The Killing of Phillip Boudreau

The story of a death that tore apart the Nova Scotia community of Isle Madame, a postcard-perfect collection of Acadian fishing villages off the coast of Cape Breton Island.
Available on CBC Gem

The Killing of Phillip Boudreau


The Killing of Phillip Boudreau is the story of a death that tore apart the Nova Scotia community of Isle Madame, a postcard-perfect collection of Acadian fishing villages off the coast of Cape Breton Island. Phillip Boudreau, a local man known for poaching lobsters, was killed by fishermen in a crime the media dubbed “murder for lobster,” which made international headlines seven years ago. But as anyone from the area will tell you, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Boudreau had a criminal record with multiple offenses, and many islanders saw him as a bully who had terrorized the fishing community for years.

On the morning of June 1, 2013, Boudreau’s small red and white speedboat, Midnight Slider, was found battered and adrift on Petit-de-Grat harbour. Boudreau was nowhere to be seen.

This wasn’t the first time Boudreau had disappeared — he would often take off for days or weeks to evade local authorities or fellow islanders he had angered. So at first, no one was overly concerned about this latest disappearance. Most assumed that Boudreau was on the run again.

By evening, a search had turned up Boudreau’s rubber boots and ball cap, but there was still no sign of him. It was starting to look like something more sinister may be behind his disappearance — that it was more than a case of a petty thief on the run.

While rumours swept the area, the RCMP were following up on a tip that the crew of a local fishing vessel called the Twin Maggies were believed to be carrying a rifle or shotgun. Red and black marks and scuffs could be seen on the boat’s starboard side. The next day, the RCMP questioned the three-man crew: Dwayne Samson, James Landry and Craig Landry. By June 8, they had all been charged with second-degree murder.

It sent shock waves through the local villages. “There was a line right down the middle. [It] just tore the community apart,” crown prosecutor Steve Drake says in the documentary.

The accused men were well-liked and respected members of the community and hadn’t been in trouble with the law before. Some islanders saw it as a case of good people who had been pushed too far; they believed Boudreau got what was coming to him.

Others saw Boudreau as a sympathetic character: a small-time thief with a rough upbringing who was good for a laugh and whose crimes were a plea for attention. They believed that, whatever Boudreau may have done, nobody deserves to be killed like that.

In January 2015, James Landry was sentenced to 14 years in prison for manslaughter in the death of Phillip Boudreau. Later that year, Dwayne Samson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Craig Landry pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact and received 2 years of probation. James Landry and Dwayne Samson each served fewer than 5 years before being released back into a community that is still reckoning with their crime.

Director Megan Wennberg unpacks a complicated and tangled web of blame in The Killing of Phillip Boudreau. The film looks at Boudreau himself, the challenges of policing this area and the role the community played as a whole: everyone knew there was a problem, but no one did anything before it was too late.

While “murder for lobster” made a clickable headline, it ignored the bigger picture, and worse, caused hurt that is still felt throughout the community. The Killing of Phillip Boudreau sheds new light on this misunderstood case. It asks: What happens when members of a tight-knit community kill one of their own? Where do the lines between good and bad and right and wrong blur? And who is at fault when everyone bears some responsibility?