Just as a group called the "Justice for Victims of Police Killings Coalition" was holding its fifth Annual Commemorative Gathering & Vigil in Montreal, the Quebec police ethics commission withdrew charges against eight Quebec law enforcement officers involved in investigating the fatal shooting of 18-year old Fredy Villanueva. Villanueva died in August 2008 when two young police officers tried to break up an illegal dice game in a Montreal North park. According to police testimony, the officer that shot Villanueva and wounded two others—Officer Jean-Loup Lapointe—claimed the 18-year-old was trying to disarm him. Witnesses, however, say that the police were under no threat and that Lapointe fired on the group without warning.
Civil unrest over the botched police operation led to rioting in that part of the city. Eventually, Quebec court Judge André Perreault wrote in a report that Villanueva's death was a "result of a multitude of circumstances of human nature, which, if considered on its own, cannot logically justify this result." However, after finding "human error" in multiple aspects of the fatal events, Lapointe was cleared of any wrongdoing and has since become a member of the SWAT team.
A recent ethics committee decision, made public on October 28, stated that the newly appointed police ethics commissioner had concluded—after reviewing the case—that it would be "impossible to meet the burden of proof, that is to present clear and convicting evidence that each officer summoned had committed a fault in accordance to each charge."
The officers—six SPVM and two provincial Sûreté du Québec officers—were summoned in July 2013 in regards to two counts of derogatory acts that ran afoul of the police's code of conduct.
Jean-Loup Lapointe and Stéphanie Pilotte, who were involved in the Villanueva shooting, were not separated nor interrogated by investigators right away. The SQ investigators instead headed to the hospital to question civilians involved in the incident—including two who had also been hit by police bullets, but survived.
The coroner's report into the death of Villanueva, released in December 2013 after years of police obstruction to the public inquiry, stated that "inequities in the treatment of the key actors in the process and the failure to comply with procedures designed to insure equal treatment" had been "obstacles to finding the truth" in the Villanueva case.
Coroner André Perreault's report listed over a dozen irregularities in the procedure, including the fact that Lapointe's partner, Stéphanie Pilotte, only signed her report on August 15 and that Lapointe himself didn't file his own report—which was not submitted on the proper form and was neither verified nor dated—until September 4. Both officers filed their reports after having consulted with their attorney.
Having a lawyer vet police reports "provide police with impunity from the laws that govern the rest of us and leave families and communities to struggle with the violent deaths of their loved ones while police killers walk free—protected by the blue shield and an unjust legal system," the Coalition Justice For Levi Schaeffer argued in a landmark Supreme Court case that they won on Thursday December 19, 2013.
The outcome of the Villanueva case won't help make the police force more accountable for its actions nor will it help the public feel protected against police violence or abuse. In that sense, it is symptomatic of police systemic impunity: Lapointe and Pilotte have never been penalized for their conduct and for their lack of a proper investigation into the matter—and now the officers involved in botching the investigation are cleared of any wrongdoing.
It remains to be seen whether the long overdue independent investigation bureau, expected to be implemented in 2015, will bring any more accountability. Even so, the proposed bureau will far from meet demands from groups such as the Coalition Against Repression and Police Abuse who ask that "the people be given the power to lay criminal charges against police officers who take lives or cause severe bodily injuries."
One thing is for sure, with 2009 statistics reporting less than 10 percent of complaints leading to investigations and over half of the investigations being closed right after the preliminary evaluation step, it doesn't seem that the police ethics commission is going to right the wrongs any time soon.
VICE contacted the ethics commission, the SPVM, and the fraternité des policier et policières de Montréal for comments. In their reply, the SPVM referred VICE to the ethics commission for comment. We did not get any other response before filing.