Bang-Bang Knock-Knock – The Rock Forest Massacre Part 3
“You are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass”
In the downtime between Part 1 of this story and where we are now, a resident of Sherbrooke, Quebec contacted me to share that in 1983 his father had owned a gun repair shop in town. One day an officer from the Sherbrooke police – presumable Andre Castonguay, as he was the one who was trained in the use of such firearms – came into the shop with the UZI submachine gun used in the raid. He complained that the site on the weapon was calibrated incorrectly, causing it to miss targets. This would have been just before the incident in Rock Forest.
This is part three of Bang-Bang Knock-Knock, our final chapter about the 1983 Rock Forest Massacre in which two carpet layers were mistaken for armed and dangerous criminals involved in the fatal shooting of a Brinks security guard. Quebec police tracked the men down to a motel in Rock Forest, a small community in the Eastern Townships wedged between the city of Sherbrooke and the town of Magog. Police stormed the Chatillon motel in the early hours of the morning of December 23, 1983 strafing the carpet layers’ room with bullets from an UZI submachine gun, wounding Jean-Paul Beaumont and killing Serge Beaudoin who died four hours later in a Sherbrooke hospital. We pick up after the coroner’s process, the trial, and inquiry by the Quebec Police Commission. The three Sherbrooke police officers in question, Dion, Castonguay and Salvail were recommended for demotion for their actions, but kept their jobs, some were even promoted. The family of Serge Beaudoin took legal action, but never saw a penny in restitution. No one sent flowers or said they were sorry.
Pretty good, eh
On Wednesday afternoon, April 11, 1984, 27-year-old Brink’s armored car security guard, Bern Saintes was attacked by two men while attempting to make a cash delivery at the Intercontinental Bank in Houston, Texas. Saintes was clubbed over the head and shot in the leg and shoulder, but managed to return fire as the men fled in a waiting getaway vehicle, leaving a trail of blood from the bank lobby to the parking lot. Police quickly tracked the suspects down to a Regal 8 Inn near the Astrodome. Within 24-hours they arrested Mario Valiquette, Doris Gatien, and Yves Lasalle, all the subject of intensive searches in Québec on various charges, including armed robbery. The men were in the company of three women and two young children. Less than 6 months after the bungled siege that unfolded in Rock Forest resulting in the death of an innocent carpet layer, Serge Beaudoin, American police managed to do what had alluded Quebec police all winter; quietly arrest the Pascal hardware store robbers who killed Brinks security guard Yvan Charland in the December 22, 1983 Carrefour l’Estrie shopping mall heist.
The arrests were made without incident by the Houston Police Department’s SWAT team in what one officer described as “a beautiful operation.” The fugitives surrendered when ordered to do so after talking to police on their motel phone. Two of the women and the uninjured man came out of their motel room and were arrested as they walked away. The other woman, the two wounded suspects and the two children remained inside. A number of weapons, including an Uzi submachine gun and a shotgun, were found in the suspects’ room, but they were never used. Not one shot was fired. Compared to the massacre at the Motel Chatillon, the calm, ordered precision of the Regal 8 operation was striking. It again leaves you wondering what were they teaching these police cadets at the Quebec academy in Nicolet?
After the arrests, four Quebec police detectives – the QPF’s Real Chateauneuf, Yvon Fauchon, and Jean Dagenais, and Sherbrooke police officer Michel Salvail – flew to Houston to confer with Houston police, and interrogate the suspects. Yes, Michel Salvail – who was still awaiting trial for leading the “botched, improvised” raid at Rock Forest – was permitted to travel to Houston and question experts on their textbook operation at the Regal 8 Motel.
Quebec Police’s arrogance knew no limits. In a communique issued by the Surete du Quebec / QPF they brayed, “The Sherbrooke municipal police in collaboration with the Quebec Police Force have solved the murder of Brink’s security guard Yvan Charland.” Apart from a wiretap on the suspects – which may have been illegal – Quebec police played limited, if no part in the arrests of Valiquette, Lasalle and Gatien. When QPF spokesman André Blanchette tried to take credit for giving Houston police the hotel name and room number of the suspects gushing, “Pretty good, eh,” Houston Police public information officer, Raul Correo corrected that it was their officers who found the motel while looking for a “brown Buick” with Canadian plates.
What was true was that Valiquette, Lasalle and Gatien had been “strongly suspected” in the Carrefour l’Estrie holdup. Valiquette and Lasalle were both escapees from the Leclerc Institute in Laval, today a women’s minimum security prison. Gatien, who had escaped from custody in New Brunswick, was wanted in the Eastern Townships for a series of robberies committed at Caisses Populaires banks in the weeks before the Carrefour robbery-murder. The three were facing a maximum sentence of 99 years in the United States.
On Tuesday, May 27, 1986 Yves Lasalle, 31, and Mario Valiquette, 30 pleaded guilty to the second degree murder of Brink’s guard Yvan Charland during the Christmas week heist, and were handed life sentences by Superior Court Justice Georges Savoie. The two had been serving 20 and 40 year terms respectively in the United States (their accomplice, Dores Gatien had been the getaway driver and sentenced to lesser charges). Lasalle and Valiquette returned to Canada on their own request under a prisoner exchange program, wanting to serve their prison time in Quebec.
During the trial, previously unpublished information was presented in court, including that Lasalle had rented an apartment well before the robbery under an assumed name to use as a headquarters. As reported by Philip Authier in the Sherbrooke Record, Dores Gatien planned the robbery. Valiquette had the job of detaining one guard while Lasalle — armed with a 12 gauge shotgun — went ahead to meet Charland. In the confusion of the moment, two shots were fired, one into Charland’s face, killing him instantly. After fleeing the scene, Lasalle and Valiquette hid out in the Townships before eventually slipping across the border with the help of Gatien.
At the sentencing, Lasalle’s defence lawyer said his client had shown signs of wanting to pull his life back together. He had a regular girlfriend and had started an industrial design course in prison. Both defence lawyers said the two would profit from their time in jail, and agreed that the Crown’s suggestion — 18 years for Lasalle and 16 for Valiquette — was justified. Speaking directly to the manacled prisoners, Judge Savoie told them he held out hope that by the time the two were out of jail they might become productive members of society.
In passing sentence Justice Savoie said he considered that many other people could have been hurt in the shopping mall shooting, especially since it was in the middle of the Christmas rush. Because of their reckless actions, one person was killed, and this could not be ignored, so he had to provide a sentence which would not only serve as an example but also as a deterrence to others. The circumstances the judge described were frighteningly similar to the events at the Rock Forest motel, but with a starkly different outcome when the offending parties wore a badge.
The hope for rehabilitation didn’t last long. Less than two months later, Yves Lasalle along with four other convicted murderers managed to escape from the Archambeault prison, then a maximum security detention centre in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec. Lasalle was reportedly using the $53,000 from the Brink’s heist which was never recovered to evade capture. The money didn’t last long. By December he was wanted for the armed robbery of a guard from Loomis security in Burlington, Ontario. He was never heard from again.
Dores Gatien didn’t fair much better. He was involved in crime all his life, last reported as the head of a drug smuggling operation in 1994. Presuming he behaved himself, Mario Valiquette was paroled in 2002.
Whatever became of the Surete du Quebec’s voluminous report on the Rock Forest affaire? According to La Tribune in 1984, the report, which was the work of Sergeant Germain Gauthier and Corporal Roch Gaudreault from the criminal investigation office of the SQ was more than 300 pages, and “…the two sleuths interviewed no less than 75 people in the context of this investigation in subject of the death of Serge Beaudoin”.
The report was intended to be bound and reproduced in ten copies, then distributed to key stakeholders; the coroner, prosecutor, Quebec Police Commission, and investigators. Gaudreault and Gauthier were even working on a second report focusing on the comings and goings of Serge Beaudoin and Jean-Paul Beaumont during their stay in Sherbrooke and in the immediate region. According to La Tribune, “[the report was ] of prime importance to shed full light on the actions of the two people who were at the heart of this operation.”
In 1999 the report became the subject of a Access to Information challenge between a Quebec newspaper (perhaps La Presse or the JdM) and Quebec’s Ministry of Public Security. The FOIA request was made to obtain “a copy of the Sûreté du Québec file concerning the death of Mr. Serge Beaudoin at Motel le Châtillon on December 23, 1983. The Sûreté du Québec file is number 119-831226-004.” The initial request invoked sections 94 and 88.1 of the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information. Under review with the Ministry, more details of the challenge and the document became apparent.
Representatives from the newspaper and the Surete du Quebec travelled to Sherbrooke where “Mr. Rock Gaudreault, ex-investigator in charge of the file, for his part agreed to go to the Sûreté du Québec Headquarters to consult this file.” The FOIA challenge continues:
“The court file was also examined; It appears that during the trial of the 3 police officers Castonguay, Dion and Salvail, Corporal Gaudreault never testified and that his report was not entered into evidence. In the lawyer’s opinion, the record in dispute has not been made public. The lawyer also indicates that Corporal Gaudreault did not testify at the coroner’s inquest and that his report was not filed there either. Finally, the file of the Deputy Attorney General in which disputed information could have been found has been destroyed and it remains to be verified with the Police Commission which had investigated at the time.”File: 00 00 72, June 16, 2003, Commissioner Hélène Grenier – Applicant vs. MINISTRY OF PUBLIC SECURITY
The FOIA request then goes on to say that the file does exist under the umbrella of the Police Commission, but that that file is “under seal in the National Archives for a period of 150 years. All the documents in dispute which are kept by the Surete du Quebec represent approximately 750 pages.” Anyone who listens to this podcast and reads the words, ‘under seal for 150 years’ will immediately flash to the 1969 investigation into the shady dealings of police in the Louis-Georges Dupont affair.
At one time the prosecutor’s office in Sherbrooke apparently had a copy of the SQ file, but that copy was destroyed within one year after the expiry of the time limit to appeal the verdict rendered at the end of the police trial in 1984.
According to the newspaper that filed the challenge, not only did Corporal Rock Gaudrault not testify at the coroner’s inquest, he did not testify at the trial or during the Police Commission inquiry, and no element of the investigation report of the Surete du Quebec was made public. The Ministry of Public Security then used the argument that since, “There is no evidence that the Sûreté du Québec report which is in dispute was made public…”, it is not a public document and “The request for review must be dismissed.”
A colleague at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec commented to me that it is “very strange indeed that we do not have the investigation report on the December 23, 1983 intervention in Rock Forest.” But not so fast. There is evidence that at least some of the report was made public. In July 1986, during the Quebec Police Commission process, Le Devoir published an excerpt of the Surete du Quebec report (I’ve posted a translation of the article here on another post).
The excerpt of the report is excellent and I encourage everyone to read it. It is too lengthy to delve into in detail, but here are some highlights:
- The report calls the raid on the Motel Chatillon “regrettable improvisation.” … “The police had enough time to coordinate their action. Did they do it? The police were questioned in depth on this issue. Nothing in the evidence suggests thoughtful preparation or planning.”
- “Monsieurs Dion, Castonguay, and especially M. Salvail, who was in charge of it, are to blame for not having planned the operation when they had time to do so…”
- There was plenty of blame to go around, including the officers supervisors: “We reproach the detectives Dion, Castonguay and Salvail for not having sufficiently informed and consulted their officers, on the morning of the 23rd, and to the officers, in particular Lieutetant Jacques Testulat, sergeant Roger Cloutier and especially the sergeant Camille Vachon for lacking leadership, according to the tasks assigned to them, for submitting to the action rather than controlling it. Even assuming that this mutual consultation would not have changed the outcome of the operation, the police were required to do so.”
- There was no ‘book’ that Castonguay, Dion and Salvail were working from. The report suggests several other options that were open to them including asking for assistance from the Surete du Quebec who had more experience in these types of operations, calling the occupants of room 5 on the phone, using a megaphone, or simply waiting, instead of invoking the worst option, the use of deadly force.
- They did not check the vehicle parked outside room 5: “They would then have realized that it belonged to Mr. Beaumont’s companion, Serge Beaudoin, whose name appeared on the motel listing.”
- Castonguay shot through the closed door of room 5: “Before unloading his submachine gun into the door of room 5 (which was closed), did Mr. Castonguay think that the projectiles could easily pierce the weak interior partitions?”
To the appellants in the 1999 FOIA challenge: your lawyers fleeced you. They should have easily spotted that Le Devoir published a portion of the report. So never mind a 150 year seal, shouldn’t the fact that a major Quebec newspaper published a portion of the report provide enough proof that it was at one time made public, and therefore should be made public once again? I have put this very question to the folks responsible for Quebec archives, response pending.
In researching the matter further, I found that the report does in fact exist in odd public places. Here it is in the University of Manitoba’s law library (I can’t be bothered to do the international inter-library loan, that would practically take an act of God):
The question becomes, who buried the report? I don’t think it’s the Quebec Police Commission. I believe l’Affaire Dupont shows us that it’s pretty standard procedure for them to seal their dealings for a lifetime. It’s not the Surete du Quebec. They would have no motive to do so, there’s no blame thrown at them, they are simply following the laws of public access. I would place my bets on the City of Sherbrooke, With their reputation at stake, and the need to maintain their robust tourist economy, they would have the most to lose from such a negative report.
“Si c’était dans les mêmes circonstances, j’aurais fait la même affaire.”
In 2019 Andre Castonguay gave an interview with Radio Canada in the Eastern Townships. There is so much that is wrong with this interview, both in concept by the writer, Genevieve Proulx (according to her, no relation to Marcel Proulx who defended the officers in the ’80s) and Castonguay’s choice of words. It left me wondering if he had learned anything on reflecting about those events that transpired that Christmas in 1983. Most troubling is his fixed belief that, “If it were under the same circumstances, I would have done the same business. I could not do otherwise.”
Proulx chooses to begin her story on the afternoon of December 22, 1983 with Castonguay and fellow officers, we are told, giving out Christmas baskets to the less fortunate. When the news breaks that a Brink’s guard has been shot and killed at a Pascal’s in a local shopping mall, and in the midsts of thousands of Christmas shoppers, the officers spring into action. “Decisions must be taken at full speed”, Castonguay says. It’s as if there is some compelling force driving them towards this unfortunate yet somehow unavoidable outcome.
Proulx writes that, “Everything indicates that the wanted suspects are staying at the Motel Le Châtillon in Rock Forest”, yet what we know to be true is that very little indicated this, but the narrative in their own heads that the suspects must be at that motel. Recall that Serge Beaudoin’s vehicle was parked outside room 5, but no officer bothered to check who that car belonged to.
“Andre CastonguayWe looked at what we had gathered as evidence and we had enough information to make arrests. It is difficult these cases, because we are always in uncertainty.”
If there is uncertainty, then you do not proceed. You do what the SWAT team did in Houston with the actual perpetrators of the Brinks robbery; you pick up the phone, you negotiate, you wait. Castonguay argues that their objective was to execute something he now refers to as a “
dynamic entry operation“ aimed at surprising suspects, as if this was a planned response. But we know from the Quebec Police Commission and the excerpt of the Surete du Quebec’s report in Le Devoir that it was improvised. The Sherbrooke police were admonished for having no manual to carry out such a mission. “Simple on paper. More complicated in practice.”, Proulx writes. Except there was no paper.
Castonguay states that at the moment he heard his fellow officer, Roger Dion’s pistol discharge, “I had no choice but to open fire.” But this is really about all the choices that led up to that point. The choice to enter the motel building. The choice to use non-standard issued weapons such as Dion’s personal Colt .45 automatic pistol and the UZI. The choice to destroy the phone rather than using it. The choice to bring a submachine gun to achieve what could have been worked out using words.
Judging from how well this interview is going it will come as no surprise that Castonguay then begins to paint himself as the victim in this process, relating how after the shooting, there was, “No time off. No follow-up on his condition. No meeting with a psychologist”. But recall that the first action after the shooting would have been the standard procedure of an interview about the incident, and both Castonguay and Dion refused to participate in this fundamental step in the process of any police shooting. The officers could have taken time off. The community was begging for them to be suspended.
Castonguay says that “During the trial, I found it hard for the victim’s mother. I wanted to tell her, but we couldn’t…” He wanted to tell her what? That he was sorry, but he couldn’t? This is an often repeated line of bullshit heard in the victims’ world. How the players in the justice process want to say sorry, but they can’t because it would be perceived as an admission of guilt. What I say is, you send the flowers anyway. It is then the victim’s decision whether to throw them back in your face. ‘We would have sent a police escort, but it would never bring your loved-one back’‘. You do it anyway. Then the public gets to decide whether to pelt the vehicle with eggs. That’s the way it works.
But maddeningly, that was not what Castonguay was struggling to express to Serge Beaudoin’s mother. He already states in the article, “I never felt guilty for what I did…”, so Castonguay feels no remorse. What did he want to tell Madam Beaudoin?
“I would tell her today that we did our best, that life is like that.”Andre Castonguay
This is the police agency that former chief and mayor of Sherbrooke, Jean-Paul Pelletier called, “one of the best forces in the country”. The same force that in the summer of 2021 mistook a missing victim for a store mannequin. The same force with an officer in their ranks, Samuel Ducharme, who was recently arrested for sexually assaulting an individual in Sherbrooke while on duty, also in the summer of 2021. Mr Castonguay, your best is looking pretty shaky.
Through the article we learn that the now retired Andre Castonguay eventually became director of criminal investigations of the Sherbrooke Police force. His career prospered. It’s difficult to interpret what Radio Canada l’Estrie was attempting to do here. If this is a restorative justice piece, then where is the Beaudoin’s perspective? Reconciliation between victim and offender takes both parties, it can’t happen otherwise. If the Beaudoin’s refused to participate then the article should have never been undertaken. The story completely from Andre Castonguay’s perspective is a white washing of events, and an insult to the memory of Serge Beaudoin.
Recently I travelled to Canada and visited many places – either intentionally or by chance – we’ve talked about many times along this true crime journey. I had a poutine in Ste Therese, where Andre Vassard was shot down by a police officer. On the road to Cartierville I passed the hospital where Johanne Dorion worked. In Longueuil I talked with Surete du Quebec cold case investigators about a variety of cases.
Overnight in Sherbrooke I stayed in Rock Forest at the Jardins de Ville motel, it’s very similar in style to the Motel Chatillon, long gone and replaced, I believe by a Jean Coutu. It has an outside entrance where you park your car, and also an interior entrance with a traditional corridor that leads to the lobby. The Jardins de Ville is where Claude Poirier stays when he visits the area, I think it may be where he held up during his negotiations in the Charles Marion affaire.
I stopped in Knowlton to see Tracy Wing, and buy a gift at Lac Broome Books, AKA the Louise Penny store. In Lennoxville I had dinner at the Lion Pub with Stephane Luce of MDIQ. I also drove to Compton Station and spent time and the place where my sister’s body was found. Back in Montreal I had been to Luna Pizza where Theresa once worked. Later in Saint John, I went back to the train station where we saw her for the last time, Thanksgiving 1978. The mapping of memories.
Canadian justice system has been giving power and authority to police more than half a century, to protect and serve the society; but the police did little to nothing to solve so many crimes, especially homicides. The taxpayers kept paying for the salaries of those law enforcement agents even though they hardly solved any homicides all that time. The police let the criminals walk away, used force; shot and killed many innocent citizens as Serge Beaudoin and didn’t even get punished for those murders.
The use of force by police neither prevents nor solves crime for the vast majority of criminal offences. Detective work certainly doesn’t require the use of force or firearms. It can continue to be conducted by unarmed, plainclothes specialists trained in talking to witnesses, conducting interrogations, knocking on doors, interviewing, assessing crime scenes, and collecting evidence and letting the evidence be forensically analyzed by specialists.
The solution lies not with enforcing economic and social inequality, but in removing it. Putting the tax money towards this — for example, by building affordable housing, education, social work, social security system, forensic science, child protection, youth welfare, sports, integration, creating job opportunities, — makes far more sense than shoring up a police institution that is too often brutal and self-serving.