Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale

CRARR AND TWO AFFECTED FAMILITIES QUESTION THE CROWN'S DECISION IN THE MONTREAL-NORTH CASE


Montréal, December 4, 2008 --- The Crown's decision not to press criminal charges against the police officer who shot at three young men in Montreal-North on August 9, 2008, raises serious questions because it is based upon the results of the SQ investigation, which in and of itself raises major concerns.

CRARR made known its formal position at a press conference held this morning with family members of two youths who were shot by a police officer on August 9, 2008.

For the civil rights organization, which called for a public and independent inquiry to investigate the circumstances and factors surrounding the death of Fredy Villanueva and the serious injuries suffered by Jeffrey Sagor and Denis Méas, the disappointing resulted was neverthless expected.

“This is the foretold story of denial of justice, when the police investigate the police with procedures that are manifestly contemptuous towards modern standards of fairness, transparency and civil rights,” said CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi.

The Official Version Conflicts with Young Witnesses' Accounts

Sylvia Sagor, speaking on behalf of her son Jeffrey, categorically refuted the version of the incident put forth by the SQ and the Crown. According to the accounts of the youth who were on the scene during the tragedy, the version of Officers Jean-Loup Lapointe and Stéphanie Pilote is full of flagrant inconsistencies and unlikelihoods, particularly regarding the initial stopping of Dany Villanueva and how Lapointe shot the youth.

“My son and I completely reject the version provided by the SQ and the Crown”, affirmed Ms. Sagor. “The youth did not attack the officers, especially not the female officer. They did not explain how my son ended up with a bullet in his back while the police officer himself said that he shot at the youth who jumped on him. I challenge the Crown to make the investigation report public if it really adheres to notions of justice.” Mr. Méas, who was shot in the right arm, shares this position. “To say that the youth practically jumped on the officers is nothing but a distortion of the truth. I was there, and what I saw and heard is very different from what the police and the Crown described. I will never forget how Lapointe pulled out his gun and shot at us without any justification.”

Serious Violations of Constitutional Rights during the Investigation

CRARR and the families wonder about the neutrality and credibility of the police investigation led by the SQ because of several acts which they believe to be contrary to the Canadian and Quebec Charters of rights and freedoms. According to the youth who were present, including the injured youth:

  • After the shots were fired, the youth were immediately treated as suspects. They were detained and interrogated by the Montreal police as well as the SQ, without being informed of their constitutional rights, particularly the right to counsel and the right to remain silent;
  • Denis and Jeffrey were interrogated the night of the incident, immediately after they were taken to the hospital. Despite being sedated and formally classified as suspects, they were each subjected to interrogation, without a lawyer;
  • Two weeks following the incident, the SQ investigators continued to insist on interrogating Denis at his home, despite his refusals, for the purposes of obtaining his DNA, without a warrant; While the SQ investigators tried to obtain, at all costs, the testimonies of the youth and other civilians during the 24 to 48 hours following the incident, the two police officers were only interrogated much later. According to information provided to thefamilies last Tuesday, Pilote submitted her statement only on August 15, while Lapointe made his on September 15.

According to the two wounded youth's lawyers, Jacky Salvant, “It's clear there was a double standard. The delay given to officers Lapointe and Pilote fundamentally contaminated the evidence and skewed the investigation.”

“The favouritism shown towards police witnesses and the violation of the youth's constitutional rights are fatal to the credibility of both the police investigation and the Crown's decision”, added Mr. Niemi.

The Archaic System of Police Investigating Police

As he stated in August, Me René Saint-Léger, CRARR's counsel and past-Chair, considers that the current system, which allows the police to investigate another police service, is “archaic, and no longer has a place in a post-modern democratic society, such as Quebec of 2008.”

“No reasonable person can have confidence in such a system because it lacks transparency, impartiality, accountability, and credibility”.

As Ms. Sagor noted, “From the start, no one had confidence in the SQ investigation. We were expecting this decision - a total denial of justice; it's like a second shot at our family. We feel victimized once again by a system of justice what has just lost a lot of credibility.”

The Limited Nature and Scope of the Public Inquiry Announced

CRARR also questions the nature and scope of the public inquiry led by the Hon. Justice Robert Sansfaçon of the Court of Quebec, who is now acting as Coroner. As several stakeholders have already noted, this inquiry has been called in virtue of the coroner legislation (An Act Respecting the Determination of the Causes and Circumstances of Death). As a result, the inquiry will only examine the circumstances and causes of death, and will simply make recommendations “directed towards better protection of human life”.

On the other hand, CRARR has been calling for a public and independent inquiry to be set up under An Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions. In such an inquiry, the commissioners have all the powers and means necessary to lead an inquiry, such as the power to summon witnesses, to examine evidence, and to “report the result (…) to the government, which shall order such action to be taken in the matter as shall be warranted by the evidence and report”.

In this regard, CRARR calls for a inquiry mandate which will not only examine the circumstances surrounding the fatal incident, but also systemic dimensions such as: police race relations in Montreal; racial profiling and the Eclipse Unit tactics that intentionally targets Black and Latino males; the city's incivilities policy; the structure of police training and supervision at the neighborhood level; the public accountability of the Mayor and elected officials over the police service; and, particularly, the intervention methods used by police towards youth in Montreal-North. It also calls upon the Inquiry Chair to rigorously examine the manner in which Lapointe and Pilote were treated by the Montreal Police and the SQ immediately after the shooting until the end of the police inquiry.

Actions to ensure transparency, fairness, and accountability

Given the above, CRARR:

  • Invites the Quebec Government to further clarify the mandate of the proposed public inquiry, the powers of the inquiry chair, and the means and resources that will be set aside for the concerned parties, such as the families of the injured youth and their friends, to allow them, through their lawyers, to actively participate inthe examination of the evidence;
  • Reiterates the need to replace the current system, in which police investigate the police in cases of death or serious injury of civilians, with a system similar to that in Ontario, the Special Investigations Unit, where a civil and independent organization immediately intervenes following any police action leading to death or serious injury;
  • Encourages all Montreal-North residents who witnessed the incident, any intervention involving the officers concerned or any other police action that appears to be influenced by racism and other forms of discrimination to communicate with CRARR, in full confidentiality, at crarr@primus.ca.

CRARR calls upon the population of Montreal-North, and the rest of the city, to mobilize to obtain the above results from the authorities.

Fo Niemi, Sylvia Sagor and Denis Meas