A new original documentary series, Meurtriers sur mesure, has been available on Club illico since September 26. It investigates a human tragedy that shattered the lives of the Gaudet, Taillefer and Duguay families, and documents a miscarriage of justice unprecedented in the annals of Québec legal history. Lawyer Richard Dubé served as a consultant on the production. He spoke to us abut the sometimes tricky legal issues behind the story.

From a legal perspective, this case went through several different stages. Can you walk us through them?
Billy Taillefer and Hughes Duguay were arrested on April 28, 1990. They appeared before a judge two days later and entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of first degree murder.

The next step was the preliminary investigation, which took place in June and July 1990. The Crown convinced the Court that there was sufficient evidence to try the accused for first-degree murder.

Taillefer and Mr. Duguay faced the jury in October 1990 in Val-d’Or, a community fraught with fear. Their request to hold the trial in another city was denied. Both of the accused were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

They appealed the verdict in the Court of Appeal. Three judges heard the case in 1995. The Court ordered a new trial on a reduced charge of second degree murder for Hughes Duguay. But Billy Taillefer’s appeals failed to convince the judges to order a new trial.

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The Crown offered Mr. Duguay the chance to plead guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter. He agreed because it meant that he could leave prison since he had already served his sentence.

In 1999, an incident led to the creation of the Poitras Commission to look into the investigation methods used by the Sûreté du Québec’s Major Crimes Unit. They found that the investigators had planted evidence in a major drug trafficking case. The Taillefer-Duguay case resurfaced during the Poitras Commission and it was discovered that several pieces of evidence proving Taillefer and Dugay’s innocence had been hidden from the defence. The Poitras Commission published its report on the Taillefer-Duguay case in December 2000.

In April 2001, the lawyers representing Mr. Taillefer and Mr. Duguay asked to present this new evidence to the Court of Appeal. The Court denied this request in September 2001 on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient to challenge the conviction and that the defendants had nevertheless received a fair trial. The men were released during the appeal process and then reincarcerated after the Court of Appeal rendered its decision.

The case was then brought before the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2003 overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision by acquitting Hughes Duguay of all charges and ordering a new trial for Billy Taillefer. For the Supreme Court, it was clear that it was the Crown’s duty to disclose all evidence to the defence team, including evidence that proved their innocence, and that the accused had not received a fair trial.

Billy Taillefer’s new trial went before the Superior Court in Trois-Rivières in 2006. The judge ruled that the incriminating statement attributed to Billy Taillefer was not made freely and voluntarily, without promise or threat. The Crown then stated that it had no further evidence to prove Mr. Taillefer’s guilt and he was acquitted.

What caused the miscarriage of justice in this case? Was it oversight or intentional misconduct?
Canada’s justice system is probably one of the best in the world. Our laws and procedures were designed to prevent innocent people from being unfairly convicted of crimes. This is why there are several levels of control over judicial decisions, such as the Court of Appeal, which is composed of three judges, and the Supreme Court, which is composed of nine judges.

A miscarriage of justice is very often caused by a combination of intentional and unintentional wrongdoing by police officers and Crown prosecutors, especially if they’re singularly focused on achieving a goal and convinced that the end justifies the means—and if they feel that they can act with impunity. The competence of the authorities involved in this case should also be reviewed.

The incident involving Sandra Gaudet occurred 30 years ago. Do you think the same type of miscarriage of justice could happen today?  
We always have to be vigilant about potential failures of justice. At the same time, we need to have faith in the system, even though it’s imperfect. It’s a work in progress.

Could the information unveiled in the documentary be used as evidence?
For example, anything a witness says in the documentary could be used against him or her in a future legal proceeding.

From a legal standpoint, what’s the biggest challenge in making a documentary like this one? 
When examining a court case and aspects of criminal law, it’s very important to convey the facts accurately and fairly so that the audience is properly informed and can come to the right conclusion.

Do you think that the investigation could be reopened as a result of this series?
It’s reasonable for us, as a society, to expect that the authorities might finally determine that this is an unresolved murder case and that a credible investigation is therefore warranted. As it stands, Sandra’s family, as well as the families of Billy and Hugues, are being ignored. And that’s not right.

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