MONTREAL — The security plan put together by police for Quebec's 2012 election night had a "major flaw" that permitted a gunman to carry out a deadly attack, a Superior Court judge has ruled in a civil case.
Justice Philippe Bélanger awarded a total of nearly $292,000 in damages to four stagehands who were working at a downtown Montreal venue where then-premier-elect Pauline Marois of the Parti Québécois was delivering a victory speech on Sept. 4, 2012.
As Marois was onstage, a gunman shot dead lighting technician Denis Blanchette at the rear of the venue and seriously injured a second technician, David Courage, who was struck with the same bullet. The plaintiffs sued the Montreal police and Quebec provincial police for failing to properly evaluate the risks associated with the event and for not deploying officers to guard the back of the venue.
"The court concludes that the SQ (provincial police) and the SPVM (Montreal police) did indeed commit a fault by not ensuring any police presence, nor security perimeter, behind the Métropolis," the judge wrote in his ruling dated Nov. 30.
"Due to lack of communication and co-ordination in the deployment of their workforce, both (police forces) failed in their obligation to ensure the safety of the public … by carrying out a security plan that provided no police protection at the very location where the new premier of Quebec was to be evacuated following her speech."
Richard Henry Bain was convicted in 2016 on one count of second-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder for the election night shooting. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 20 years. The four plaintiffs had testified they suffered from post-traumatic stress and other psychological damage due to the shooting. They had originally sued for a total of more than $600,000.
During the civil trial brought by the stagehands, police witnesses testified that they had thought Montreal police were securing the outside of the venue on election night. Provincial police were stationed inside the performance hall.
However, the court was told that the provincial police had only made a general request to secure the rear of the venue and that Montreal police assigned a single patrol car to monitor the whole building. Most Montreal police resources had been deployed at a student protest several blocks away.
Provincial police testified that they had determined there was no credible threat to the venue. The trial also heard at least six threats were made against Marois the day of the election, but none involved Bain.
Officers told the court that Bain's actions were unforeseeable and that the convicted gunman was acting as a lone wolf. But the judge rejected that argument, noting that police have a duty to manage general risks — not only those related to announced threats or those that are eminently predictable.
"It can be concluded that the absence of a police presence and a security perimeter behind the Métropolis was a major flaw in this security plan, of which Richard Henry Bain tragically took advantage," Bélanger wrote. The venue has since been renamed to the MTELUS.
Bélanger said the evidence showed that a police presence at the back of the venue would have thrown off Bain's plan. It took the shooter approximately 74 seconds to walk from his vehicle to the spot where opened fire toward the plaintiffs.
"Put simply, there was a breach in the perimeter of security, the attacker took advantage of it and his victims were the first people blocking the path," Bélanger said.
The judge noted that despite the flaw in the security plan, he found no reason to question the integrity, good faith and benevolence of the police officers present in the exercise of their duties that evening.
Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, lawyer for the plaintiffs — Jonathan Dubé, Guillaume Parisien, Audrey Dulong Bérubé and Gaël Ghiringelli — said the four were shocked with the ruling but happy.
"The judge agreed with what we presented to him, that there was a fault that was committed, that our clients suffered intense trauma that were caused by this fault; so for our clients, this is a big victory," she said.
In a statement, Quebec provincial police said it has taken note of the judgment. Chief Insp. Patrice Cardinal said the police force strives to continually improve its practices and has already adjusted its methods, including to better co-ordinate with partners regarding security planning and intelligence gathering for election campaigns.
“It should be noted that all these means have already been deployed during previous campaigns and that the 2014, 2018 and 2022 elections took place without incident,” Cardinal said.
Montreal police said in a statement that significant changes have been made since 2012, including to centralize management of important security events.
Neither police force wished to comment further citing the possibility of an appeal.
In Quebec City, Education Minister Bernard Drainville, a former PQ member who was at the downtown Montreal venue on election night 2012, said Friday that he and others present that night have long wondered how the shooter was able to get so close to the Métropolis.
"I'm hoping that we will draw the lessons from what happened so that it never happens again," Drainville said. "Whatever party, whatever public gathering or political public gathering, these kinds of events cannot happen … we came very, very close to great, great tragedy and we were extremely lucky."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2022.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press