Bang-Bang Knock-Knock – The Rock Forest Massacre Part 1 / WKT5 #20
“La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas“
Marc-André Bédard had a very bad time of it in his years as Quebec’s Minister of Justice. From the Parti Québécois victory in 1976 through his replacement by Pierre-Marc Johnson in March 1984 Bédard presided over sticky judicial matters including the police shooting of David Cross by SQ officers on the Kahnawake Reserve south of Montreal, the petitioning by the father of Diane Dery for her cold case to be transferred to the SQ, and the Jacques Cartier Bridge murders of Maurice Marcil and Chantal Dupont. Then there was that uncomfortable business of all those unsolved murders in 1977, and the illegal police wildcat strikes that plagued late 1970s Quebec. At the close of 1983, Bédard was handed another messy case – a whopper, in fact – and another police shooting. This time, of two innocent carpet installers assaulted by an army of police officers in a tactical operation that was executed very poorly. Maybe this is why by March of the following year Bédard had finally decided he’d had enough.
The Brink’s Job
The trouble began on Thursday, December 22, 1983. A Brinks guard was shot and killed at Pascal’s hardware store in Rock Forest’s Carrefour de l’Estrie shopping mall (a bedroom community of the much larger city of Sherbrooke) during an armed robbery that netted over $53,000 in cash. Brinks guard, Yvan Charland was killed at 4:15 p.m. as he and another guard, Gilles Socquet carried money from the store to their armored truck. The two guards were walking 20 feet apart when one of the bandits grabbed Socquet from behind and said “stay calm or I’ll shoot.” Then two shots were fired. Shopper Marc Pierre-Gilles said he was in the gift section of Pascal’s when he heard a loud noise. “I thought someone dropped some wood on the ground. A few seconds later I heard another noise. I knew it was a shot and dove to the floor.” Another witness said when the first shot went off “everybody froze. No one panicked. Someone yelled ‘Get down! ’ and everyone did.”
Charland was dead within minutes. The thieves grabbed a single bag containing $53,623 and fled on foot through the Pascal’s shipping room as dozens of horrified Christmas shoppers looked on. Twenty-four hours earlier, the shopping centre had been evacuated after a bomb scare. About 10,000 people were doing last minute Christmas shopping at the time. Police believed the two incidents were unrelated, although the Wednesday incident was also an attempted robbery.
Thirty-seven-year-old Yvan Charland was a Sherbrooke resident. He was married with two small children. He worked for 10 years with the Brinks security company. Sherbrooke police immediately began to work the case, assigning 15 men to the investigation, and issuing a Canada-wide alert bulletin for the two suspects. One was described as a five-foot, ten-inch man of 180 pounds with straight brown hair, last seen wearing a navy blue jacket and dark pants; the other was six-feet, one-inches tall, with straight brown hair and a short beard, weighing 220 pounds and wearing a black ski jacket and black trousers. Both men appeared to be between 25 and 30 years old.
Here it is important to note that Sherbrooke police made a direct appeal to all Eastern Townships residents asking them to be vigilant, and on the lookout for anyone fitting the descriptions of the two robbers. A police spokesman asked the public to specifically be on the lookout for abandoned vehicles.
A veteran of the Sherbrooke police force commented that he could not remember a person ever being wounded or killed in an armed robbery in Sherbrooke. That wasn’t the case for the province. The slaying on December 22 was the fourth time in four years that an employee of an armored truck firm has been killed during a robbery in Quebec.
Quebec’s largest armored car robbery happened in 1976 when an anti-aircraft gun mounted in the back of panel truck was used by bandits to rob a Brinks truck of $2.8 million in a lane in Montreal’s financial district. In March 1978, two Alliance security guards were wounded while lunching at a roadside diner in St. Jovite, north of Montreal, as robbers made off with their unattended truck containing $1 million. A Sûreté du Québec police officer was later convicted in the case. In August 1979, a guard employed by the Alliance Blinde Ltee. security firm was killed while delivering $330,000 to a credit union at the Montreal headquarters of the CBC. On December 18, 1979, a Brinks guard was shot and killed during a $360,000 armed car holdup involving six bandits outside a federal government complex in Hull. In February 1981, a Brinks guard was shot dead at Place Bonaventure, a fashionable shopping concourse in downtown Montreal. In March 1982, an Alliance armored car containing $2 million in cash and securities was hijacked by a single gunman after its crew left a door unlocked during their lunch break. Then in April 1982, $220,000 disappeared from the Alliance depot in Sherbrooke over the Easter weekend. The vault was not equipped with an alarm.
Any of these robberies may have inspired Yves Simoneau’s 1986 armored car heist thriller, Pouvoir Intime. All of this means that by Christmas 1983, Quebec law enforcement was getting pretty fed-up with armed robberies. The situation was ripe for a correction, and maybe some hyper-vigilance.
It’s been this way for years
The following information was taken from initial reports of the Rock Forest incident. Sometimes those are the best accounts; people’s guards are down, they don’t understand the full consequence of their testimonies. As we will see later, the police of the Eastern Townships appeared to be feeling entitled, they’d never had their operations questioned by outside voices. That was about to change.
The police got right to work being vigilant. Within 24 hours, officers from the Rock Forest Police found two stolen cars nearby in the parking lot of the Rock Forest plaza shopping centre. One vehicle contained a shotgun and discarded clothing. According to Chief Richard Parenteau, “It was our officers who found the stolen car in the Woolco parking lot… They found some clothing in it and a rifle — a .303 or. 308 — and told the Sherbrooke police about it right away.” Next a local resident tipped police that there were two men staying at the neighboring Chatillon Motel who looked suspicious. Parenteau was quick to point out that Rock Forest officers were not involved directly in the events that followed, though they provided back-up:
“They (Sherbrooke police) took the whole thing over from us. ” “ From then on, we were assisting, not leading.”Chief Richard Parenteau
Jean-Paul Beaumont and Serge Beaudoin were two tradesmen from the Quebec City region. They had come to Sherbooke to lay carpet in the offices of Bell Canada. They worked late, a 12-hour shift from five to five after all the employees had gone home to their families. They were no doubt anxious to finish the job and return to their own families and enjoy the Christmas holiday. It is worth noting that from this point on in the story, the media rarely referred to them by their full names. While police are afforded a first and last name, and the respect of their job titles, they are known mostly as Beaumont and Beaudoin, or simply as ‘the carpet layers’.
Jean Paul Beaumont and Serge Beaudoin finished their work at Bell Canada in the early hours of Friday morning, December 23, 1983. After showering, they went to sleep, planning to return to Bell Canada around noon that Saturday. By 5 a.m. they were both asleep in room five of the Chatillon motel. Beaumont awoke to a stab of pain, as a bullet struck his right cheek. He saw his partner and friend Serge Beaudoin, tumble out of bed, mortally wounded. “I don’t remember hearing anything before the shooting,” Beaumont said later in an interview. “I heard a volley of shots and at the same time, I felt pain in my back. I fell off the bed and I looked for the telephone to call police, but it was off the hook.” The phone would have been of no use anyway. Police bullets had ripped through the dial, rendering it useless. While Beaudoin cried out for help, Beaumont said he heard a commotion in the corridor. Beaudoin died four hours later in hospital. Beaumont insisted police didn’t try to wake them up:
“I don’t remember hearing anything before the shooting… I heard a volley of shots and at the same time, I felt pain in my cheek … After the shooting, people were shouting to open the door right away or they would force it open … But they didn’t even say it was the police. I thought it was bandits. I wanted to call the police!”Jean Paul Beaumont
Two senior Sherbrooke police detectives — Sgt. Roger Dion and Cpl. André Castonguay, 14-year veterans of the force – were immediately suspended with pay in the aftermath of what has come to be known as La Fusillade de Rock Forest. Castonguay had fired 20 rounds from an Israeli-designed Uzi submachine gun . He said he began shooting because he thought Dion was being attacked inside the room. And here is the crux of the matter. Police say the incident unfolded inside motel room number 5 in a melee that ensued with two suspected robbers and security guard assassins. Jean Paul Beaumont insisted that all shots were fired outside motel room number 5.:
“People were shouting to open the door right away or they would force it open. As I moved to the door. Serge said: ‘Open it, open it’. “Then I opened the door and they brought me out and made me lie face down on the ground.”Jean Paul Beaumont
“How can you forget something like this?”
The cock-up started when police made the disastrous assumption that Beaumont and Beaudoin had arrived in Sherbrooke from Québec City in one of the stolen cars found in the Woolco parking lot. Beaumont had proof to the contrary — a receipt for his van, which had broken down en route from Québec City and a bus ticket for the rest of the trip to Sherbrooke:
“I told them where my van was and even had a bill for it in my wallet as well as mv bus ticket.”Jean Paul Beaumont
Neither Beaudoin nor Beaumont had a criminal record. No weapons or bank loot were found in their motel room.
On Monday, December 26th, Québec Justice Minister Marc-André Bedard called for a full inquiry into what prompted at least eight Sherbrooke officers to storm room number 5 of the Chatillon Motel, apparently without warning, during a manhunt for killers of a Brink’s guard.
Apparently Sherbrooke police chief Maurice Houle never got Bedard’s message. At the same time the Justice Minister was denouncing the botched raid on two innocent workers, Houle was telling media at a press conference – to which local media weren’t invited – that Jean Pierre Beaumont was, “still the prime suspect and will be until somebody proves to me otherwise.” In a mounting series of contradictions between Beaumont and police, Beaumont denied he was a suspect, having told the press upon his released from the hospital on Saturday, “I told them (police) my story They checked it out and quickly realized they had the wrong man.”
Meanwhile, Sherbrooke police chief detective Lt. Alphée Leblanc of the department’s criminal investigations branch glibly denied that Dion and Castonguay had been suspended. “They have been liberated of their functions with pay, they have not been suspended.”
After Christmas, Brinks Canada announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killers of Yvan Charland, who was buried Christmas Eve, 1983. Chief detective Leblanc believed the killers of the Brinks guard were from outside the region but had little in the way of evidence to back up the claim, “I don’t think they were guys from around here. They are not from the Sherbrooke milieu.” Leblanc then denied the force was in over its head, but then added, “We don’t know where to look… We don’t have a crystal ball. It’s like that — that’s what it would take. We would pay a lot of money to have a crystal ball right now.”
The next day, a local fortune-teller offered Leblanc her Crystal Ball. ‘Emma’ told police they would find the two robbers playing cards, hiding out in a chalet-type sugar shack in the woods about 10 miles outside of Sherbrooke. The two suspects were being aided by another man, who used a powder-blue pickup truck to make runs into town to buy them provisions. The story seemed remarkably similar to the Charles Marion kidnapping, a possible hoax that took place in the area only a few years earlier.
Everything They Know
“Given the great importance of public opinion in this case, given the fact that two Rock Forest officers were present when the killing took place, given the need for impartiality in a matter of this nature, and given the fact that the QPF was not involved in it in any way, either directly or indirectly, I asked the Justice minister to hand [the case] over to them… My detectives are spending the day telling the QPF [Sûreté du Québec] everything they know. ”Rock Forest Police Chief Richard Parenteau
Parenteau stressed that it was important for the Sûreté du Québec take over the investigation into the shooting, “so there is no appearance — no question — of cover-up.” At the same time, a lawyer from Quebec City, Come Poulin, was retained to represent Serge Beaudoin’s wife and five-year- old son, as well as Jean Paul Beaumont, who said he would sue for damages. Poulin told reporters that Beaudoin’s mother, who was widowed only three month’s earlier, was told over the phone by police that her son had been killed “in error.”
In addition to being assigned the shooting investigation, remember that the Sûreté du Québec was also charged with leading Québec Justice Minister Marc-André Bédard’s inquiry. Two QPF detectives with the Eastern Townships criminal investigation bureau were tasked with the assignments, Sgt. Germain Gauthier and Cpl. Roch Gaudreault. The pair were called “top detectives” in matters of criminal investigation.
But first there was the matter of the coroner’s inquest. A ringer coroner, Denis Boudrias of St. Jean was brought in on an ad-hoc basis to preside at the inquest to determine whether there was any criminal responsibility in the shootings of Beaudoin and Beaumont. Sherbrooke coroner Michel Durand, who would have normally presided over the inquest, asked to be replaced because he knew the policemen involved and also wished to avoid any possible conflict of interest. There’s a lot of stepping around ‘conflicts of interests’ in the case, something almost unavoidable in a small town like Sherbrooke. In fact, a cohort people and agencies were trying not to running into each other, hoping to avoid negative perceptions, or worse. Note the involvement at this point of three police agencies; two municipal forces, the Sherbrooke police and the Rock Forest police, and the provincial police, the Surete du Quebec.
We’ve been through this sideshow many times with many cases, the 1978 police shooting death of Marc Patenaude immediately comes to mind. I’ll spare you the suspense, you’re smart people; the coroner’s inquiry found Roger Dion and André Castonguay criminally responsible for the death of Serge Beaudoin, but when it moved to trial, they were acquitted. Same old song and dance. It’s how the case unfolded that is interesting. Everything matters. Devilish details.
The Coroner’s Inquest
The three-day coroner’s inquest began well after the Christmas holiday, on Monday, February 13, 1984. Testimony revealed that 33 year-old carpet-layer, Serge Beaudoin was shot eight times from a 9mm UZI sub-machine gun fired through the closed door of room 5 at the Motel Chatillon as he was rising from his bed. Witnesses said police did not identify themselves before the shooting. Pathologist Dr. Jean Hould told the hearing Beaudoin died of shock and “lacerations of the heart and right lung caused by the passage of a bullet.” Hould testified that physical evidence indicated Beaudoin was “either standing or sitting — but not lying down” when he was struck by the bullets and said in his opinion Beaudoin was “probably caught by surprise while he was sleeping and was in the process of rising from his bed when the bullets hit.” A ballistics expert testified that a total of 21 shots were fired through the motel room door, all but one of which came from the UZI submachine gun, a weapon capable of firing over 600 rounds per minute. It would have taken about 2 seconds for officer André Castonguay to fire off the 20 rounds. The ballistics expert added that the UZI was apparently fired by “someone with experience in handling such a weapon” because the shooter had “compensated for the gun barrel’s natural tendency to lift up when fired.”
Edward Redden, who with his wife was occupying neighboring room 4 when the shooting occurred said he “was awakened from a deep sleep by loud noises and shouting in the hall that sounded like somebody having a fight. After I heard the noise — about one or two minutes — I heard what sounded to me like a burst from a machine gun or a jackhammer.” Five bullets passed through his room, one almost grazing his head. When the firing stopped, it was only then that Redden heard someone shout, “Open the door and raise your hands. This is the police.” Redden said he next heard someone,
“… telling someone they were going to count to five. I heard them starting to count and then I heard the sound of the door opening and handcuffs being put on. There was a lot of noise — a lot of shouting. ”Edward Redden
After a few minutes, a police sergeant knocked on the door to check if Redden and his wife, Lee were alright. Lee Redden retrieved a bullet from the floor of the motel room and the sergeant asked her husband if he would like to keep it as a souvenir. Redden replied that he did not. He was certain that no one had identified themselves as police until after the shooting stopped.
Police sergeant Camille Vachon testified about the events that led up to the Rock Forest Massacre. Vachon said he was on duty the night of December 22-23 and that he was told by detective Sgt. Michel Salvail to prepare bullet-proof vests and special weapons after Sherbrooke police received a call from Rock Forest police saying that two vehicles reported stolen in the Quebec City area had been found in Rock Forest. Vachon also said he was told descriptions of two men staying at Le Chàtillon matched that of the two men being sought for the Brinks robbery. Vachon issued bullet-proof vests to Salvail, who was in charge of the Brinks investigation, inspectors Roger Dion and André Castonguay, and two constables. Vachon testified that Castonguay, a shooting instructor, was also issued the UZI submachine gun. Salvail then gave the men a detailed description of the interior lay-out of the motel room. He said no attempt was made to call either the suspect room or neighboring ones, “We were operating on the strategy of surprise.” Police had two ambulances on standby at the motel scene before the shooting occurred “as a precautionary measure.”
The first day of testimony was a Canadian media crush with representatives sitting in from the Canadian Press, the Toronto Star, Journal de Montreal, La Presse, Le Devoir, the Winnipeg Free Press, Photo Police, Allo Police, La Tribune, The Sherbrooke Record, CBC, Radio-Canada, CFCF TV, CTV News, Global TV, CJAD Radio, CKAC, and many others. The press corps became the focus of the drama when respected crime journalist Normand Maltais of Photo Police collapsed from a “mild heart attack” midway through the hearing, and had to be rushed to St-Vincent de Paul hospital by one of his biggest fans, Surete du Quebec media spokesman Rene Cote. Evidence introduced at the first day of the coroner’s inquiry included the UZI submachine gun, photographs of the crime scene, the broken security chain and the bullet-ridden door from motel room 5.
“I thought he had been hit. Then the door slammed.”Sherbrooke Police detective André Castonguay
According to Andre Castonguay, his partner, Roger Dion was in the motel room when he heard a shot and saw the detective turn and flee. It was only then, according to Castonguay that he opened fire with the UZI submachine gun. Castonguay said he stood in front of the door and fired “because I thought everyone was in danger; the people in the other rooms, the policemen in the corridor and myself.”
Castonguay’s partner, Roger Dion told the inquest that it was he who had fired the one shot from a non-issue .45 calibre pistol:
“When I entered the room all I saw was an individual lying on the bed, and he lunged at me. I saw this naked torso coming at me. I thought I was a dead man so I fired once. I fired and then I ran. The door was already closing when I fired, I couldn’t see the individual anymore, but it was still open. It all happened in a matter of seconds.”Sherbrooke police detective Roger Dion
The statements completely contradicted those of Jean-Paul Beaumont, and Edward and Lee Redden who gave testimony indicating the door was closed, and the security chain in place before the shooting began. Even the door of room 5, submitted as evidence on the previous day of testimony, indicated at least 23 points of entry from bullets fired from police weapons.
The statements by Dion and Castonguay climaxed a day of testimony from Sherbrooke police where the offices attempted to convince the coroner that their lives were in danger. There were many contradictions in the evidence given by the testifying officers, but the basic story was consistant:
- Sherbrooke police received information from Rock Forest police sergeant Yvon Charpentier that two cars, stolen the previous day near Quebec City had been found in separate parking lots in Rock Forest.
- In one of the cars, police found a navy blue parka, and weapons matching early descriptions of the apparel and weaponry carried by the two men who had killed the Brinks guard during the robbery at a Pascal’s hardware store.
- There was a bad storm that night and police felt the perpetrators might be close by, so they were on the lookout at local motels.
- Sure enough, less than 1,500 feet from the Woolco parking lot where the vehicles were found was the Motel Chatillon. When the motel owner informed them that two guys had checked in in the early morning of the previous day, and he thought there was something funny about “two guys registering at that time of the morning” – again, recall that police asked the public to be hyper-vigilant – police closed in.
- Sherbrooke police detective sgt Michel Salvail told his men to be ready for a “surprise operation” whose objective was to arrest two men suspected of the Brinks murder.
- Bullet proof vests were issued to three detectives and two constables, and a submachine gun to Castonguay.
- Rock Forest police sergeant Yvon Charpentier obtained a master key to the motel rooms. He said he did not want to telephone either the suspects in room 5 or the occupants of the neighboring rooms “ for fear of alerting the suspects.”
- Charpentier informed Sherbrooke police that there was no vehicle parked in front of room 5. This was not true. Police never bothered to check that vehicle, which did in fact belong to Beaudoin.
- Salvail told the inquest that the “surprise operation” they planned to use was a standard procedure “whose objective is to ‘neutralize ’ suspects before they have time to react.” Salvail said he had participated in such procedures several times and that they were effective.
- The police then entered the interior corridor of the motel, leaving some uniformed officers outside to cover the exterior door and approached room 5.
At this point the police testimony contradicts the testimonies provided by Beaumont and Edward Redden:
Salvail said he used the master key to unlock the door, but found it would only open a few inches because it was blocked by a security chain. Salvail told Castonguay to force it open, so Castonguay kicked the door open. Dion, armed with a non-issue .45 calibre Colt entered the room just as Salvail reached in to turn on the light. According to Dion, he shouted “Police! Nobody move! ” and went “a couple of feet ” through the door which was now “wide open”. He turned to his left where he saw, on the bed, “an individual who was moving. He lunged at me.” Believing the man to be one of the Brinks killers, Dion said he feared for his life and fired and stepped back. He said the door of the room was already closing when he fired the single shot. He said he had no idea where the bullet had gone until afterwards when he counted the holes in the door and realized that his shot must have made one of them. His bullet was later found on the floor in the Redden’s room.
Castonguay. who entered the room immediately behind Dion, said,
“as soon as I saw something was wrong I stepped back to give Roger some freedom of movement. I heard a shot coming from inside the room and when I saw Roger spin and fly past me followed immediately by the door slamming. I thought he had been hit. I stepped in front of the door and fired two quick bursts. As far as I was concerned everyone was in danger, the people in the other rooms, the policemen in the hallway and, I admit, myself…. I thought they were men who had committed a robbery and a murder only a few hours before. I figured they were desperate. ”Andre Castonguay
The two short bursts Castonguay shot fired 20 9 mm bullets, eight of which struck Beaudoin between the shoulders and thigh, one of which struck Beaumont just in front of the right ear, and four of which passed through the wall between rooms 4 and 5 narrowly missing Redden and his wife. Salvail, Castonguay, Dion, and the two constables, Jean-Guy Dussault and Mario Belair, insisted that Dion shouted “Police” as he entered the room and all said other officers were shouting this as well. This testimony contradicted that by Jean-Paul Beaumont and Edward Redden who said they never heard any identification.
Day Three, and Verdict
The final day of the inquest wrapped early, and was only convened to hear testimony from Rock Forest police sergeant Yvon Charpentier who had been away vacationing in Barbados. As expected, Charpentier corroborated the version of events presented by his fellow police officers with a few exceptions. After hearing the motel owner’s description of the two suspects, Charpentier said he told Salvail, “That matches pretty well, maybe they’re our guys”, contradicting an earlier statement where he said, “I think we have your guys.” Charpentier said neither he nor Salvail verified the license number of the car parked outside room 5. Charpentier testified that by the time all the police had arrived in the corridor outside room 5, they had convinced themselves that the men inside the room were the killers from the Pascal’s Brinks robbery. In closing remarks, Sherbrooke police lawyer Michel Proulx stated that the men had used, “standard approved police methods proven effective” in the apprehension of dangerous criminals.
On Monday, February 20, 1984, ad hoc coroner Denys Dionne found Sherbrooke Police officers Roger Dion, André Castonguay and Michel Salvail criminally responsible for the violent death of Serge Beaudoin, opening the door for criminal charges as the result of their participation in the police raid at the Rock Forest motel:
“…incomplete and too summary planning, lacking reflection and prudence, and the recklessness manifested before (the) police intervention indicate in my opinion that they acted with great negligence . . . I declare that, in my opinion, there were crimes committed of which the presumed authors are Roger Dion, André Castonguay and Michel Salvail, all three members of the police force of the city of Sherbrooke. ”Coroner Denys Dionne
The following is the full text of Coroner Dionne’s verdict:
Having been authorized February 1, 1984 according to the Coroners ‘ Act to perform research and hold an in quest into the circumstances which surrounded the death of Mr. Serge Beaudoin. 33. resident while living of 1 Ancienne Lorette. district of Quebec. I submit the present report and verdict.
At the beginning the death did not seem to me to have resulted from natural and purely accidental causes, but possibly to have occurred, according to the terms of article 11 of the said law, as a result of violence, negligence or guilty conduct on the part of a third party. I had to research the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Beaudoin.
I proceeded to research on February 6, 7 and 8. 1984.
Following my research, having reason to believe, according to article 14 of the said law. that the death of this person had resulted from the violence or negligence on the part of a third party, I had to hold an inquest into the circumstances which surrounded this death.
This inquest, public, was held in Sherbrooke February 13, 14 and 15, 1984. I had previously advised the procurer general as well as all people I had judged to be interested.
At the inquest a lawyer represented the procurer general. He proceeded with the interrogation of the persons I had summonsed and whose testimony seemed useful to me.
The lawyers for the interested persons were able to ask the witnesses all pertinent questions at the inquest. As coroner I interrogated certain witnesses myself. Altogether 20 witnesses were heard.
It was established before me that Serge Beaudoin died at 10:20 the morning of December 23, 1983, at the University hospital centre of Fleurimont, a Sherbrooke suburb, in the district of St-Francis. An autopsy revealed the medical causes of death: shock caused by bleeding, a bilateral hemothorax and lacerations of the right lung and heart, by the passage of a bullet.
Earlier on the morning of December 23, between 6:45 and 7:00 a m., Serge Beaudoin and his companion Jean-Paul Beaumont were resting, having worked the evening (before) and part of the night installing floor- covering in a Sherbrooke business office.
They had rented a two-bed room, room number 5, at the Motelle Châtillon, located in Rock Forest, near Sherbrooke.
Informed by a Rock Forest policeman of the presence of these two men at that place, three police detectives from the Sherbrooke city police department convinced themselves that they were the authors of an armed robbery which had taken place the day before at about 4:15 on the afternoon of December 22 1983, in a shopping centre located in Sherbrooke and during which there had been the death of a man.
But this was not the case. Beaudoin and Beaumont were not connected in any way with this crime. They had no weapon in their possession.
These police-detectives gathered a team of patrolmen, showed them their plan, and went to the Motel Le Châtillon. Some of them had put on bullet-proof vests. All of them were armed. Most carried their service weapons. As for detective Roger Dion, he had a Colt .45 pistol in his hand., and detective André Castonguay was armed with a 9 mm calibre Uzi brand sub-machinegun which could fire up to 10 rounds per second. Room 5 of the Motel, being situated on the ground floor, was equipped with a door facing the parking lot and another door facing the an interior corridor; a group of policemen was placed outside on watch. The three police detectives and a few constable entered the interior corridor to reach room number 5.
Detective Michel Salvail, equipped with a key, tried to open the door. This was held back from inside by a security chain. He ordered his colleague André Castonguay to force the door open. The latter went ahead and by kicking it. tore off the chain and the door was opened. Detective Roger Dion entered the room and spotted one of the occupants. Serge Beaudoin, who was preparing to get out of bed, Dion backed up and when the door was closing on him, he fired a shot from his Colt .45 towards the interior of the room. “A voluntary action”, he said.
In the following instant, detective Castonguay, “so the shooting would stop, for the safety of everyone,” he said, fired a volley of 20 rounds from his sub-machinegun through the closed door of room number 5.
For the safety of everyone, except the occupants of room number 5, Beaudoin and Beaumont, and those of room number 4, whose presence was known to detective Salvail and at least presumed by detectives Dion and Castonguay.
Indeed Beaudoin was killed, struck by eight bullets. Mr. Beaumont was wounded in the head, a bullet penetrating through his right cheek and leaving through the back of his neck. And a bullet went through the wall separating rooms 5 and 4 to pass a few inches from the head of one of the occupants of room 4 lying on his bed.
My verdict is one of violent death.
The incomplete and too hasty verification and planning, the lack of reflection and prudence and the recklessness shown before this police operation show, in my opinion, that they performed with grave negligence.
As for the raid itself, which caused the death of Mr. Serge Beaudoin, it was conducted using excessive and unjustified force. This is an abuse of force.
CONSIDERING the circumstances outlined above and the reasons I have indicated.
CONSIDERING the third paragraph of article 30 of the coroners’ act. I declare that in my opinion there were crimes, whose presumed authors are:
ANDRÉ CASTONGUAY and
ALL THREE MEMBERS OF THE Sherbrooke city police department.
SHERBROOKE, this 20th day of the month of February nineteen hundred and eighty-four.DENYS DIONNE, judge Special coroner
After the verdict was delivered, more than 200 spectators burst into loud and unexpected applause, many expressing surprise that such a harsh decision was reached. Though charges of first or second degree murder were possible, most agreed the maximum would be involuntary manslaughter, or use of excessive force. Police refused to comment on the verdict but their disappointment was clear. One police officer commented, “Does this mean we have to let people fire at us without answering?” No weapons were ever discovered in the motel room or vehicle of Beaumont and Beaudoin.
Through much of the inquest, Serge Beaudoin’s family sat in silent observance, though no doubt with tempers simmering. “My brother was assassinated,” said Estelle Beaudoin over the Christmas holidays. Though initially saying the raid was “an error”, at the inquest the police walked back the statement and came out on the offensive. Said Estelle, “These are people who are supposed to provide protection.” Serge’s mother, Cecile Beaudoin, went much further, “It wasn’t an error; it was murder.”
Serge Beaudoin was described as outgoing, good-humored and hard-working. He was the fourth of seven children of Cecile and Donat Beaudoin. His father, a building contractor, had died the previous year. Serge was the father of a five-year-old boy. The last thing Beaudoin did before driving to Sherbrooke on Dec. 20 was to drop off the boy’s Christmas present, a pair of cross-country skies.
The Beaudoin family promised to “take this thing right to the end.” Echoing their outrage, Serge’s brother, Réjean stated, “Justice must be done…. Even if there had been two bandits in that hotel room, it should have been easy enough to capture them alive. If they (police) wanted to play cowboy, they could have shot in the, air. I don’t know what they expected from that raid.”
Another brother, Gilles Beaudoin spent most of the inquest fuming, and was rebuked by Coroner Dionne for secretly trying to tape record the hearing. At the conclusion of Andre Castonguay’s testimony, after the officer left the building escorted by several SQ officers, Gilles Beaudoin spat on Castonguay before being restrained.
Something Marxist This Way Comes
At the conclusion of the inquest, prominent civil rights leader, and head of Quebec’s Human Rights League Jean-Claude Bernheim , who had been in attendance for the three-day process, had a few words to offer the media on what he had witnessed:
“It’s the show, the atmosphere, the way they are held. It’s the social politics of it that makes it a spectacle. Coroners’ inquests are all held for the purposes of the police, for police objectives… They have as a goal to find guilt, not to find out the reasons for what happened or to take measures to prevent recurrences. The police are always white washed. Always. For example when someone dies in prison, every single time, they say it was because his heart stopped. What kind of a reason is that? In a case like this the inquest is for a public guilt search. An innocent man was killed for no apparent reason. A scandal arises. But this has happened in Québec 30 or 40 times in the last eight or ten years. The police didn’t seem to act differently this time than they did any of the other times. These are enormous abuses but there is nothing in the system to prevent them from recurring. We reproach the system itself for not taking measures to stop the killing of innocent people by police. They (coroners) never ask why are so many people killed or wounded by police in Québec….Police took less than an hour from concept to execution in the bungled Rock Forest raid. One thing we learned here is how quickly a police raid can be put together. What do they teach them at Nicolet to give so little preparation to such a thing?”Jean-Claude Bernheim
Unimpressed, the president of Québec’s Police Federation, André Nadon cried fuckle-doodle-doo, stating simply that the shooting “was excessive”, but the three officers involved were unfairly painted as criminals. But Bernheim’s words must have struck a nerve with police who seemed stunned and unsure of themselves after the verdict. To many this appeared to be a reckoning long past due. Allo Police appropriately connected the dots between Rock Forest, the SQ shooting of David Cross in 1979, and the Ste Therese Police shooting of Andre Vassard in 1972, and even referenced the excessive take-down of fugitive, Richard Blass by police in a chalet in 1975. Blass was shot 27 times by police.
By 1983, there were a lot of sheriffs running around the Townships, what they needed was a Chief Brody. The Montreal Prisoners’ Rights Committee charged that the Rock Forest shooting was just “the tip of the iceberg” of police abuse of power.
Excellent analysis of 1983’s and all those events…
Police play a vital role in our society, but they cannot do their jobs effectively without the trust, support and the taxes of the community. The community pays the salaries of the police in form of taxes. In order to hold that trust, the police must earn it including by asking themselves hard questions like whether there are certain laws they have a moral duty not to enforce and professional practices they have a moral obligation to disclaim.
The bottom line is this: Québec police, Rock Forest, or the St-Thérèse Police, wield extraordinary power over the lives of others—including even the power of life and death—and yet they are among the least accountable people on the planet.
The reality is that police are almost never prosecuted for the crimes they commit under colour of law, and the judiciary has helped ensure that other avenues of accountability, including particularly the ability to bring civil damages claims, are largely toothless.
We have a massive double standard between the level of accountability to which members of law enforcement hold the rest of us and the level of accountability to which they permit themselves to be held—which again, is very close to zero.
And when people perceive—correctly in my judgment—that some lives are counted by the system as less sacred than others, they are going to be angry about it. And they damn well should be.
Serge Beaudoin, David Cross, André Vassart, Richard Blass and all those other innocent people who were murdered in the past by the police had all a life that was sacred, too. They were murdered. And they never got justice. And it was the police’s duty to serve and to protect. It was their MORAL duty, too. The police were too busy with playing cowboy and with protecting their own interests. They didn’t care about those innocent folks, which is unforgivable.