Father of fallen Quebec police officer says son's killer should have never had access to guns

The father of Thierry LeRoux, the police officer killed in Lac Simon, Que., in 2016, is urging Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to do more to restrict access to guns for those with serious mental illness and create other safeguards for responding officers.

Michel LeRoux calls for more safeguards for 1st responders, better treatment for mentally ill in remote areas

Thierry Leroux was hired by the Anishnabe Nation of Lac-Simon police service in August 2015. He was killed six months later, responding to a call about a suicide threat. Joseph Anthony Raymond Papatie shot Leroux twice before turning a gun on himself. (Fondation Thierry Leroux)

The father of a police officer killed on the job in Lac-Simon, Que., in February 2016 says the man who shot his son should not have had access to guns.

Michel LeRoux has written to federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale asking for changes in the law to do more to prevent people with serious mental illness from having guns.

His 26-year-old son, Thierry ​LeRoux, was shot twice in the back at close range after he and a colleague responded to a 911 call about a man threatening to commit suicide in the Algonquin community near Val-d'Or, Que., about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal. 

Investigators concluded LeRoux was killed by 22-year-old Joseph Anthony Raymond Papatie. They said Papatie then turned the gun on himself and died.

Coroner's report cites 'excessive confidence' 

Michel LeRoux says he decided to write Goodale after reading the coroner's report into his son's death last month — a report he feels placed too much blame on his son.

LeRoux, had only been with the Lac-Simon police service for six months at the time of his death.

He had previously worked with the Katavik Regional Police, serving Inuit communities in Nunavik.

Coroner Jean-François Lécuyer concluded the officer acted too quickly and took steps that did not conform to his police training. 

"It's possible Officer Thierry LeRoux acted with excess confidence," Lécuyer said in his report

The report also found that both officers should have approached Papatie with their guns in hand, instead of LeRoux going on his own to meet him.

"It's pretty easy to say that if the officer is down on duty, it's because it's his own fault," LeRoux told CBC.

Thierry Leroux is shown here, 2nd from left, with his father Michel, mother Christine and brother Steffan. (Michel Leroux)

Instead, LeRoux wants the focus to be on preventing access to guns for those who are mentally ill. 

The authorities should never have allowed our son's killer to own weapons.- Michel LeRoux, father of slain officer Thierry LeRoux

​"We need to prevent the possession of guns by people who have demonstrated behaviour that is suicidal, violent, threatening or associated with a mental illness, regardless of the nature of the illness," LeRoux wrote in the letter to Goodale.

"The authorities should never have allowed our son's killer to own weapons." 

LeRoux had returned guns to killer, father learned

Under the Firearms Act, when people apply for a licence to possess and acquire a firearm in Canada, they are asked several questions about their personal history. The questions include whether they have attempted suicide or have been treated for depression, substance abuse or behaviour problems. The licence must be renewed every five years.

There are also special provisions for Indigenous people in Canada to help complete applications. If an applicant is turned down, the person can ask an elder or community leader to confirm why it is important for applicant to be allowed to take part in traditional hunting.

LeRoux is not aware of how Papatie obtained his guns, or if he had any special adaptations. But he said there was "a failure, somewhere, with what's in the law or the application of it."

LeRoux saw a separate report, done by the Sûreté du Québec investigators who looked into the case, when he was presented with their findings at a meeting at the office of the Crown prosecutor in Quebec City.

He said he was not given a copy, and it has not been made public.

LeRoux said the report stated that on Sept. 3, 2015, his son was ordered to return three guns to Papatie that had been previously confiscated by police when he was in hospital.

"Why in September 2015 [did] we return the guns to Mr. Papatie?" he asks.

He said he's also disappointed the coroner didn't address that finding in his report.

Thierry LeRoux, 26, had only been on the job for six months in Lac-Simon when he was shot and killed while responding to a call about a suicidal man. (Facebook)

The coroner said in a separate report, this one on the death of Papatie, that local police had been involved in several interventions with him over the years when he expressed suicidal thoughts and had transported him to hospital in Val-d'Or on more than one occasion for treatment.

Only one recommendation came out of the reports into both men's deaths.

Lécuyer said the local health agency should find a way to ensure that anyone who comes to local hospitals with suicidal thoughts should be informed of suicide prevention services in the region and resources to help with psychological distress.

Better treatment, training needed 

Aside from restricting weapons for those who are suffering from major mental illness, LeRoux said he would like to see better safeguards in place for first responders. 

He is also calling for better treatment of people with mental illness in remote communities.

"Special efforts should be made to better treat the range of mental illnesses that affect, in particular, people who live in disadvantaged areas with high drug and alcohol abuse, even if those people do not want to be treated," LeRoux wrote in his letter to Goodale.

Last summer LeRoux was involved in establishing a fund in his son's name for the community

The fund will be used to pay for school and sporting activities for Indigenous youth in Lac-Simon and other communities in the MRC de la Vallée-de-l'Or.

He told CBC he feels driven to speak out for better safety for new police officers working in remote communities. 

"I abandoned my son once," he said. "I won't abandon him again."

With files from Catou MacKinnon