Inquest ordered into Police Shooting Death in New Brunswick

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The Attorney general’s office of New Brunswick has called for an inquest into the 2015 shooting death of a man from Tracadie, NB.  The province claims the inquest will be an opportunity for a public presentation of all the evidence in a formal court proceeding and can be used to make recommendations for police officers to prevent future deaths.  Earlier in 2017, the New Brunswick Provincial Court dismissed charges against the officers involved without a trial, leading to public outrage and questions about how a vehicle stop of an innocent man could have turned tragic so quickly.

The background for this inquest comes from an incident that occurred January 12th, 2015 in Bathurst, NB. Police received an anonymous tip that came in just before 10 am, that Michel Vienneau a local businessman who was returning home for a vacation in Montreal, was carrying “a boatload of drugs”. Vienneau’s train was due to arrive at 8 am but because of a delay did not arrive until after 10 am and the eventual tipoff about the drugs. Learning this, officers raced to the scene in unmarked cars to stop the alleged drug importation. The officers waited until Vienneau left the train with his luggage and started his vehicle before acting. The officers found no drugs on Vienneau nor was he someone who was known to the police. Both parties in the case allege different versions of the events.

According to Vienneau’s common-law partner who was also traveling with him, plainclothes officers approached the couple’s vehicle with their guns already drawn. This led to Vienneau panicking and attempting to drive away. According to documents filed with the court, it was never apparent the men surrounding the car with weapons drawn were police officers. Vienneau’s partner also questioned why the officers would not simply arrest the couple the moment they proceeded to leave the train, instead of allowing them to enter their vehicle. Vienneau’s partner is suing the city for damages and loss of income based on a claim of police negligence as well as a second lawsuit for the use of excessive force without cause in her own arrest the day.

The city’s statement paints a much different picture, however. Their statement claims that police lights were on and clearly visible, and the officers then got out and identified themselves. The city claims Vienneau then stepped on the gas without warning, hitting an officer resulting in him sliding under the car and becoming pinned against a snowbank. The other officer then fired four shots striking Vienneau, leading to his eventual death. After determining his partner’s safety, the officer then performed CPR on Vienneau attempting to resuscitate him.

This is not a situation where you had some rogue police officers running down the street without any authority, without any badges, without any lights flashing and just grabbing somebody and hauling them down to the street corner and … pounding on them

Following an investigation into the matter, the crown filed charges of manslaughter with a weapon, two counts of assault with a weapon, and two counts of unlawfully pointing a firearm against the officers.  On February 24th, Justice Anne Dugas-Horsman, while dismissing the charges, said she did not feel the officers had done anything illegal that day. The Crown’s case was based on an argument that the tip was unreliable and unverified and consequently police had no reasonable or probable grounds for the arrest. The court, however, found that not having reasonable and probable grounds for an arrest did not necessarily make it unlawful.  Following-up on this notion, Justice Dugas-Horsman stated that technically no arrest ever occurred, as the officers were simply exercising their right to stop a vehicle under the Motor Vehicle Act.  

”Failure to stop heightens the suspicion of a police officer, who is then entitled to wonder why the person is not stopping,”

This is not the first police shooting in New Brunswick to come under scrutiny. Recently, My colleague Mr. Dan Jaccard wrote about a 2014 shooting of a mentally ill man in Restigouche which also saw no officers cleared of wrongdoing. Hopefully, this inquest will lead to a change in procedure to better protect both citizens and officers. The lawsuits by Mr. Vienneau’s family are still before the courts, and time will tell what effect (if any) the results of this inquest will have on the outcome of those proceedings.

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.

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