Extract from the investigation report of the Commission de police du Québec on the conduct of the Sherbrooke and Rock Forest police officers who participated in the operation of December 23, 1983 during which a citizen, Serge Beaudoin, was fatally injured
WHERE one wonders about the criteria applicable to the conduct of the police in a case like this, one must give up in advance the idea of finding, codified, detailed precepts which would settle everything. We must rely on the Police Act and the Criminal Code, as interpreted by the courts.
In Quebec, the duties and obligations of the police officer are defined in article 67 of the Police Act: “All municipal police forces and each of its members are responsible for maintaining peace, order and security. public in the territory of the municipality for which it is established, as well as in any other territory over which this municipality has jurisdiction, to prevent crime as well as infringements of its regulations and to investigate the perpetrators.”
In the police operation of December 23, the police, searching for the perpetrators of a crime, were therefore carrying out one of the obligations imposed on them by law. As they used force during this operation, it is necessary to refer to article 25 of the Criminal Code which regulates its use:
“(1) (Protection of authorized persons) – Whoever is, by law, obliged or authorized to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law a) as an individual, b) as a peace officer or public official, c) to assist a peace officer or a public officer, or (d) by reason of his functions, is, if he acts on reasonable and probable grounds, justified in doing what he is ordered to do or permitted and justified in using the force necessary for this purpose.”
Reading the two articles that we have just quoted immediately suggests a first reflection. The law does not impose an obligation of result on the police, but an obligation of means. What to say? The police do not have to find the perpetrator all the time, but rather they are required to search for him. In other words, you can never blame a police officer for not trapping a criminal if he has fulfilled his obligation to search for him. And the legislator adds that the police officer can “use the necessary force” both to search for the criminal and to apprehend them, if one occurs.
The second reflection relates precisely to the use of force by the police in the performance of his duties. The legislator did not impose on the police officer the obligation to use or employ force “in the execution of the law”, he allowed him to use it: “(he is) entitled to use strength … “. In using force, the police will have to take the circumstances into account.
In addition to the Police Act and the Criminal Code, in the performance of his duties, the police officer must also apply the code of discipline or ethics, if there is one for his police force, the directives in force. , and specific instructions if applicable.
It is in the light of these principles that we will examine the conduct of the police officers before taking part in the operation of December 23, 1983. Instead of repeating the chronological order of the facts, we will rather present the shortcomings identified by grouping them by theme.
Inaction of the officers
When we consider the action as a whole, we are struck by the almost total absence of officers, especially among the police officers of Sherbrooke. As this is not a minor operation, quite the contrary, let us see their role on the morning of the 23rd.
Now captain of the investigation service, Jacques Testulat was then lieutenant of the gendarmerie. He was on duty from 10:30 p.m. on the 22nd until 7:30 a.m. on the 23rd. Sherbrooke police officer, Me Michel Proulx, sends a request to Judge Roger Gosselin. highest ranking officer on duty at the time of the operation. However, he does not even attend the 6.30 am meeting where the police are handed out bulletproof vests and guns. When he shows up in room 23, the meeting is already over! He is satisfied with a simple information:
“Q. What did you do then?
“A. Well there, I asked what was going on? I said, what is it, what’s going on here?
“Q. What were you told and who answered?
“A. Well, it was Mr. Castonguay who told me, we ‘ride’ to a motel in Rock Forest, the guys are there.
“Q. Wasn’t there anyone else who told you anything else?
He is told that it is Michel Salvail who is in charge of the operation. He then allows himself a piece of advice:
“I asked: be very careful, be careful in the means of caution but it was over then, they went out. “
It’s Sergeant Cloutier who was actually in charge of the gendarmerie that morning. He didn’t attend the 6.30am meeting either, because Detective Dion assigned him to distribute the bulletproof vests. He will meet at Motel Le Châtillon with his patrol officers, his role will remain rather passive, except when it comes to requesting ambulances. (Sergeant Cloutier will say, “I didn’t ask any questions.”)
What about the others? Most did not learn of the Châtillon affair until the morning of the 23rd. For example, the head of the investigation department at the time, Captain Roland Rousseau, now retired, was told at 7 h 30 by sergeant Vachon, whom the suspects are arrested – which he hastens to communicate to M. Faquin -, but an hour later, the same sergeant Vachon retracts this:
“Captain, I think I told you a joke, I didn’t tell you the truth. I said, what’s going on? He says, we don’t have guns, we don’t have money. »
Detective sergeant Camille Vachon, immediate superior of Monsieurs Dion, Castonguay and Salvail were in the office when Sergeant Charpentier informed Mr. Salvail of the presence of two suspects at Motel Le Châtillon. He would then have had a very short meeting with Monsieurs Dion, Castonguay and Salvail during which the Chatillon operation is decided:
“Q. O.K. And you were aware that Mr. Charpentier called Mr. Salvail?
“Q. Good. “Did you have a meeting with Mr. Salvail or Mr. Castonguay at that time?
“A. Yes I got out of my office and then when all the last information was in, I got out of my office and left my people there, then I went to see: ‘Okay, what is it? what are we doing here?
” So it was decided there that at some point, that we organize ourselves for a possible operation, go and check to know if all these data were exact, and if it was correct, to strike at the Motel.
“Q. Okay. Did you participate in this decision?
“Q. With whom?
“R. Salvail, Dion, Castonguay, those were the only three left.
“Q. And you decided what exactly?
“A. So we decided, as we had often done in the past, to go and wake up suddenly, to open a door to the motel and to go and see who was lying there since the information allowed us to believe. that it could be suspects.
“Q. And you decided that at that time, during that rally?
“A. That is correct. “
Q. To wake up in unit number five at Motel Le Châtillon?
“Q. Was it decided before everyone left?
“A. Before the three investigators meet the gendarmerie.
“Q. Even with the morning briefing, what you called meeting the gendarmerie, before that meeting?
“Q. Did you attend that meeting where we met the gendarmerie?
“A. I did not attend that meeting, I knew that the three investigators were going to meet the Gendarmerie with an officer or two officers of the Gendarmerie to organize, organize …
“Q. The brutal awakening?
“A. The brutal awakening.“
Detective Sergeant Vachon does not accompany his subordinates at Chatillon. As for Lieutenant Raymond Bonneau, the officer in charge of the investigators, he was on duty from 4.30 p.m. on the 22nd to 1.30 a.m. on the 23rd. He did not participate in the Châtillon affair in any way, and will not learn of it until around 10:30 am in the morning. However, the night before, according to Sergeant Vachon, he had participated in a two-hour briefing on the theft and the murder committed at Pascal’s. He would then have decided that Monsieurs Dion, Castonguay and Salvail would take care of the case. Indeed, Sergeant Vachon affirms:
“Q. Was it you who decided that it was Monsieurs Dion, Castonguay and Salvail who were to be concerned?
“It was Lieutenant Bonneau who decided that with, in agreement with me when at the start of the meeting. .. (interrupted) …
“Q. At the start of the meeting?
“R. Yes when … (interrupted) …
“Q. Who was there at the end of the evening?
“A. When they returned from Pascal’s, it was decided at that time, with Lieutenant Bonneau, that it was going to be Detective Salvail who was going to take charge of the file and that he would be accompanied by the two other detectives. , Dion and Castonguay. “
Then Lieutenant Bonneau is no longer in charge, his service being over.
In short, detectives Dion, Castonguay and Salvail acted without really consulting their senior officers, whom they informed very briefly, almost at random from a meeting in the office. And it does not appear that the officers showed a willingness to exercise any authority or a desire to advise their subordinates on the major operation ahead.
What were each person’s tasks (according to the job description book)?
a) The lieutenant of investigations (post held by Raymond Bonneau) must “direct, control and coordinate the work of a team of the division in addition to exercising himself the function of investigator”. Mr. Bonneau was off duty that morning.
b) The investigation sergeant (position held by Camille Vachon) must “direct the work of the team, in the absence of the lieutenant”.
c) The lieutenant of the gendarmerie (post occupied by Jacques Testulat) must “direct, control and coordinate the work of a team of the division from the headquarters”.
d) The gendarmerie sergeant (post occupied by Roger Cloutier) must “direct the work of a team in the lieutenant’s absence”.
As for the tasks assigned to the detective, they can be found in the appendix. We note (at III, G) that he must tell “his superior immediately to inform of the progress and results of the investigation”.
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.
It often happens that fortuitous and completely unforeseeable circumstances throw the police officer into a situation of violence in which his reaction must be immediate and without delay. He acts without consulting or awaiting orders or instructions from his superiors. In “the fire of the unforeseen”, he also cannot afford to develop or mature strategies. But this is not the case with the operation of December 23, 1983. 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.
Contrary to what Monsieurs Cloutier or Salvail have claimed that the latter has decided on the operation, in the form it will take, as soon as sergeant Charpentier informed them of the presence of “two plcolos” in room 5. “Give them time to climb,” said Ms. Salvail to Mr. Charpentier. A few moments later, Mr. Vachon understands from Mr. Salvail that the operation has already been decided: “So it was decided there that at a given moment, that we organize for a possible operation, go and check. to know if all this data was correct, and if it was correct, go and knock on the motel. “
In fact, there was hardly any verification, and above all no analysis of the elements or clues gathered, or reflection, the impulse alone guiding the speakers. For example, it does not seem that they had checked the registration of the car secured in front of room 5: they would then have realized that it belonged to Mr. Beaumont’s companion, Serge Beaudoin, whose name appeared on the motel listing. […] Whether they reread the extracts of conversations or the personal reflections that we quote in the first part, they will be convinced that Mr. Salvail let himself be carried away by his impulse, not concealed, colored with aggressiveness, and not by reflection or consultation.
When we return to the depositions, in every sense, only one conclusion emerges: there was no real planning for the operation.
1) The purpose of the 6.30 am meeting is only to indicate to the patrollers the location of the search, and above all to give them bulletproof jackets and guns, and to ensure the assistance of paramedics .
2) In the Woolco parking lot, with a few directions in the snow, Mr. Salvail assigns everyone’s place.
That’s all. No one ever weighed the pros and cons of the operation as it was to begin, let alone its terms. Of course, long lectures on the advisability of police action in the circumstances should not be expected; but any reasonable man will hardly understand that there was not at least a few short minutes of discussion, before or during the distribution of the ammunition, on the modalities of the operation. It’s surprising nobody even thought about it.
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, as we will see later.
An artillery affair
When they have the time, before embarking on an operation as delicate as this one where lives are in danger, it is certain that the police must consider a range of contingencies and consider the possibilities. my own safety, not only for their safety, but also that of third parties and that of the persons concerned. Almost always the choice of means determines the character of the action and its result. No one will fault the police for foreseeing that some operations can escalate into violence, but everyone expects the police to take steps to avoid it. In order to better understand what happened on the morning of the 23rd, let us dwell for a moment on the case of the three main police officers concerned.
1) Michel Salvail. A police officer since 1966, he moved to the investigation service in 1971. He took courses in police techniques at the Cégep de Sherbrooke and a training course in the United States, then certain courses on criminal law, municipal regulations. In July 1985, he became a gendarmerie sergeant.
2) Roger Dion. A policeman since 1969, he went through the Institut de police in Nicolet. In 1977, he was assigned to the Investigations Department. He took courses in police techniques at the Cégep de Sherbrooke. His colleague Castonguay was his shooting instructor. As for the use of the Colt .45 pistol, he said he was allowed to use it instead of his service weapon.
3) André Castonguay. Policeman since 1969, he taught for five years, at the Police Institute, the handling of firearms, ballistics and he trained shooting instructors. He was promoted sergeant in July 1985.
We see that Mr. Dion and especially Mr. Castonguay have a certain skill in the handling of firearms.
As for firearms, Directive 70.05 regulated their use. Reprinted in appendix 17, we extract the following passages (underlining certain sentences);
“The question of the use of force by a police officer naturally presents some problems, that of knowing when to resort to firearms. In order to carry out the duties assigned to them, the law allows constables to use the minimum force necessary in order to be able to face certain situations. However, when on duty the discharge of a firearm is tantamount to the use of force so violent that it should be used that in the most exceptional cases….
A peace officer can use firearms to protect the lives of peaceful citizens from an attack by an armed maniac, if other means are insufficient to ensure that protection ”.
Among the three detectives, no one envisaged any other method than that of going to surprise the “suspects” during their sleep, a method known as the “brutal awakening”, according to the expression suggested by a lawyer and repeated by Sergeant Vachon. No one was concerned about the safety of the clients who occupied rooms next to number 5.
They could have called on the Sûreté du Québec, which maintains a large workforce in Sherbrooke. At the time, there may have been one or more police officers familiar with this type of operation. No communication.
They could have surrounded the motel, warned the “suspects” over the phone or through a megaphone, told them to surrender. Warn the Redden couple who occupied room 4, evacuate them, at least consider the possibility, as suggested by Mrs. Donahue.
They could have explored other means. They didn’t. Monsieurs Dion, Castonguay and Salvail immediately adopted the strongest method, that of direct confrontation, with chances of success of course, but also with serious risks puts so much in danger of lives, as was the result unfortunately .
For experienced police officers, it is a mistake to ignore other avenues of action, for the benefit of only one, possibly violence and bloodshed. Instead of running into confrontation, with submachine guns and rifles, the three detectives could have thought about the avenues open to them, because they had the time. From around 6:15 am to 6:50 am, Sergeant Charpentier and his colleague keep watch. Starting at 6:50 am, and for as long as it was not necessary thereafter, the police were numerous enough to prevent the escape of the suspects. If they couldn’t do it sooner, Monsieurs Dion, Castonguay and Salvail could then review their strategy, and replace it with a less risky one. Their failure to consider other means is to blame.
Poorly conditioned reflexes
When an action is not planned, setbacks follow one another in an uncontrollable fashion. In this case, it seems that everything is leading to the blunder. Let us recall some facts. In a relatively narrow corridor, eight armed police officers stand in front of the door to room 5 and on either side. No one has slept all night, and some for longer. Fatigue and especially nervous tension weigh heavily in these circumstances. The slightest hitch can act like a spark. This is what happened. M. Dion thinks he sees movement in a bed: he shoots. There is a flurry that follows.
Ironically, Mr. Castonguay calls himself a shooting expert – or very competent – and we believe him. While an instructor at the Police Institute, he published a 194-page, very well-made, and profusely illustrated, shooting manual. In his book, he talks about the need to control yourself, to condition yourself, to have self-confidence, to overcome nervousness. These tips, addressed to the future monitor, apply very well to the police officer engaged in an action like this. During his testimony before us, Mr. Castonguay added:
“Q. I understand that in your course or in your teaching, another recommendation that you made and you seem to say that it was the same in the foreword. , was it necessary to use this weapon in extremis or to try not to use it finally?
“A. And it still is, it is right in it.”
In any event, according to Mr. Castonguay, the shooter should only use his weapon if the target is clearly identified:
“Q. If I told you, Mr. Castonguay, that the basic rule when you have to to use a firearm, when you are forced to fire at any object, if I told you that the basic rule was to know what you are shooting. Is this something that is taught?
“A I don’t understand your question, sir.
“Q. You don’t understand?
“Q. In firearms lessons for hunters we teach that when you are in the forest you don’t have to shoot anything, you need to spot the game first?
“Q. Absolutely. You must see …
“A. On that side I am following you.
“Q. You have to see what you’re shooting at …
” A. That’s it.
“Q. … and that is fundamental?
“A. This is it.”
So much good advice that was not followed. Gaps without importance, it will be said. No, in the circumstances we know.
Let us not forget that the police officers, in particular Monsieurs Dion, Salvail and Castonguay knew that room 4 was occupied by travelers. Should they not then use their powerful weapons only in grave, manifest and immediate danger so as not to endanger the lives of innocent people? 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? He had, however, dealt with the subject in his manual, with a presentation and tables on the piercing force of projectiles.
Fatigue and nervousness weaken the reflexes. This should have prompted Mr. Castonguay to advise his colleagues to be more careful. Perhaps there would not have been then the unnecessary and indiscriminate gunfire.