Requiem Pour Un Oiseau – The Killing of André Vassard / WKT5 #19

Andre Vassard / Andre Goulet

A hot summer night in small-town Quebec with nothing to do but hang out in the local square. 16-year-old Andre Vassard is huddled with friends, talking the talk of teenagers. It’s Friday, July 28, 1972. Maybe they’re discussing School’s Out, the Alice Cooper record had recently been released, perfectly expressing the frenetic comradery of 70s teen rebellion.

Across the square, constable Andre Goulet suddenly emerges from the Ste. Therese police station. Goulet is a rookie, he has served less than two years with the municipal force. When Goulet approaches the teens, Vassard flees down the main drag, then hurdles a fence into a back lot. According to police reports, constable Goulet fired a warning shot into the air. Then while attempting to scale the same fence, Goulet’s gun accidentally discharged, shooting 16-year-old Andre Vassard in the head, and killing him instantly.

I can’t find the exit

In the days that followed, police claimed Vassard was carrying a brown paper bag containing a “greenish substance” which was sent for laboratory analysis. Police also described the town square across from their police headquarters as a well known drug “hangout” – the fleeing teen had instantly become a suspect for narcotics trafficking. Constable Goulet was simply doing good copper police work.

l’Affaire Andre Vassard

Locals weren’t buying it. Two days of violent protests followed. By Sunday, July 30th, about 2,000 demonstrators (described by police as “youths”) were pelting the police station with rocks and bottles. A Jeep was overturned, the windows of local businesses along main street shattered. Outmanned, the Ste. Theresa police force called for re-enforcements from the Surete du Quebec (then called the Quebec Police Force or QPF). Backed by policemen from the neighboring communities of Rosemere and Blainville, thirty riot-equipped QPF men were dispatched from their headquarters about 20 miles south in Montreal and managed to disburse the crowd. The helmeted and truncheon-carrying riot squad made twenty-four arrests (including the mayor’s son), and charged locals with disturbing the peace and participating in an illegal demonstration. The chaos only diminished when Ste. Therese Police acting director, Yvon Joyal assured the people there would be a public coroner’s inquest to get to the bottom of what happened to Andre Vassard.

SQ riot squad – Ste. Therese, July 1972

By Monday the residents of Ste Therese were silenced after the mayor’s literal reading of the riot act. Police barricaded the area where demonstrations had taken place. Police assistant director Joyal blamed the unrest on a few “troublemakers”. The overturned Jeep had belonged to constable Goulet’s father. During the melee, constable Goulet hunkered down in his parents’ home four blocks from the police station. The mob found him and began pelting the Goulet home with bricks and bottles chanting, “we want Goulet”.

Andre Vassard funeral

As the family prepared to bury young Andre Vassard, Mayor Rene Robert trolled the streets in a loudspeaker equipped police cruiser – like some cheap sideshow carny, the Larry Vaughn of this Montreal suburb – reminding everyone that the penalty for gathering in groups of more than three was life imprisonment. In an earlier interview Robert expressed how he hoped that calm would be restored, “for the sake of our citizens and the economy here.” He welcomed a public inquiry that would, “clear the name of our police force.”

QPF attend the funeral of Andre Vassard
Andre’s father, Maurice Vassard

Mayor Rene Robert showed up at Andre Vassart’s funeral, the family refused to receive him. The funeral procession had an unwelcomed, six-car QPF police escort. Andre Vassard’s father, Maurice Vassard vowed to “get to the truth no matter how long it takes and how much it costs.” A negotiator with the Quebec department of labor, Vassard managed to rally a number of public bodies including the Quebec Federation of Labor, the United Auto Workers, and the local chapter of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union who all called for a public inquiry into his son’s death. Vassard stated, “I don’t believe that my son had drugs in his possession”, and claimed to have evidence that the Ste Therese police were improperly trained. He told reporters how Andre Vassard had been one of the first Quebec patients to successfully undergo open-heart surgery; “what modern science has saved, the law has destroyed.”, he said.

“Qu’on la fasse éclater à la face de tous et que disparaissent de nos rues de banlieues ces COWBOYS à qui l’on remet une badge et un revolver pour faire peur aux honnêtes gens. Notre région est infestée de ces policiers incompétents n’ayant reçu aucun entrainement valable. Rappelez-vous le motard innocent tué à bout portant par un policier de Sainte-Thérèse en aout 70?”

Maurice Vassard – “Toute la competence des policiers de banlieue est remise en cause”, Le Petit Journal, 3 aout, 1972

‘But what can incompetent people like those hired by our city do? My son’s killer, after having worked with his father in the rental and sale of slot machines, decided one day to become “police” and he was given the attributes of this position without being asked for anything else. Another, a barber, went bankrupt; the next day he was a policeman. A milkman from our region, fired for having obviously tampered with his accounts, was also propelled to the title of police officer. My boy is now the latest one these guys kill.”

Maurice Vassard – “Toute la competence des policiers de banlieue est remise en cause”, Le Petit Journal, 3 aout, 1972

Spreadin’ crazy news

By mid-week the St. Therese police clarified earlier statements. Around 7:30 pm, Friday, July 28, the police station janitor complained someone was outside selling hashish to teenagers. Constable Andre Goulet was off-duty and partially out of uniform when he approached Andre Vassart in the square. In addition to firing a warning shot, Goulet claimed to have given a verbal warning shouting, “Stop or we’ll shoot.” According to the police report, after vaulting the three-foot wire fence, Goulet’s knees buckled when he landed on the other side of the fence and “his muscles tightened” – the gun fired accidentally. The accompanying officer, desk sergeant Robert Arnaud reported that he “almost felt the bullet whiz past his throat.” When they caught up with Andre Vassard he was lying face down, bleeding from the back of the head. Lying beside the dead youth was a brown paper bag containing a green substance described as “like tea leaves.” Finally, police reassured the press that “outside agitators” had been responsible for the weekend violence.

Hotel Blainville

She wanted an Einstein, But she got a Frankenstein

At the town watering hole, the Hotel Blainville, which was right across the street from the police station and the square, the shooting was the main topic of conversation. “The reason they’re coming down on everyone so heavily is because one of their own is being blamed for something, and they’re forming their shell.” offered a Laval Hydro-Quebec worker. A 20-year-old printing apprentice said the shooting was just another event in Ste. Therese where the youth don’t have any rights, “I knew there was someone in the park selling pot – the police say it was a pound of hashish, but I heard the guy had three ounces of grass to sell – and I came over to the tavern.” Sitting at the bar, 18-year-old Claude Chenier had this to say about Constable Andre Goulet, “I didn’t know him myself, but I had heard people talk of him before. He wasn’t liked. He’s only 21 and he enjoys his authority too much.” In 1972, the Hotel Blainville was called “the heart of Ste Therese”. It still is. If you’ve followed this website you will recognize it as the center of another story we’ve covered: the 1973 murder of Carole Dupont. And Ste. Therese is also where Real Chartrand held up with hostages after shooting Ste. Theresa police constable Gabriel Labelle just nine months earlier in 1971. For a little Quebec town, Ste. Theresa had seen a lot of action.

Carole Dupont notice from Surete du Quebec cold case website. The item is now curiously missing from their list of cases.

I’m bored to pieces

The Hotel Blainville (nicknamed the “Ash-Bee”), the police station and the square (then known as “The Fountain”), all lay within the shadow of the town’s triple spired 19th century grey stone Catholic church. Father Guy Champagne assessed the dark tragedy as follows:

“When I first came here in 1955, there was an accepted hierarchy, The Mayor was a man of social importance and the Church was the heart of the community. But now that has been completely smashed and nothing has arisen to replace it.”

“A bar at five o’clock… the heart of Ste. Therese”, Paul Waters, The Gazette, August 5, 1972
La Presse – July 31, 1972

The coroner’s inquest began on Wednesday, August 9th. On the first day of testimony, heard before Coroner Jean-Louis Taillon at the St. Jerome courthouse, 21-year-old constable Andre Goulet told the court how he was hired in October 1970, handed a badge and a gun and told, “You’ll learn by experience.” The pursuit of Vassard took place right down the town’s main drag, rue Blainville, past the Ash-Bee and through a throng of evening shoppers, until Vassard – by now referred to as “a suspected drug pusher” – darted “into the grounds of an old folks’ home.”, the Foyer Drapeau. (note that these were the same grounds where Carole Dupont’s body would be found twenty months later during the spring thaw). Goulet’s warning shot was not fired into the air, but parallel to the ground:

“He was running towards the seminary fence behind the old folks home… I fired a shot into the field in front of me.”

Constable Goulet

“Weren’t you afraid of hitting someone in the field or that the bullet might ricochet off the fence or a tree?”

Crown prosecutor

“It was still clear and I couldn’t see anybody in the field, perhaps there was someone on the other side – near the Lionel Groulx College… I put my left hand on the fence and was in the air when the revolver went off”

Constable Goulet

Goulet said he learned to shoot when acting police chief, Yvon Joyal took him out to a gravel pit and had him fire off a box of shells with a .38 Colt revolver. In addition he had spent less than two hours practicing at the Montreal police firing range. Goulet explained how the St. Therese police didn’t supply bullets, so occasionally he “borrowed some shells” and fired them off at his cottage. He claimed to be a bad shot, and last had his eyes tested in 1970. Subsequent to these events, the Ste Therese police force pledged to sending all recruits to a 16-week training course at the Quebec police academy in Nicolet.

Sergeant Robert Arnaud later testified that he wasn’t aware that Goulet had joined him in the pursuit until Goulet’s warning shot practically grazed his throat. Arnaud told the inquest that he never drew his revolver during the chase, “I wouldn’t have used my firearm anyway.” A chemist from Quebec’s Medico-Legal Institute – housed in the same facility as the Quebec Police Force – testified that the brown bag found next to Vassard’s body contained just under an ounce of marijuana.

Andre Goulet’s service revolver

In the following days, the police version of events were contradicted by witnesses. A 77-year-old resident of the Foyer Drapeau retirement home said he saw Constable Goulet take deliberate aim when he shot Andre Vassard. “He shot like this,” Jeremie Lafleur told the coroner, holding his arm out in front of him in a firing position. He “stopped running, aimed and shot.” Jeremie Lafleur also confirmed that the the running youth, “had a bag in his hand.” A ballistics expert told the court it would take, “a very good shot,” to take down a moving target at 100 feet.

Andre Goulet at the coroner’s inquest

Lafleur’s statement was problematic. The pensioner stated five minutes elapsed between the warning shot and the fatal shot. When the prosecutor did an experiment in court and asked him to tell the court when five minutes had passed, Lafleur stopped him after five seconds. Lafleur testified that both officers were wearing their hats, it had been established that Goulet was partially out of uniform and hatless. Asked how he knew it was Goulet that shot Vassard, Lafleur explained, “because I read it in the newspapers.” This testimony prompted Coroner Jean-Louis Taillon to admonish the local press for misleading reporting. Specifically Taillon rebuked the French language daily, Journal de Montreal for running the headline, “Vassard Inquest; Goulet testifies; I aimed, I fired…”, the text superimposed over a photograph of Constable Andre Goulet with his arm held out in front of him. Taillon continued:

“The same paper, which will use a defamatory headline or story, ruining a man’s reputation for years, often runs stories defending civil rights on the opposite page.”

The coroner promised a day of reckoning for people who, “are not journalists, but simply people who carry press cards.” Taillon’s comments would, of course, prove to be prophetic. This was practically the exact scenerio that played out with Allo Police during the 1979 murder investigation of Maurice Marcil and Chantal Dupont.

Two other witnesses testified that the second shot was fired before Constable Goulet vaulted the fence. A crossing-guard told the coroner that Goulet ran, “a few feet forward, stopped and took another shot..” A housewife who had just finished having her hair done testified that a policeman, “was in the same spot when I heard a second shot… he hadn’t brought his arm down.”

On the final day of testimony, Constable Goulet revealed under cross-examination that he had know Vassard from grade school. Goulet told the court that when he turned the youth over after having shot him he realized, “I know him, we were in the same class for three years.” (It’s doubtful they were in the same class together as there was a five-year age difference between Goulet and Vassard).

On Friday, August 11, Coroner Taillon ruled constable Andre Goulet criminally responsible for the July 28 slaying of Andre Vassard and recommended Quebec’s Department of Justice place the entire Ste. Therese police force under trusteeship. After the reading of the verdict, Goulet was placed immediately under arrest. In his ruling, Taillon took a swipe at the entire St. Therese community and specifically its municipal council, pointing out that the park where the event began,

“gives off more (marijuana) smoke than water for its fountain…. The Fountain is in the shadow of the police department and the municipal council, which appears to be in the dark.”

Taillon said he had visited the area more than four times since Vassard’s death and believed there was an explosive situation building between, “the blue jeans and the (police) uniform”. In his verdict he said he held constable Goulet responsible, “with great reserve,” because part of the “responsibility lies with the employer.”, and this was why he was recommending the trusteeship.

Trusteeship urged – The Montreal Gazette

The question of trusteeship was immediately put to Premier Robert Bourassa who said – given that Justice Minister Jerome Choquette was on vacation – he would confer with deputy minister of justice, Robert Normand on the matter. Over the summer weekend many demoralized Ste. Therese police officers threatened to resign, but they were talked down by the police brotherhood president, Jean-Claude Quesel. Quesel fumed that the coroner ruled the force incompetent:

“That’s completely false. Do you know that more than three-quarters of the police force have educations of grade 10 or better?”

Acting Chief Yvon Joyal whinged that he only acted on the orders of the town manager. Meanwhile, Ste, Therese youths hoped the outcome would produce new recreational facilities so that they wouldn’t be forced to congregate on city streets. At the Hotel Blainville, 59-year native of Ste. Therese, Jean-Paul Croteau pondered the situation. Indicating the municipal structure across the street he lectured,

“Just look at that police station. Ste. Therese’s protection has been directed from the same puny offices for the last 75 years. There are 25 men on the police force but that isn’t nearly enough.”

Ste Therese today – L to R: the church, old police building, the park, and what would have been the Hotel Blainville across the street at far right.

Croteau’s thoughts were not without merit. When General Motors built a plant in the region in the mid-sixties, it provided jobs for many of the Ste. Therese unemployed, but the town rapidly doubled in population, straining resources. Just in the year that this story was covered by local media, Ste. Therese went form being referred to as a town to a city. Other local residents also blamed the town’s municipal administration and the provincial government for not providing adequate funds for public protection, completing the circle of blame.

Gazette editorial – 1972

By the following week Quebec’s justice department ruled there would be no trusteeship for the Ste Therese police force. They hoped the town would refer to a provincial white paper that had been produced the prior year on police and public security. In a remarkable turn around, less than a week since his verdict, Coroner Taillon said he was, “satisfied the decisions taken by the government are the best, I hope, for the public’s security and that the recommendations were taken under consideration.”

Quebec police cadets at target practice

A Ste Therese youth group urged the government to reconsider their decision. The Montreal Central Council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions recommended that the Quebec government disarm police to prevent more deaths such as that of 16-year-old Andre Vassard. Five months later, constable Andre Goulet was freed at his preliminary hearing. Court Judge Andre Chaloux ruled there was insufficient evidence to justify a trial on the charge of criminal negligence. The judge assured that the ruling was not an acquittal,

“I just feel there isn’t enough evidence that would allow a jury to find this constable guilty of the charge.”

After the ruling, the father of constable Goulet, Elie Goulet – also a police officer with the Ste. Therese police department – speculated that he did not think his son would return to the force. Andre Goulet then spent four months training at the Nicolet police academy, graduating second in his class. On Monday, July 23, 1973, less than a year after the shooting, constable Andre Goulet returned to work with the St. Therese police department. At the end of his first shift back, he unexpectedly quit his job, resigning “for personal reasons.”

Andre Goulet

On the first anniversary of Andre Vassard’s death, about 50 youths demonstrated outside the Ste. Therese police station. Again, stones were thrown, the windows of local businesses shattered. Andre Goulet was out of town on vacation and did not witness the protests.

Andre Vassard’s death became a brief rallying point for Quebec injustice, but was quickly forgotten. At a 1974 summer concert, the French artist Jacques Michel performed a protest song in Vassard’s honor, “Requiem Pour Un Oiseau”. A critic complained that the song was too long and the lyrics didn’t make much sense.

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One thought on “Requiem Pour Un Oiseau – The Killing of André Vassard / WKT5 #19”

  1. Reading, listening to this episode gave me an ‘ice cream headache’ as you’d put it mildly.
    It was horrific, it is tragic for Andre Vassard and his family, I can’t imagine the suffering they must have gone through, they never got justice. Their only mistake was to live in Sainte-Thérèse.

    Here’s is my message to Sainte-Thérèse police force, Sûreté du Québec, and the Québec government:
    You were protecting yourselves and serving only yourselves, not the people. Stop being so arrogant and start with some serious long due reforms. As long as you as a police force don’t acknowledge your own police misconducts in the past 50+ years, if you don’t publicly apologize and fairly compensate all the victims and the family of the victims, as long as you label every homicide cold case since 1960s as “suicide, drug overdose, runaway” without a serious investigation, you will never get any respect, trust or collaboration from those who pay your salary: The taxpayers. It is never too late to do the right thing. You owe it to your folks.

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