Montreal Gazette: Police union trying to quash inquest

IMG_0891Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur’s campaign of misinformation in the shooting death of Mohamed Anas Bennis by police officer Yannick Bernier knows no bounds. It insidiously, but effectively, diverts the public from the pertinent issues at hand.

[Op-ed in the Montreal Gazette by Samir of No One Is Illegal-Montreal and the Justice for Anas Coalition. The Gazette edited version is linked HERE. Samir’s original submission is included below:]

RE: Protesters decry bid to halt inquiry (Irwin Block, January 30, 2009)

Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur’s campaign of misinformation in the shooting death of Mohamed Anas Bennis by police officer Yannick Bernier knows no bounds. It insidiously, but effectively, diverts the public from the pertinent issues at hand.

In a recent article (“Protesters decry bid to halt inquiry”, January 30), Francoeur asserts that the reason the Brotherhood is attempting to block a coroner’s inquest – ordered by chief coroner Louise Nolet in June 2008 – is because there have already been “six inquiries” into Bennis’ death. There have not been six inquiries into Anas’ death, and it is patently dishonest to suggest otherwise simply in the hopes of discrediting the necessity for a coroner’s inquest. Indeed, Francoeur’s unqualified assertion makes one wonder which inquiries he is referring to.

If he is referring to the investigation conducted by the police of Quebec City, the credibility of the investigations and its conclusions are suspect. When one police force investigates another police force, the truth cannot be expected to come out. It is presumably informed by this fact that the seminal Report of the Taman Inquiry in Manitoba, submitted in September 2008, calls on a “special investigative unit independent of all police enforcement agencies […] for the purpose of investigating any alleged criminal activity of a member of a police service” [emphasis added]. Indeed, as per the Honourable Roger Salhany, Commissioner of the Report: “Both the loyalty so important in permitting officers to rely on one another in moments of peril, and the importance of maintaining morale and the repute of one’s own police force positively, undermine our ability to rely on internal police investigations”. Meanwhile, since 1990, Ontario has had a civilian law enforcement agency (the Special Investigations Unit), which is independent of the police, and investigates circumstances involving police officers that result in serious injury.

Perhaps Francoeur is referring to the decision by Crown prosecutor, James Rondeau, who, in November 2006 decided not to file charges against either Yannick Bernier or Jonathan Roy, the two police officers involved in the death of Anas Bennis. However, this decision, too, is suspect given that it relied on the already-mentioned dubious conclusions of the Quebec City police’s investigation.

Ultimately, we don’t really know what “six inquiries into Bennis’ death” Francoeur is referring to. Perhaps if there were more transparency in the matter, we could decide for ourselves whether six inquiries took place at all and, if so, whether their conclusions were valid. Since that is not likely to happen, a coroner’s inquest would help in at least partly lifting the shroud of secrecy clouding Anas’ death.

Francoeur also mentions that “decisions were based on testimony from a citizen who saw everything from his apartment window”. He conveniently omits to mention a testimony that potentially contradicts this version: another witness, cited in the Police Ethics Commissioner’s report submitted in April 2008, saw a person dressed as a police officer (presumably Bernier) standing on the sidewalk fire a bullet at a person (presumably Bennis) who was on the floor.

Meanwhile, there is a more important question that Francoeur and the Montreal Police Brotherhood need to answer which they conspicuously avoid addressing: how is it that they obtained full reports of the Quebec City police investigation and of the Crown Prosecutor’s decision? These documents have hitherto been consistently denied to the public and to the Bennis family by the relevant authorities – including current Public Security Minister, Jacques Dupuis – under the pretence of being “confidential”. If they are confidential, how is it that the Montreal Police Brotherhood not only obtained them, but actually submitted them as part of their motion to have the coroner’s inquest quashed?

It is reportedly for this reason that the hearings scheduled for January 29 were postponed. It was during these hearings that the Brotherhood’s motion to quash the coroner’s inquest was to be heard. However, the Brotherhood’s legal team now presumably has to figure out how they will explain having obtained these documents. It is also for this reason that the Justice for Anas Coalition went ahead with a rally to denounce both the Brotherhood’s attempt to quash the coroner’s inquest and the suspicious turn of events that eventually led to the Brotherhood obtaining the hitherto confidential documents.

The Bennis family’s wishes are clear. They do not necessarily want to assign culpability for what happened to their brother and son, but do believe that a public inquiry (including a coroner’s inquest) into Anas’ death will shed important light on what happened. As they continuously re-assert: if the Montreal police have nothing to hide, why is the Brotherhood going to such great lengths to quash the coroner’s inquest from proceeding? They want to know why the knife that Anas supposedly wielded never underwent forensic evaluation; why officer Bernier’s wounds, supposedly inflicted by Bennis, were never shown publicly; why a video recording of the scene was never made public; how the Montreal Police Brotherhood obtained hitherto confidential documents relating to the investigation of Anas’ death. Ultimately, they simply want to understand how it can be that their loved one, described as a sensitive and mild-mannered person, was shot and killed by Montreal police officer Yannick Bernier early in the morning on December 1, 2005, after exiting a neighbourhood mosque in Côte-des-Neiges, in circumstances that remain doubtful to this day. That is not too much to ask.

The family has a right to know, and so does the public. In the meanwhile, the Montreal police force’s reputation of resorting to racial profiling and being able to act belligerently with total impunity will persist for many Montrealers.

Samir Shaheen-Hussain, member of the Justice for Anas Coalition.

[From the No One Is Illegal blog]


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