Police and Publication Bans: An Underestimated Cost

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On a cold winter day two police officers arrived at the Via Rail station in Bathurst, New Brunswick. They were acting on an anonymous tip that a man would be arriving that day from Montreal with “a load of drugs” in his possession. The officers noticed a car parked outside the station that matched the description they had been given by their informant. The car had a light coating of snow over top of it, consistent with their belief that the man had been away for a couple days. They also had in their possession a copy of the man’s driver’s licence, so as to identify the alleged drug trafficker. The two officers pulled up beside the snow covered car and waited for its owner to arrive.

The officers watched the man approach the vehicle, get in, and start the engine. The two police officers immediately flashed on their emergency lights and attempted to box the car in. One of the officers stepped out of the vehicle, identified himself as a police officer and ordered the driver to stop. Rather than complying, the driver stepped on the gas pedal and smashed into the police car, striking the officer standing outside the car. In reaction, the other officer drew his firearm and discharged 4 rounds in the driver’s direction. The man was struck at least once and ultimately killed.

This series of events took place nearly 3 years ago, on January 12th, 2015. However, the details of the altercation were not made public until a week ago due to a publication ban. Public Prosecutors announced last week they will not be pursuing further criminal proceedings against the two officers. This comes after a Provincial Court judge found there was insufficient evidence available to proceed to trial, and a Court of Queen’s Bench justice upheld the decision.

Although this must have been a huge relief for the two officers, it does not alleviate the personal and professional stress they experienced before the facts of the case became known to the public.  One of the officers, who grew up in the community of Bathurst, has had to deal with the “cloud of suspicion” constantly over his head. When a publication ban prevents the facts from being made public, people only know “what they’ve been told, or what they’ve read, or what they’ve seen in social media.”  According to the officer’s defence lawyer, to the public “it appeared that these two renegade cops went guns blazing down to the Bathurst train station and just randomly shot somebody that was unknown to them or who was suspected to be innocent.” The other officer has also dealt with “emotional trauma.” Still living in the community, he has had to deal with the perpetual whispers and speculation within the community. Although the officer hopes to try return to normal now that charges have been dropped, it will likely be a long road ahead. As his defence lawyer says: “Something like this … it never really ends.”

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PPSC.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/bathurst-police-mathieu-boudreau-patrick-bulger-michel-vienneau-defence-1.4413160

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