MONTREAL — A police chief who was prosecuted and acquitted after he installed surveillance equipment to stop an harassment campaign waged by his own officers has been ordered to face a new trial.
The Quebec Court of Appeal did not dispute the abuse suffered by Michel Ledoux, the former chief of police in Mont-Tremblant, Que., amid contentious contract negotiations between the town and its police force.
Writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, Justice Martin Vauclair said the unionized officers’ pressure tactics took on “surprising proportions considering the status of their authors, who in principle are supposed to display judgment and respect towards others.”
In 2011, Ledoux found a fake bomb outside his office door and an effigy of himself hanging outside the police station. Posters were hung on the station walls depicting Ledoux in sexually degrading situations and dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
But the judges concluded that his 2014 acquittal followed a flawed instruction to the jury from Quebec Superior Court Justice Sophie Bourque, who allowed the jury to consider the possibility Ledoux had acted in legitimate defence against a threat of force, as defined by a recent addition to the Criminal Code. The appeal court found that it was the older version of the law, in force at the time of the alleged infractions, that should have been used.
Thomas Villeneuve-Gagné, a lawyer for Ledoux, said the ruling raises issues of national interest and his client intends to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Ledoux testified at his first trial that he cleared the purchase of cameras and recorders with Mont-Tremblant’s general manager and was reimbursed by the town.
In addition to evidence of a plot to destabilize Ledoux, the recording equipment revealed behaviour that was “probably contrary to ethical and possibly even criminal norms,” the appeal court found. In one conversation quoted in the ruling, an officer named Olivier Chabot described how he dragged a man arrested for drunkenness face down through sand on the street. “His teeth were full of sand. It was funny,” he was recorded saying.
An expert in workplace psychology who testified at the trial described the officers’ behaviour as a form of group intimidation called mobbing. She said it had led to panic attacks, depression and suicidal thoughts in Ledoux.
The defence had argued that his fear of further abuse justified his resorting to surveillance, even if the interception of private communications is illegal.
Ledoux also used the recording devices during contract negotiations, capturing discussions between union representatives and their lawyer. He said it was all part of his attempt to identify the people responsible for his harassment.
The town fired Ledoux after one of his assistants learned of the recordings and filed a complaint to the provincial police. Last March, Ledoux won an apology from the resort town north of Montreal and reached an undisclosed financial settlement. He had been seeking $8 million in a lawsuit.
“The representatives of the city profoundly regret the unfortunate circumstances and the consequences the events had on Mr. Ledoux and his family members,” the town said in a statement at the time.