CRIME

A tangled web of police corruption

DAN BURKE June 30 1986
CRIME

A tangled web of police corruption

DAN BURKE June 30 1986

A tangled web of police corruption

CRIME

The violent incident abruptly ended one man’s 19-year career as a police officer. Charged with murdering two other officers in Quebec City after they arrived at a warehouse that he had broken into last July, Serge Lefebvre, a former police sergeant in neighboring Ste-Foy, attempted to avoid arrest by shooting himself in the chest on July 5, two days after the double murder. But Lefebvre survived and the convicted murderer—now serving a mandatory 25year prison sentence—has added his testimony to another controversy. In an unexpected appearance before a Quebec police commission inquiry into the Ste-Foy police department, the 41year-old Lefebvre admitted last week that he committed up to 400 thefts during his career—but he claimed that he was an honest civilian. Said Lefebvre: “I never stole out of uniform.”

As well, the stoic, bearded Lefebvre testified that the department had severe internal divisions and that many of its personnel—including senior officers—had serious alcohol problems. For civic authorities in Ste-Foy, a Quebec City suburb of about 69,000, Lefebvre’s testimony focused more attention on the troubled department. Indeed, the six-week-old inquiry—the third investigation of the force in the past nine years—has heard from about 10 officers from the 150-member force. And last week Det. Jules Dubois, president of the Ste-Foy police union, testified that he withdrew a demand for the police chief’s resignation last July after receiving threats on his life.

So far, much of the hearing’s testimony has centred on the department’s chief, André Ste. Marie, whom some officers have described as a reclusive authoritarian. As well, some witnesses said that about 15 police members of Carrefour Chrétien de la capitale, a religious group affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, tried to convert other officers during working hours. In fact, some witnesses have said that promotions within the department appeared to depend on the applicant’s religious beliefs. Declared Dubois: “We began wondering whether we were supposed to be enforcing the Criminal Code or the Bible.” Moreover, Dubois also testified that between November, 1984, and July, 1985, he saw Ste. Marie under the influence of alcohol at work as many as eight times.

While some witnesses have occasionally caused laughter among spectators

at the public hearing, Ste-Foy mayor Andrée Boucher said that the force’s problems are extremely serious. Elected last November, Boucher, 49, began her mandate by announcing that she would listen to any police officer who wished to speak to her. By Dec. 24, 90

officers had visited her office. The mayor said that because of what they had told her she suspended Ste. Marie with pay on Jan. 4. Said Boucher: “According to Ste. Marie, there were no longer any problems with the department. But if we hadn’t done something, there would have been a revolt.” Other testimony indicated that the revolt had already begun. Ste. Marie testified that he received death threats from his own men before the inquiry. He claimed that he had been followed, that his phone had been wiretapped and that officers, whom he did not name, had blackmailed him after he had tried to dismiss a popular detective. That man is Raymond Asselin, acquitted of receiving stolen goods in 1982. Ste. Marie said that the Asselin affair resulted in so much bad feeling within the department that he and other senior officers were reluctant to investigate Lefebvre’s activities as a

burglar. Lefebvre, who won a citation in 1980 for shooting a bank robber, testified that he was emotionally exhausted by the job and had an uncontrollable urge to steal. Said Boucher: “For me, the most painful part is knowing that we could have prevented

a lot of this. Why nothing was done, I don’t know.”

At the end of the inquiry’s sixth week, a civilian employee of the department, Michel Letarte, pleaded guilty to charges of selling confidential information to unauthorized sources; he was arrested after he provided the identity of licence-plate holders to two undercover provincial police officers. Still, Boucher says that Ste-Foy can rebuild its police department. Said the mayor: “We are going to have to have the courage to do a cleanup. It is inhumane to ask policemen to do a good job in the department’s existing atmosphere.” When the inquiry makes its recommendations, Boucher says she will take measures to restore order in the force. But it may be far more difficult to restore public trust.

DAN BURKE