Quebec ombudsman slams mental health worker for how she handled revelation from mosque killer

Quebec's ombudsman has raised serious concerns about how a mental health worker assigned to work with then-accused killer Alexandre Bissonnette while in provincial detention handled information from him that played a crucial role in his sentencing last February.

Bissonnette's parents filed a complaint with the ombudsman, saying that the mental health worker, Guylaine Cayouette, had promised their son confidentiality but then reported details of their conversation to authorities.

Cayouette — an employee of PECH, a non-profit mental health agency that does outreach work in Quebec City's provincial jail — had been assigned to Bissonnette in February 2017, a few weeks after he was charged with fatally gunning down six men and injuring five others at the mosque in Sainte-Foy.

In September 2017, a tearful Bissonnette confided to Cayouette that he had grown "tired of playing a role" and told her, "I wish I had killed more people. The victims are in heaven, and I am living in hell."

After Bissonnette pleaded guilty to the mosque killings, those statements were read out in court. In his lengthy judgment, Justice François Huot made reference to what Cayouette told police investigators more than a dozen times.

Bissonnette was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years.

Verbal consent to waive confidentiality

In their complaint, Bissonnette's parents argued that Cayouette's role was never made clear and her report on Bissonnette's statements caused him serious prejudice.

They also said that during some of his meetings with Cayouette, Bissonnette was heavily medicated.

Bissonnette's parents also complained to the regional health authority and to Cayouette's employer, PECH.

Cayouette, who is not a member of any professional order, said Bissonnette had verbally consented to let her share his statements with whomever she chose.

Cayouette failed to keep an accurate record of meetings she had with Bissonnette, the ombudsman concluded — including details of their Sept. 20, 2017 meeting where he made the shocking comment, which she recounted to police the next day.

The ombudsman determined that Cayouette should have informed her superiors and not prison officials about what Bissonnette had said.

​The report criticized not just Cayouette, for her failure to report to her superiors, but also PECH, her employer, for giving her too much leeway in acting on her own.

"Even though she has 20 years of experience in mental health, the ombudsman is concerned by the fact that PECH had so much confidence in her that she was able to determine her own course of action," reads the report.

The ombudsman recommended that going forward, all inmates should be required to sign a written document waiving their right to confidentiality, should they choose to.

'She did her job'

​Benoît Côté, executive director of PECH, told Radio-Canada Wednesday that Cayouette was facing a "great ethical dilemma" and that the group stands by her actions.

He said Cayouette made it clear to police investigators that Bissonnette had told her she could speak about his case, but he said he agrees with the ombudsman's recommendation that detainees be asked to sign a written consent form.

Côté emphasized that Cayouette was legally allowed to disclose the information, especially as it related to a case still before the courts at that time.

"In spite of everything, I think she did her job," he said.

The Quebec ombudsman has no authority to enforce its recommendations, however, more than 98 per cent of them are approved.