Families of nine slain or missing Montreal women demand public inquiry
The families of victims of unsolved killings from the 1970s want a public inquiry into how cold cases are handled by Quebec police forces.
The families of eight women who disappeared and were killed between 1975 and 1981 have been demanding a public inquiry into their loved ones’ cases and other cold cases, because they say Quebec’s police forces routinely destroy or lose evidence in murder cases, leaving families in the dark about where the investigations stand. The family of Marilyn Bergeron, who disappeared in 2008, has recently joined the fight.
“I do not want this horrible incompetence to be experienced by other families in the future,” said Yvonne Prior, whose then-16-year-old daughter Sharron Prior disappeared from Montreal’s Pointe-St-Charles neighbourhood on March 29, 1975. Her lifeless body was found a few of days later in woods in Longueuil. Her family was later told DNA samples retrieved from the crime scene were destroyed, but were never told why or by whom.
“That’s what I want to say to Minister Guilbault, but it won’t be possible because she refuses to meet with us. What is this government that does not listen to the people?”
The families came together after their stories were featured in a 2017 documentary by filmmaker Stéphan Parent called Soixante-Dix. The documentary looked into a rash of sexual assaults, murders and disappearances of young women in and around Montreal in the 1970s that had never been solved.
The film focused on high-profile cases like Prior’s, where the families had already gone public, but Parent also found dozens more similar cases where evidence had been inexplicably destroyed or lost.
Parent and Marc Bellemare, a lawyer and former justice minister, are helping the families get their message to the government.
“It’s important to find out who destroyed the evidence. We need to know if there is someone in the police force who is doing this, and it’s only a public inquiry that can find out,” Parent said.
Bellemare has written to Minister Guilbault several times since she was elected in October, and has only received a letter from a cabinet official saying the Sûreté du Québec has recently reorganized its staff to improve the handling of cold cases, and can lend a hand to local police forces in such cases.
The families want all investigations of murders and disappearances where foul play is suspected to be taken over by the SQ; all evidence to be properly preserved by the SQ; and all investigators to get more training. They also want families to be given full access to the investigation files 25 years after a murder if no charges have been laid.
Bellemare said the families had hoped the new Coalition Avenir Québec government would be more open than previous governments to sit down with the families.
“One would think a new government would be more willing to listen,” he said. “So it does not auger well.”
Guilbault could not be reached for comment Sunday.
By Michelle LaLonde