The public inquest into the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva was suspended on the same day it began, last Monday, May 25, 2009. The coroner conducting the inquiry suspended it because the victim’s family and the two other men injured during the altercation indicated that they will not participate, leading the coroner to conclude that the inquest was tilted in favour of the police. The coroner who is a Quebec Court judge, Robert Sansfacon, decided that under the circumstances he could not continue because of the substantial legal representation for the two officers involved, for the police force and for the city, opposed by under-represented victims and family members. He believed this created an imbalance that would lack "fairness and credibility."
Last August, Mr. Villaneuva died after being shot twice as police tried to arrest his brother, Dany. The police officer who shot Mr. Villaneuva, Constable Jean-Loup Lapointe, said he fired when the group tried to overpower him and his partner. Two other men with Mr. Villaneuva were shot during the altercation, but survived.
The Villaneuva family and the two other men that were shot had been designated as “interested parties” by the coroner, but while the province agreed to pay for legal representation for the Villaneuva family, it refused such compensation for the other two men. Both parties withdrew as a result. Most of the intervener groups, which previously included civil-rights defenders and race-relations activists, have also withdrawn. Only five interveners remain and all represent the police.
Last Tuesday, Public Security Minister Jaques Dupuis stated that he would provide for the legal costs of any interested parties that could assist with the inquiry. However, legal fees are not the only concern. The victims and the Villaneuva family believe the inquest to be too narrowly-focussed. They want the investigation to go beyond Mr. Villaneuva’s death and examine issues such as racial profiling by police, the disproportionate number of visible minorities among victims of police shootings and the socio-economic situation in Montreal North.
The Villaneuvas and the two other victims have chosen to stand up to a situation that they foresee creating an unfair result. They clearly have no interest in an investigation that will reveal what they likely don’t believe; that the fatal shooting was provoked. With an inquest that even the coroner believes to be skewed in favour of the police, their concern seems to be well-founded. More appropriately, they would like the investigation extended beyond Fredy’s death to the systemic issues taking place in Montreal North, often referred to as the city’s Bronx. Their boycott of the inquest has not, as of yet, produced any positive results. The situation has seemed to remain at a standstill since last week. However, if nothing else, their boycott on the inquiry has brought an awareness of issues of poverty and racial inequality into the public forum once again. Hopefully, the case will cause the public to increase the standard of accountability they require from officers in “the Bronx.”
Posted by Ashley Paterson (Law II) (LEAP Summer Intern)