Jury at Michel Vienneau coroner's inquest makes 5 recommendations

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Michel Vienneau, 51, of Tracadie, had come off a Via Rail train from Montreal and was in his car when he was shot and killed by police. (Submitted by Nicolas Vienneau - image credit)
Michel Vienneau, 51, of Tracadie, had come off a Via Rail train from Montreal and was in his car when he was shot and killed by police. (Submitted by Nicolas Vienneau - image credit)

The jury at the Michel Vienneau coroner's inquest in Beresford has ruled his death a homicide and made five recommendations.

Vienneau was 51 when he was fatally shot by police outside the Bathurst train station in January 2015.

They were acting on an anonymous Crimestoppers tip that Vienneau was trafficking drugs, which was apparently false.

The jury's first recommendation is that there should be a person responsible for monitoring Crimestoppers tips at all times, including weekends, so that information can be shared as quickly as possible.

The inquest heard that the tip in question had been submitted on Sunday night, but police only found out about it at about 9:50 a.m. Monday morning.

They subsequently had little time to prepare and respond. They would have missed the train had it not been running late that morning. It arrived about 90 minutes after they had received the information.

The second and third recommendations are that unmarked police vehicles should be inspected on a regular basis, the same way patrol cars are, to insure all the equipment is functional. And that flashing lights on unmarked vehicles should be standardized and clearly visible when they're on.

Some of the witnesses testified that there were no visible flashing blue and red police lights in the unmarked vehicle that pulled up in front of Vienneau's car.

The five members of the coroner's jury crafted these recommendations aimed at preventing another death under similar circumstances.
The five members of the coroner's jury crafted these recommendations aimed at preventing another death under similar circumstances.(Jennifer Sweet/CBC)

Fourthly, officers should be wearing something that clearly says "police" when they try to stop someone, said the jury.

And the final recommendation is that a uniformed officer and marked police cruiser should be part of any intervention.

Chief Coroner Jerome Ouellette said he was pleased with the recommendations and with the way the inquest unfolded.

One of the big remaining questions about Vienneau's death is the source and motivation of the Crimestoppers tip.

Ouellette said lawyers attempted to get someone from Crimestoppers to testify but couldn't and regardless, he said, the courts have ruled the program's information should be kept confidential.

He said he intends to have follow-up discussions with chiefs of police about protocols for this type of investigation.

That followed expert testimony Monday morning from a retired RCMP officer who dealt with many Crimestoppers tips and drug investigations over a 36-year career.

Gary Le Gresley said, in his opinion, a Crimestoppers tip rates about the same as an anonymous phone call.

He noted the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled it's not enough to make an arrest. It has to be verified against many other factors before enforcement action can be taken.

Follow-up actions, said Le Gresley, would include searching the motor vehicle database, criminal records, the Criminal Intelligence Service of New Brunswick, the firearms bureau and calling police in the suspect's hometown.

The inquest heard the vehicle database was searched and a quick search was done of city and RCMP databases and Vienneau had no criminal record.

Retired RCMP officer Gary Le Gresley testified that Crimestoppers tips are not enough grounds to make an arrest.
Retired RCMP officer Gary Le Gresley testified that Crimestoppers tips are not enough grounds to make an arrest.(Jennifer Sweet/CBC)

Even if the person is a known drug trafficker, said Le Gresley, that doesn't mean they have drugs on them and it isn't "reasonable and probable grounds" for an arrest. But investigating officers can conduct surveillance to see if the suspect meets someone, hands off a package or hides something in their car.

Police should plan what is to be done, said Le Gresley, short of making an arrest, and take public safety into account.

Officers have to be "very cognizant," he said, that the suspect's vehicle could pose "untold danger" if the suspect chooses to "aggressively" leave the area.

In this case, there were several members of the public around and Vienneau's car ended up heading towards a police officer, several shots were fired and the car crashed into a snowbank.

One safer, more controlled way to approach a suspect and build reasonable and probable grounds for an arrest, Le Gresley said, is to set up a road checkstop.

Another is to park behind the suspect car and pretend to be loading or unloading baggage.

If at some point police determine they have reasonable and probable grounds for an arrest, said Le Gresley, then they have to think about the right time and place to do so.

He noted that if officers feel a situation is dangerous enough for them to take out their firearms, as the inquest heard they did with Vienneau, they should consider going elsewhere.

Le Gresley also mentioned that in his experience it's very rare for a person involved in street-level trafficking to have a firearm on them or in their vehicle.

Le Gresley chose his words carefully so as not to suggest the officers involved in Vienneau's death had done anything wrong. Coroner's inquests are not intended to determine guilt.

No further criminal proceedings will be taking place in the matter, said Ouellette.

Lawsuits were launched by the estate of Michel Vienneau and by his former common-law spouse, Annick Basque.