It is among the rarest of occurrences in Canada that a killer cop is ever charged for taking the life of a civilian. Oversight agencies, which are not autonomous or independent of police, prosecutors, and judges work to ensure that the state protects the state and killer cops are legitimized. On Wednesday, May 24, 2017 one of those rare events occurred with the laying of charges against Montreal police officer Christian Gilbert who killed 46-year-old Bony Jean-Pierre on March 31, 2016.
Murder charges against police are unheard of and officer Gilbert has been charged with manslaughter. He shot Jean-Pierre in the head with a rubber bullet, a projectile that police routinely use, as in protests for example, and which police propagandists pose as non-lethal. The charges were announced by Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP). Officer Gilbert was released under a promise to appear on July 6, 2017.
The Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI, Bureau of Independent Investigations), Quebec’s investigation unit, which now examines incidents of police harm to civilians was not established when the investigation into Jean-Pierre’s killing was initiated. Instead the charges come, incredibly, following an investigation by Quebec provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ).
The Montreal North community, long angered by police targeting and violence organized and mobilized in response to the police killing of Jean-Pierre. At least 100 people participated in a march and rally in June. At that time some cars and banks were vandalized and objects thrown at the police station in a community uprising. The march occurred on what would have been the 26th birthday of Fredy Villanueva, a young man shot and killed by police in 2008 when Montreal policed moved aggressively to break up a game of dice in a park. Yes, he was killed for playing dice. The killing of Fredy Villanueva highlighted the racist targeted policing practices of Montreal police, reinforced by the killing of Bony Jean-Pierre.
Brandon Maurice was shot and killed by a Sûreté du Québec officer on November 16, 2015 in Messine (near Maniwaki) following a vehicular pursuit. On May 19, 2017, the province’s chief coroner, Catherine Rudel-Tessier, ordered an inquest into the teenager’s killing by police. The inquest will be overseen by deputy chief coroner Luc Malouin. It cannot assign blame but can only make recommendations to address future such incidents. These are typically ignored or not implemented by police agencies under review.
Montreal police investigated their provincial colleagues, completing their examination in June 2016. Quite predictably they found for their colleague and concluded that no charges would be brought against their fellow officer. Yet the officer had fired wildly in the general direction of the driver, said to have been Maurice, and only luckily avoided hitting a passenger in the vehicle.
Maurice’s family was not satisfied with that investigation and found it illegitimate for police to be investigating police. In the words of Brandon Maurice’s mother, Dominique Bernier in 2016: “Police officers protect each other.” Indeed they do. The family’s view, quite reasonable, is that investigations cannot be impartial when police investigate their colleagues. The family believes the officer used force that was excessive for a stopped car starting to drive away from an officer.
Eight investigators of Quebec’s BEI (Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Bureau of Independent Investigations) are examining the police killing of a 41-year-old man in the town of Beauceville, approximately 90 kilometers south of Quebec City. The provincial police, the Sureté du Québec (SQ), claims its officers were responding to a 911 call at around 9:45 AM regarding a domestic dispute. The victim was shot at least once. None of the SQ claims has been independently verified.
A 24-year-old man died in police custody in Puvirnituq, in northern Quebec, sometime in the evening of Friday, April 28. The man was arrested and detained by police, for as yet undisclosed reasons, earlier Friday morning. Police report that a guard noticed between 5:30 and 6 PM that the man was not breathing. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. The Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI, Bureau of Independent Investigations) has assigned seven investigators to examine the case. The BEI is not actually independent and provincial police (SQ, Sûreté du Québec) officers will also be involved in the investigation.
Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI) and Montreal police are investigating after a lengthy standoff in Châteauguay ended with the death of a 61-year-old man early in the morning of Friday, March 24, 2017. Police had surrounded the residence on Rossini Street in what they claim was a standoff beginning apparently around 9 AM Wednesday, March 22. A bailiff had called local police to report being confronted by a man inside and they claim to have secured a perimeter upon arrival. Sûreté du Québec (SQ) took over the scene around 8 PM Wednesday.
SQ report that they heard gunshots from inside the house at around 1:30 AM on Friday. Entering, in their report, 12 minutes later they claim to have found the man’s body inside the house. The SQ’s SWAT team as well as investigators from the provincial force’s major crime squad, those trained in crisis negotiations, were reportedly on the scene but there has been no confirmation of whether they communicated with the victim at any point. The various police accounts have not been independently confirmed.
On March 22, 2017 trial began for killer Sureté du Quebec (SQ) officer Eric Deslauriers in the killing of 17-year-old David Lacour in Ste. Adele, Quebec on January 22, 2014. Deslauriers shot and killed Lacour after apparently responding to a call about a stolen car. The prosecution argues that Deslauriers shot the teenager rather than have him escape.
It is exceedingly rare for police officers who kill civilians to be subjected to any punishment. Charges are almost never laid and full trials virtually never held. Killer cops are certainly treated to a different, and decidedly favorable response, from the criminal justice system than are civilians who kill. This is in no way surprising. As we have documented repeatedly, the state protects its officers. And there should be no illusions that the state would deliver anything resembling justice in such cases of state (police) violence.
It is extremely rare for police officers to be so much as charged in any case where they kill a civilian. Where they are charged it us usually for a lesser associated offense. Convictions for any offense related to killing civilians are obviously even less common. On January 27, 2017, a rare conviction of a killer cop was arrived at in a Québec court for a killing almost five years earlier. François Laurin, an officer with Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force was found guilty of dangerous driving causing death in the killing of 25-year-old Éric Rompré.
Officer Laurin was responding to an emergency call on June 16, 2012 when his speeding vehicle slammed into another car on Highway 148 near Papineauville, Québec. The victim in the crash was Éric Rompré the driver of the car hit by Laurin. The officer was travelling at the extreme speed of 180 km/h when he crashed into the victim’s vehicle. Incredibly the dire matter of great public safety and security that had Laurin travelling at such dangerous speed was meeting a colleague on the force to help transport an intoxicated person at Rockfest in nearby Montebello. The Crown in the case questioned why Laurin felt the need to travel at such a high speed for a call of that banal nature.
Laurin’s lawyers tried a common, and often successful ploy, in cases where an officer is actually charged with an offense. They attempted to have the trial set aside because of delays between the filing of charges and the start of court proceedings. In the Canadian context prosecutors have seen the commencement of trials for police stalled leading to the dropping of charges.