Man arrested while delivering sandbags to flood zone charged with obstructing justice

A man who was arrested while delivering sandbags to a flooded area in Montreal's West Island after police officers repeatedly told him it was dangerous has been charged with obstruction of justice after appearing in Quebec court in Montreal by video conference.

Montreal police say man was repeatedly warned actions could lead to dangerous erosion

Alain Furlano brought a pick-up truck and trailer full of sandbags to the corner of Gouin Boulevard and 5e Avenue. Police spokesperson Const. Jean-Pierre Brabant said Furlano was told repeatedly that by putting down sandbags he risked diverting the flow of water and eroding the ground underneath nearby train tracks. 1:03

A man who was arrested while delivering sandbags to a flooded area near his home in Montreal's West Island after police officers repeatedly told him it was dangerous has been charged with obstruction of justice after appearing in Quebec court in Montreal by video conference.

"They arrested me for helping my neighbours," Alain Furlano said, before the presiding judge cut him off.

In court, ​Furlano, 54, said he was "absolutely not guilty," after he declined help from legal aid and refused to agree to the condition that he not return to his house without police accompaniment. He will stay behind bars until his bail hearing on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Furlano was detained overnight after Montreal police say they warned him several times that it was risky to put down sandbags to reinforce a dike at the intersection of Gouin Boulevard and Fifth Avenue close to his own flood-damaged home in the Roxboro neighbourhood, one of the areas in Quebec hardest hit by flooding.

Police said the sandbags could have affected the flow of water and eroded the soil underneath nearby train tracks, which could in turn make them unsafe and possibly lead to an accident.

Furlano was taken into custody Tuesday shortly after he was told by police he wouldn't be permitted to continue taking the sandbags in his pickup truck down the street. The exchange between Furlano and police was captured on video.

The video shows a police officer telling Furlano that he had been allowed to make three trips to drop off sandbags, but warning that if he returned with more and continued to block traffic, he would be arrested.

The borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro has been battling a flood since last week. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

While Furlano sat in his pickup, an officer explained that they didn't want to prevent him from helping others, but that they couldn't allow him to continue because the location where the sandbags were being dumped posed a safety risk.

However, Furlano arrived again minutes later, and another verbal altercation followed as Furlano continued to yell at officers, saying that he wanted to help residents affected by floodwaters.

Furlano then got out of his truck and started to unload more sandbags. Officers intervened and arrested him.

Following the arrest, police officers and neighbours placed the sandbags in a boat and floated them to Furlano's home on Fifth Avenue.

More harm than good?

Some Roxboro residents on Fifth Avenue whom Furlano was also trying to help said they support him and commend his efforts to assist other flood victims.

Neighbour Martin Boisvert claimed it was "ridiculous and insane" that police arrested Furlano, as he was trying to help those in distress and save homes affected by flooding.

"They could have pulled him aside — his house is under seven feet of water," said Boisvert. "He worked three days to try and save it, and they put him in handcuffs and put him in a police car to take him to jail. We live in very strange times."

Boisvert and some of Furlano's neighbours hung a "Free Alain" sign on a truck yesterday as they continued work trying to save their houses.

Alain Furlano's neighbours hoisted a poster demanding his liberty. (CBC)

A demonstration is planned for this weekend to protest Furlano's arrest. However, a risk-management expert said that there needs to be co-ordination and clear communication between local authorities and volunteers before citizens take action.

"This help is obviously very important to many residents who need help to protect their assets," said Michel Doré, former deputy minister of civil security for Quebec.

"However, there is a challenge to ensure not only a good co-ordination and making sure that this help actually assists rather than hinder the required course of action and also ensure the health and safety of those volunteers."

With files from Steve Rukavina, Kate McKenna and CBC Montreal's Daybreak