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Quebec coroner inquest told that poor police planning led to killing of officer

Police tape cordons off the scene after a Quebec provincial police officer was killed while trying to arrest a man in Louiseville, Que., Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz) Police tape cordons off the scene after a Quebec provincial police officer was killed while trying to arrest a man in Louiseville, Que., Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)
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Quebec provincial police didn't plan properly before they tried to arrest a mentally ill man last March, and as a result an officer was killed, the province's workplace health and safety board says.

The report by the board — known as the CNESST — was made public on Thursday at a coroner's inquest into the deaths of provincial police Sgt. Maureen Breau and the assailant, Isaac Brouillard Lessard, a 35-year-old man with schizoaffective disorder who had been found not criminally responsible five times since 2014 for offences he had committed.

On March 27, Breau and three other officers went to Brouillard Lessard's apartment in Louiseville, Que., about 100 kilometres northeast of Montreal, to arrest him for uttering threats and for breaking probation, following a call from the man's uncle, Denis Lessard.

Brouillard Lessard attacked one officer and while Breau rushed to her colleague's aid, the man stabbed her in the neck with a kitchen knife. Brouillard Lessard was shot dead by police moments later; Breau died in hospital.

The board concluded that Brouillard Lessard was dangerous and arresting him required a detailed strategy. The intervention plan by police, the board said, was deficient and left officers exposed. Arresting officers held an informal discussion about how they were going to apprehend him, and while two of them had visited the suspect at his home three days prior, the four police officers were not all aware of his violent past.

As well, the board concluded that three of the four arresting officers had not received adequate use-of-force training.

Quebec provincial police officers and use-of-force experts are expected to testify before the coroner next month.

Meanwhile, the safety board said the provincial police are working to implement its recommendations, which include that the force develop risk assessment protocols that officers can use ahead of planned arrests, and that officers are given techniques and other safety strategies for unplanned interventions.

Earlier Thursday, Brouillard Lessard's father testified he had hoped his mentally ill son would have been arrested and hospitalized before he hurt someone. Serge Brouillard said he had been in touch with police and health officials in the days prior to the stabbing to get his son cared for.

"I knew that (his uncle) had filed a complaint, and I hoped with a formal police complaint, with threats, I hoped they would go get him and hospitalize him," Brouillard said.

The inquiry has heard that three days before Brouillard Lessard killed Breau, his parents called police because he had inundated his mother with hundreds of text messages and phone calls, some menacing. Officers went to see Brouillard Lessard on March 24 but determined they didn't have reason to detain him.

Brouillard described how he tried and failed to get his son help. He said doctors did not reach out to the family in the last year of his son's life. Social workers, he added, had told him they tried to help Brouillard Lessard, but from a distance because the 35-year-old didn't want their aid.

"Someone like Isaac, getting through to him, it wasn't easy," Brouillard said. "And I understand (social workers), but for people like Isaac, it took a different approach rather than him voluntarily accepting help."

Brouillard said that when his son was arrested in 2021 for violently assaulting the concierge of an apartment in Trois-Rivières, he was sure the 35-year-old would be hospitalized.

"But he fell through a crack, I don't know," Brouillard said.

In April 2022, Brouillard Lessard was granted an absolute discharge by the province's mental health board, and received two years’ probation in the attack on the concierge.

Serge Brouillard described his son as an intelligent lover of nature who played high-level soccer as a youth and was always ready to help others around him.

"The illness arrived, there were difficult moments, and he was taken in by the institutions," Brouillard said. "He had good moments but because of the way the system works he had highs and lows."

The inquiry also heard an audio recording of Brouillard Lessard's mother, taken by police the day after Breau's killing.

"I'm his mother, I love him despite everything that happened, but I would never have shown up (at his house)," she said, referring to the fact she was scared to visit her son.

"It takes someone specialized so we don't have incidents like that … the right people who are able to manage those situations."

Coroner Géhane Kamel told the father that since the beginning of the inquiry, at least six families have written to her to say they sympathized with him and were dealing with a similar situation.

"They wanted me to tell you that they find you courageous for seeking help for your son," Kamel told him.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024. 

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