Lack of security at venue amounts to failure to protect the public, judge said
Montreal police and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) have been ordered to pay about $292,000 in damages to four stage technicians who survived Métropolis election night shooting.
In what is considered a political attack, lone gunman Richard Henry Bain entered the venue on Sept. 4, 2012, killed a stage technician and critically wounded another outside the venue where the former Parti Québécois (PQ) leader Pauline Marois gave her victory speech.
The four technicians, who were friends and colleagues of the victims, sued for damages, claiming they continue to experience trauma after witnessing the shooting and death of a colleague.
One plaintiff said she was shocked to see the lack of police at the back of the venue when she clocked in for her shift.
Quebec Superior Court Judge Philippe Bélanger also criticized the security plan around the Métropolis theatre that night.
Bélanger said in his Nov. 30 ruling that though he didn't question the "good faith" of police that night, "poor alignment of police forces in the implementation of their security plan" allowed for the gunman to access the site.
He said, given the tense political climate at the time, a perimeter should have been set up behind the theatre, but "the two police forces together failed in their duty to protect the public."
Proper security could have prevented the death, injuries and trauma, said Bélanger.
The judge has awarded all four $72,800 in damages. The plaintiffs had originally asked for $120,000.
Dave Courage, who was shot and injured by Bain, said he finds it unfortunate the police appear to bear the bulk of the blame. He stressed his case was different as he suffered physical damages.
"Security is a touchy subject, they did the best they could," he said.
"No one was going to predict a crazy man would jump out of a van in a bathrobe with a gun and shoot people. He saw a moment of quiet and he acted on it, then the police intervened."
"The Sûreté du Québec reiterates its desire to continually improve its practices and to work together with its many partners to protect citizens of Quebec, the elected officials and, ultimately, to protect a foundation of our democracy," said SQ spokesperson Patrice Cardinal in a statement.
He also pointed out that there were no incidents in the three provincial election campaigns that followed.
Montreal police said it is "sensitive to the consequences of the tragic event."
"In the wake of these events, significant changes were made. These changes include centralized management of all important events by our command centre, which promotes close coordination with all partners involved," it said in a statement.
A 'healing process'
The four plaintiffs consider the ruling a victory, said their lawyer Virginie Dufresne-Lemire.
"It was an extremely traumatic event because they feared for their lives and they saw a friend and colleague die in front of their eyes," the lawyer said.
"They were not listened to for years, were treated as witnesses, but they suffered a big trauma. To be listened by a judge was a big deal for them."
She said the money will partly be used to cover legal fees and therapy costs. The judge also called out Montreal police for its lack of empathy.
"That's an important part, I think government institutions have to show more respect and compassion to victims," said Dufresne-Lemire.
"There has to be trust … you have to act respectfully with people."
Along with the money, the plaintiffs were hoping for some institutional changes. The 2012 events were a result of poor communication between Montreal police and the SQ, and also internal communications, according to the ruling. But the judge acknowledged there have been improvements over the last decade.
The plaintiffs will not comment on the ruling until the appeal deadline has passed.
PQ addresses ruling
The PQ's three MNAs addressed the ruling at the National Assembly Friday morning, saying they were pleased with the outcome.
"I think the judge's decision is the right one … and I hope the police won't appeal it because [the plaintiffs] have been through enough trauma," said Joël Arseneau, adding that the event was traumatic for the party as well.
"To turn the page on this event we have to accept the judgment. The police will have to swallow that pill."
Pascal Bérubé, who was campaigning with the PQ at the time, said he still remembers that night well and was nervous to see Québec Solidaire host their election night party at the same venue.
PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, however, stressed the SQ has made "significant improvements" in the last ten years, especially on the campaign trail.
"If they tried to hide certain aspects of what happened at Métropolis, that's unacceptable," he said.
"But has the situation evolved in terms of how things function? In all likelihood, yes, and we've seen it."
Former PQ MNA and current education minister with Coalition Avenir Québec Bernard Drainville was at Métropolis that election night with his family. He said he was not surprised by the court's findings.
"Ever since it happened we asked how could this guy get so close to the new premier and all the people gathered?" he said.
"It was a close one, that night. I hope the police learned its lesson that night so it never happens again."
With files from Jay Turnbull
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