A Quebec City police officer has been acquitted in connection with the death of 48-year-old Guy Blouin.
Simon Beaulieu was charged in October 2015 of criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death after he struck and killed Blouin.
He was found not guilty on both counts by Quebec Court Judge René de la Sablonnière in court Friday morning.
Blouin was struck on Sept. 3, 2014, when Beaulieu was backing up in his cruiser on a one-way street.
Judge René de la Sablonnière ruled the Crown was not able to convince him "without reasonable doubt" that Simon Beaulieu was irresponsible in the way he backed up his cruiser in Sept. 2014; Beaulieu's colleagues cried in relief when the verdict fell— @JuliaBPage
'A sad and unfortunate accident,' says judge
Beaulieu sat quiet in his chair looking straight ahead as the judge read through the ruling. Sighs of relief could be heard from the officer's colleagues and family members.
De la Sablonnière said the elements of proof presented to him did not show without a reasonable doubt that Beaulieu's actions that day were dangerous, given the situation the police officer was in.
"This was a sad and unfortunate accident," said de la Sablonnière.
The judge explained he was siding with the defence's version of events, which pegged the cruiser's speed as it was backing up in the one-way street at 22 kilometres per hour.
The Crown's expert witness, a Sûreté du Québec crime reconstruction expert, had testified the cruiser was going 44 kilometres per hour.
De la Sablonnière questioned the credibility of his testimony.
De la Sablonnière said Beaulieu made sure the coast was clear before backing up, but deficient ABS brakes significantly changed the outcome of Beaulieu's pursuit.
"He could not foresee there was a problem with the brakes," de la Sablonnière wrote in his 14-page ruling.
Crown says proving negligence difficult
Crown prosecutor Michaël Bourget reacted to the comments afterwards, saying he felt he had presented a strong case but that proving criminal negligence is not an easy task.
"I knew it was a matter of degrees," said Bourget.
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De la Sablonnière repeated throughout his ruling that in order for a person to be found guilty of criminal negligence, his actions had to be significantly out of step with what is considered to be normal behaviour.
He said, in this case, Beaulieu had to be judged against the actions expected of a police officer.
Stuart Edwards, a member of a citizens' committee from the Saint-Roch neighbourhood where the accident happened, said the reasoning behind the ruling is hard to accept.
The committee was formed in response to Blouin's death. Edwards was present in court during every step of the trial.
"That's a judicial impunity for a policeman, because he's a policeman. I don't buy that," said Edwards.
"I'm personally disappointed. I don't accept this — I think it's wrong."
Edwards said the committee is mainly concerned about what effect the not-guilty ruling will have in the community.
Quebec City police offer family condolences
Quebec City police released a statement, saying the police ethics committee will be analyzing de la Sablonnière's decision.
"The SPVQ reiterates its condolences to the family and friends of the victim," it said.
"The sad events of September 2014 shook the Quebec City police force as much as it did the community."
The city's police brotherhood also released a statement, following the ruling. The brotherhood said it welcomed the acquittal.
"The was an accident, certainly tragic, but it remains an accident," the statement said.
The brotherhood said the decision recognizes that society must take into context the circumstances police officers must contend with.
"We have always believed Beaulieu's actions were not criminal and this morning's decision confirms it."