1,200 for the associate’s services, though it was never made clear how the money was earned.
The Clement report detailed how Lefebvre took Chartrand on trips to the Laurentian mountains, to Vermont, and once for a ride in a small airplane. The report upped the amount of money given to Chartrand disclosed at the murder trial from $3,000 in gifts to approximately $5,000 in cash. This in addition to the $2,400 used to purchase a Pontiac GTO for Chartrand. A notary also testified for Clement that Lefebvre had authorized him to draft a letter to Chartrand indicated that on his release from Pinel he would receive $2,000 in several monthly payments. Again, it must be stressed that none of this had been disclosed to any of his colleagues at the institute prior to the events of October 12, 1971. At no time did Lefebvre disclose any details of his relationship with Chartrand to medical staff.
At the dinner at the St. Hubert restaurant on Saturday, October 9, 1971, Lefebvre showed Chartrand a gold ring and asked him to put it on, symbolizing their homosexual marriage. When Chartrand refused, Lefebvre became angry, then disclosed that Chartrand’s request for parole had been denied and he would be soon leaving Pinel and returning to prison. After dinner Chartrand became extremely agitated at the thought of returning to jail, and it was at this point that doctor and ‘patient’ stopped at the drug store to pick up the prescription Doriden sleeping pills. Again, these would have heightened Chartrand’s state of agitation and depression. At the time Doriden was recognized as a highly potent and hypnotic drug. By 1986 it was taken off the market, and hadn’t been prescribed by most psychiatric hospitals for 10 to 20 years. One psychiatrist referred to it as “one of the most awful drugs ever used to treat the mentally ill.”
Chartrand then spent the remainder of that Canadian Thanksgiving weekend – a time normally reserved for celebrations with family and friends – alone, taking pills and becoming more agitated. It was after that Thanksgiving Monday, on Tuesday, October 12th that Chartrand committed the bank holdup in St. Augustin, then drove to Ste. Therese where he shot constable Lasalle, all while away on a day pass approved by Dr. Gilles Lefebvre.
At the 1972 trial, Lefebvre described Chartrand as a “psychopath”. But in 1975 the Trudeau cabinet requested a new diagnosis of Real Chartrand. The assessment was conducted by Jean Baptiste Boulanger, a psychiatrist from the Universite de Montreal, and Roger Boutin, assistant director of psychiatry at the Ottawa General Hospital. Boulanger denied that Chartrand was a psychopath, arguing that the pills coupled with anxiety pushed him over the edge into a psychotic state. Before he shot the officer, Chartrand would have lost complete contact with reality. Dr. Boutin agreed:
“If one had wanted to ‘brainwash’ Real Chartrand and bring him to the point where only acute psychosis or uncontrollable violence were possible, than one could hardly imagine a more efficient process than the one employed by Dr. Gilles Lefebvre.”“Fired after scandal in ’72, psychiatrist attacked by patients’ group”, Eloise Morin, The Gazette, June 2, 1987
Quebec Social Affairs Minister Claude Castonguay twice refused to make the Clement report public, arguing it could prejudice Chartrand’s murder trial, even with Chartrand arguing that the report contained elements that could save his life. In their closing remarks to the cabinet report, Boulanger and Boutin offered this scathing assessment:
“… in the midst of deafening publicity, a repeat offender, who, after having held up a bank, had killed a policeman who was chasing him; the offender turned out to be none other than the Pinel Institute’s model inmate. And because of him, the ‘Pinel Affair’ was clumsily covered up and followed by the firing of its assistant superintendent. Finally came the public trial where the psychiatrist appeared to be more of a psychopath than his patient.”Jean Baptiste Boulanger
“It can be said that a terrible injustice was committed toward Real Chartrand by the fact that at the very place where he should have received appropriate treatment… he also found someone who led him to ruin, blindly or otherwise, but as surely as if he had a gun held at his back.”Roger Boutin
For a time, Real Chartrand became a frequent speaker advocating for the rights of the formerly incarcerated, arguing for the rehabilitation of criminals rather than constant punishment. “Instead of forced labor, there should be forced studying. Nobody would hold it against the system for having learned something”, he said.
By the time of his parole request, Chartrand claimed to have read 3,000 books in prison. Prior to the Ste. Therese shooting he had participated in three armed robberies. My mind goes back to the morning of Tuesday, October 12th, 1971, the day after Thanksgiving – what was going through the mind of Real Chartrand? Maybe he knew he could no longer accept money and gifts from Dr. Lefebvre. Maybe he was truly fearful he would soon be leaving the relative comfort of the Pinel psych ward and returned to St. Vincent de Paul. Maybe he didn’t want to take any more chances with the justice system so he made the decision to take control of his fate. The bank in St. Augustin was a logical choice, a sleepy cottage-country town, he had spent time in neighboring Blainville. Maybe Chartrand thought $1,300 and his GTO was enough to take him away from his troubles. For a time.