Montreal

SQ officer reprimanded for firing plastic bullets into crowd at 2012 student protest

The police ethics committee ruled that Const. Denis Burelle acted without prudence or judgement during a Maple Spring student protest in Victoriaville.

Police ethics committee rules Const. Denis Burelle acted without 'prudence, judgement'

SQ officer Denis Burelle at the student protest in Victoriaville, Que., in 2012. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

A Sûreté du Québec officer is being criticized by the police ethics committee for his part in the ugly clash between provincial police officers and students during a student protest in Victoriaville in 2012.

The committee ruled that Const. Denis Burelle lacked "prudence and judgment," saying that he seriously injured protesters when he used his firearm to shoot plastic bullets without authorization.

"Const. Burelle failed in his responsibility by not respecting the rules of engagement," read the written statement, published Monday.​

Burelle, a member of the riot squad, was stationed in front of the Victoriaville Convention Centre where the provincial Liberal Party's general council meeting was being held on May 4, 2012.

Several hundred students showed up at the event to protest proposed tuition fee hikes.

Quebec provincial police arrested 106 people that day and half a dozen were injured, with one protester sustaining head injuries and requiring eye surgery as a result.

Officer Denis Burelle had never used his impact weapon in the field before the Victoriaville protest. (SQ)

Burelle fired 10 plastic bullets in a span of 30 minutes as protesters were throwing rocks and other projectiles at police.

He testified to the committee that he wasn't able to track where the majority of the bullets ended up, saying that "in the heat of the moment, it's difficult."

AR-1 plastic bullets can achieve a speed of up to 266 km/h and are recommended for use subduing dangerous parties at a distance.

Michel Desgroseilliers, the ethics committee's lawyer, described Burelle's shooting behaviour as a "danger to the public."

"The fact that, in his view, he was in a war zone doesn't justify continuing to shoot without knowing where his bullets land," said Desgroseilliers.

The Sûreté du Québec did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBC News.

Officer fired before being given the OK

Before May 4, 2012, Burelle had never used his weapon in the field. The committee also found that Burelle began firing before he was actually given the go-ahead by his superiors.

One student who participated in the protest, Dominique Laliberté-Martineau, found herself in the line of fire and ended up with a broken jaw. A plastic bullet was found at her feet.
Dominique Laliberté-Martineau was hit by a projectile at the protest. (Facebook/Carl Lapriz)

Another protester, Alexandre Allard, was hit in the head with a projectile and suffered a cranial fracture and a concussion.

The weapon Burelle was using isn't supposed to be aimed at or used against someone who is not threatening. When they were shot, neither Allard nor Laliberté-Martineau were holding anything.

A third person who was injured, Magali Paquin, was holding her cell phone in one hand and a maraca in the other.

The committee ruled in its decision that, based on the evidence provided, these protesters were certainly injured as a result of being hit with plastic bullets fired from Burelle's weapon.

A decision about whether Burelle will face sanctions for his actions is expected to be handed down in the coming weeks.

With files from Radio-Canada's Sylvie Fournier