From the Field

Is Phillip Boudreau really a victim?

Posted: Jun 27, 2013 8:52 AM ET Last Updated: Jun 27, 2013 8:52 AM ET
Blaming Phillip Boudreau is easy.

It seems Phillip Boudreau was up to his old tricks-- cutting someone's trap lines-- when he was gunned down, run over by a fishing boat and left for dead on the water.
 
We don't know for sure that happened to him. It's what is in the police file but it hasn't been tested in court so we'll have to wait and see.

Still, it's probably a safe bet to say Phillip was cutting trap lines. Everyone in Petit-de-Grat will tell you Phillip did that sort of thing all the time.
 
He also damaged property on land and he was quick with a threat. Mostly he'd threaten to burn you out if you were the subject of his wrath. Phillip spent some time in jail for what he did.
 
His past makes it easy to point a finger, to say he got what he had coming. Justice on the high seas or in this case, a shallow harbour.
 
I heard all of those things the first time I went to Petit-de-Grat. Everyone said the three accused men were good, hardworking fishermen with nice families. Phillip, well he was a problem and everyone knew it. It was easy to put the pieces together on this story. It was a rare tale which made it even more appealing. Good guys kill bad guy out of desperation or something like that. 
 
Something was wrong and I knew it. I never trust the easy story, the one on the surface. It's burned me before so I'm skittish.
 
I was only 20 the first time I covered a murder. It was a heartbreaking case. A four-year-old girl tortured and killed near her home. It was easy to demonize the killer. I did it, so did the other reporters.
 
Then a two-year-old boy was slaughtered in his home. The final moments of his life were revealed in vivid, horrifying detail at the trial. They still play in my mind. I won't repeat them, you don't need that.
 
I admit, it was a challenge not to demonize his mother. It would have made the reporting easy and no one would have called me on it. But, by then I was sure the easy choice was almost always the wrong choice. In those murders the messy complicating fact was the accomplice. The killers had one: a mental health system that failed them and their victims. It wasn't on trial so it wasn't what the police and lawyers wanted to talk about. 
 
To get at it I had to talk to the people who knew and loved the killers. That's always tough. They don't trust reporters and they carry a sense of guilt and shame. I've learned to make them comfortable, to convince them to share the truth.
 
There have been many murders since and there will be more.
 
They are all messy and complicated. Few as complicated as what happened in Petit-de-Grat. It is puzzling to cover a murder where everyone has good things to say about the accused and bad things to say about the victim.
 
I knew there was something else here. I noticed the familiar hint of things unsaid in the eyes of the people who knew Phillip. They wanted to tell me more but they were afraid. Usually when that happens it's the TV camera I carry that they fear, so I put it away in the truck. Then, in hushed tones, in the cabs of trucks, at kitchen tables, on the decks of boats, they began to tell a new story.
 
What emerged was a sad tale of a simple man who was easily manipulated and would do pretty much anything for a buck.

At 43 he slept on a mattress on the floor of his parent's small kitchen. He collected welfare and had few options. It's okay, he was happy with that life.
 
Phillip's family, his friends, even the people whose traps he cut told me the same story.
 
Phillip Boudreau did a lot of damage, but only when was paid or asked to do it by someone else. It seems a lot of people used his services from time to time. It doesn't excuse his actions. It gives them a little context.
 
One fisherman who lost gear to one of Phillip's evening runs told me he confronted him after finding the cut lines. Phillip told him he was paid $100 by another fisherman to do it. He then said he'd cut the other man's gear--for 100 bucks.
 
I was surprised until I heard it again and again.
 
Phillip Boudreau is a murder victim and they rarely need defending but maybe he does. It might be easy to blame him for what happened but it seems to me that is like blaming the bullet, not the finger on the trigger.
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About the Author

Phonse Jessome has been chasing stories down the main streets and back roads of Nova Scotia since the spring of 1981. So far he is showing no signs of giving up the chase.

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