A Quebec coroner looking into the police shooting death of Montreal teen Fredy Villanueva has suspended the inquest indefinitely after key witnesses said they wouldn't participate as a matter of principle.
Villanueva was shot in a Montreal North park in August 2008 while police were trying to arrest his older brother, Dany. Two other men, Denis Meas and Jeffrey Sagor Metellus, were struck by police bullets at the same time.
On Tuesday morning, Quebec provincial court Judge Robert Sansfaçon suspended the coroner's inquest, at the start of what was to be the probe's second day.
In a 45-minute address to the court, Sansfaçon summarized his concerns about the inquest into the 18-year-old's death, saying he believed justice would not be served because so many people involved have lost faith in the process and refuse to fully participate.
Observers applauded Sansfaçon's decision.
"He did the only thing possible to do," said Alexandre Popovic, a member of the Coalition Against Police Repression and Abuse. "It's the government who has the responsibility for this whole fiasco."
Villanueva's family, including his mother Lilian, said nothing short of a full public inquiry will satisfy them at this point.
Disputed legal bills jeopardized inquiry
On Monday, lawyers told Sansfaçon that Meas, Metellus, Dany Villanueva and his family would testify under subpoena, but would no longer be "interested parties" at the inquest, which means they waived their right to cross-examine or call their own witnesses.
Meas, Metellus and Villanueva were protesting Quebec's refusal to cover their legal bills during the inquest.
Legal fees for police officers involved in the shooting are covered by the City of Montreal, as a condition of their contract.
Sansfaçon called that a "procedural inequity" that hurt the credibility of the inquest.
François Daviault, a lawyer representing the coroner's office, had told Sansfaçon on Monday he had concerns that not all interested parties had access to legal representation.
"Not only must justice be served, but it must be seen to be served," Daviault said.
"What will be the public's impression if the three people who are the most implicated in this aren't present because they can't afford to pay?"
Many witnesses have also voiced concerns about the mandate of the coroner's inquest, which sought to establish how Villanueva died.
Community groups in Montreal North and some witnesses had asked for a larger, full-scale public inquiry to examine racial profiling, police brutality and socio-economic conditions in the multicultural, working-class borough.
Moments before Sansfaçon suspended the inquest, the province's public security minister, Jacques Dupuis, told reporters in Quebec City that if the judge recommended legal services be provided for two key non-family witnesses, he would do so.
It wasn't immediately clear when or if the inquest would resume.