Why did a judge drop charges against 2 Bathurst officers who killed an innocent man?

With the Crown choosing not to appeal the latest turn in a 2½-year judicial saga centering on two Bathurst police officers, a ban against publication of evidence presented during their preliminary inquiry has finally been lifted.

Lifting of publication ban allows a closer look at why a judge thought Bathurst officers did nothing illegal

About 75 people marched in the memory of Michel Vienneau in Tracadie a year after his death in a police shooting at the Via Rail station in Bathurst. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

On the morning of Jan. 12, 2015, Michel Vienneau, a 51-year-old man from Tracadie, was shot and killed by the Bathurst police.  

He was coming off a train from Montreal with his common-law partner, Annick Basque.

Police were acting on a tip that Vienneau was carrying "a load of drugs" back with him. That could have meant anywhere between 300 to 10,000 pills, according to police.

Problem is, an investigation after Vienneau's death proved that information was false.

Not only was Vienneau not carrying any drugs, but he was also not someone known to police, leading to questions for some as to how an attempt to arrest an innocent man could have gotten so out of hand — and how the matter never made it to trial.

With the Crown choosing not to appeal the latest turn in this 2½-year judicial saga, a ban against publication of evidence presented during the officers' preliminary inquiry has finally been lifted.

What can be told now is that the judge believed officer Mathieu Boudreau, who's now 28, was acting to defend his partner, Patrick Bulger, 38, whose life was in danger, when he fatally shot Michel Vienneau.

In her Feb. 24 decision, provincial court Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman said she simply did not feel Boudreau and Bulger, two drug enforcement officers with the Bathurst police force, had done anything illegal that day.

Const. Mathieu Boudreau and Const. Patrick Bulger, of the Bathurst Police Force, each faced criminal charges in connection with the fatal shooting. (CBC)

When a tip came in just before 10 a.m. that Vienneau was carrying drugs, a supervisor said to Bulger, "you missed a load this morning."

The train was supposed to come in at 8 a.m. Turns out it was two and a half hours late.

Six police officers headed for the Via Rail train station in Bathurst in three unmarked cars to await Vienneau.

They parked next to where Vienneau's car was.

They waited until Vienneau and his partner disembarked the train, got their luggage and entered their vehicle.

Michel Vienneau and partner Annick Basque had just arrived in Bathurst on a train from Montreal, when police tried to arrest Vienneau. (Facebook)

When Vienneau started the engine, Bulger and Boudreau turned on their emergency lights and the two vehicles ended up face-to-face. The constables' intention was to block Vienneau's car from leaving the train station.

Bulger exited the vehicle and yelled ''Police, stop.''

But Vienneau didn't stop. Instead, he turned his vehicle toward the officer and accelerated, until Bulger was pinned between a snowbank and Vienneau's car.

Believing his partner was underneath Vienneau's vehicle, Boudreau fired four shots toward Vienneau, who was in the driver's seat.

His partner, Annick Basque, testified she was arrested and only informed of Vienneau's death three hours later.

Doesn't matter tip was false

The Crown's case had centred around the argument that the tip police were acting on was unreliable and unverified, so  police had no ''reasonable and probable grounds'' to arrest Vienneau in the first place.

The preliminary inquiry heard less than an hour elapsed between the time the tip was received and when police arrived at the train station.

It was also revealed the tip wasn't investigated, and several officers hadn't even read it fully.

But disagreeing with the Crown, the judge found that ''not having reasonable and probable grounds'' for an arrest did not, in itself, make for an unlawful arrest.

The Via Rail train station in Bathurst was cordoned off for a week after Vienneau was shot and killed in January 2015. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

The judge said technically, an arrest never happened, and officers have the right to stop vehicles under the Motor Vehicle Act, which is what they were doing that morning.

The judge also pointed out Vienneau's reaction when police told him to stop his vehicle.

''This failure to stop heightens the suspicion of a police officer, who is then entitled to wonder why the person is not stopping,'' Dugas-Horsman wrote in her 26-page decision.

Different testimony

Annick Basque's version of events leading up to her common-law husband's death are very different from that of the officers who tried to arrest Michel Vienneau.

When Bulger exited the car with a gun in his hands, she said, Vienneau tried to drive by him, moving slowly.

When she heard gunshots, she believed the men were "going to kill everyone," Basque said. She said she did not realize they were police officers. In fact, she fought against her arrest until she recognized uniformed officers.

Aside from Basque, the evidence presented during the preliminary inquiry relied only on testimony from various police officers.

That's something that's being criticized by the Vienneau family, who question why none of the civilians who were present at the train station were asked for their version of the story, or why no one investigated where the anonymous and erroneous tip came from.

About the Author

Gabrielle Fahmy

Reporter

Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.

With files from Bridget Yard