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Quebec judge rules police security plan to blame for fatal 2012 election night shooting

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A Quebec judge has ordered Quebec provincial police and the Montreal police service (SPVM) to pay more than $290,000 in damages to four victims of the 2012 election night Métropolis shooting.

Superior Court Justice Philippe Bélanger laid the blame at the feet of the two police forces whose security plan had a "major flaw" that a gunman took advantage of when he stormed the back of the building on Sept. 4, 2012.

Richard Henry Bain attempted to kill then-premier-elect Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ), who was at Métropolis nightclub that evening, giving her victory speech to supporters. Bain's semi-automatic rifle jammed after firing a single bullet that killed 48-year-old lighting technician Denis Blanchette and seriously wounded another coworker, Dave Courage.

The financial payout was ordered to be paid to Blanchette's colleagues who survived the shooting — Guillaume Parisien, Audrey Dulong-Bérubé, Jonathan Dubé, and Gaël Ghiringhelli — who sued the police and claimed they suffered psychological distress in the years after the attack. 

In his Nov. 30 judgment, Justice Bélanger wrote the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) and the SPVM were at fault for not securing the back to the building as part of their security plan, which was plagued by a "misunderstanding" of their roles and functions to ensure the safety of the whole building, which has since been renamed MTelus.

"To Audrey Dulong-Bérubé, Guillaume Parisien, Gaël Ghiringhelli, and Jonathan Dubé, the court wishes to reiterate its empathy and its best wishes so that they may regain the joy of living despite this horrible episode that diverted the course of their lives and their ability to be fully happy," the judge said in his ruling.

"As they all expressed in their testimonies, the amounts awarded could not fully compensate for the pain and sadness they felt and still feel."

A security assessment conducted before the election night speech highlighted increased tensions in the political climate at the time, but ultimately deemed the event a "low risk" of violence.

Low risk for the police means, "There is no reliable information indicating a specific threat from any group or individual. However, there is a remote possibility that acts of violence or disruption will occur given minimal risk factors," the ruling noted.

JUDGE CRITICIZED POLICE RESPONSE

Bélanger questioned this low-risk assessment, given that there were many police officers deployed inside the building but none at the back.

"The SQ and the SPVM needed to better distribute their personnel to ensure the security of the entire outer perimeter of the Métropolis and close the gap that Bain took advantage of. The risk may have been very low, as the SPVM and the SQ maintained, but they cannot argue that it was completely unforeseeable for police forces whose mission is to protect a major political event."

The judge said the ruling does not call into question the good faith or integrity of the police in their duties, but ruled it was a collective failure on their part to come up with a robust security plan. 

"The Court concludes that the SQ and the SPVM participated in a common fault of omission by failing to ensure police presence or security perimeter at the back of the Métropolis," Bélanger said.

"These two police forces together failed in their duty to protect the public, so that their fault can be characterized as common and caused each plaintiff a unique prejudice."

Bain was convicted in 2016 of one count of second-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder in the shooting. He attempted to reduce his sentence, but the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal in 2019, which meant he has to serve out the 20 years of his life sentence before he can be eligible for parole. 

Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville, who was re-elected as a PQ MNA the night of the shooting, said he wasn't very surprised by the court's decision on the damages.

"We've been wondering — all of us who were there — have been wondering all along why was it so easy for Bain to come so close to the building and come so close to us, and come so close to our family?" Drainville said at the Quebec legislature Friday.

"I'm hoping that we will draw the lessons from what happened so that it never happens again."

Even though the judge awarded less money than the plaintiffs were asking for, their lawyer Virginie Dufresne-Lemire called the judgment a "big victory" for her clients. 

She said the judge carried out the civil proceeding with "empathy" and created a safe space for the plaintiffs who "were heard and validated with their trauma."

She said she's waiting to see whether or not the police will appeal. 

POLICE HAVE ADJUSTED THEIR POLICIES SINCE ATTACK

In response to the ruling, the police forces say they have made adjustments to their procedures for such events.

A statement from the SQ said the changes include "better coordination with its internal and external partners for the planning and securing of sites."

"It should be noted that all these means have already been deployed during previous campaigns and that the 2014, 2018 and 2022 elections took place without incident," said Chief Insp. Patrice Cardinal in the statement.

Montreal police affirmed in a statement that it has made "significant" changes since the 2012 attack. 

"The SPVM is sensitive to the consequences of these tragic events for those present at the event as well as for their families and friends," the SPVM wrote in an email to CTV News. 

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