Julie Surprenant was 16 when she disappeared nearly two decades ago and, with a new provincial party in power, her father is hoping for a more attentive ear to his repeated request for the establishment of a public registry of sex offenders.
“We have a new government more open to this sort of thing, so now is the time to push for it to come about,” Michel Surprenant said at a press conference on Sunday.
“Julie’s disappearance could have been prevented,” he said. “That’s what makes me the most angry.”
Also at the press conference were his lawyer, Marc Bellemare, and filmmaker Stéphan Parent, who is at work on a documentary to mark 20 years since Julie Surprenant’s disappearance in November of 1999.
Surprenant said he hopes the new Coalition avenir Québec government will follow up on its promise to create a public registry for sexual predators. He said that, just as people do in the United States, Quebecers should be able to know whether there are sex offenders living near them.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police keeps a registry of sexual predators, but only some police officers have access.
The office of Geneviève Guilbault, the minister of public safety, has said that the CAQ is resolved to make public a registry of dangerous sexual offenders during its first mandate.
“We are already working in that direction,” according to a written statement to Canadian Press.
During the electoral campaign, then-CAQ chief and now premier François Legault had suggested that the registry was not a priority.
According to lawyer Bellemare, a public registry should be created “as soon as possible” to give priority to the rights of parents over those convicted of crimes.
“When an individual is sentenced at the Montreal courthouse to serve five years in prison, we have his face, we have his name, we have his origins, we have newspaper articles, short pieces on television: It’s everywhere, because justice is public,” he explained.
“The point of the registry is not to spread the word about the conviction: it is already known. It was in the paper on Monday, but by Wednesday it is forgotten. The registry is memory.”
The idea of a registry does not have unanimous support. The Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec (ASRSQ) has expressed concern about the “risks of vigilante justice” such a registry could lead to.
“It’s possible to keep someone declared a dangerous offender indefinitely in prison (and this happens now) precisely because releasing him would entail too great a risk to the safety of the community,” David Henry, coordinator of programs and communications for the ASRSQ, wrote in 2014. “So we already have a powerful legal tool to protect our children and our communities in the long term.”
Filmmaker Parent said that, during his own investigation into the case, he learned of information that he believes justifies further examination of the apartment of Richard Bouillon, the chief suspect. He died in 2006.
Parent said the information he acquired makes him believe that Julie Surprenant was kidnapped, confined and sexually assaulted over several days before being murdered and buried somewhere. He said he had identified a site where Julie Surprenant’s body could be. The filmmaker said he is “95 per certain” that Bouillon, a neighbour of the Surprenant family in Terrebonne, was involved in the kidnapping. According to his research, Bouillon had an accomplice.
According to testimony collected by the coroner, Bouillon made a deathbed confession to nurses that he had raped and murdered Julie Surprenant and tossed her body into the Mille-Iles River. The nurses, bound by professional confidentiality, said nothing to police.
But one of them, Annick Prud’homme, confided in court reporter Claude Poirier in 2011; this led to the reopening of the inquiry. Further research was undertaken, but in vain.
Surprenant reproached police for what he perceived as their inaction. “Several people involved in the investigation demonstrated that they had information to deliver and that they were ignored,” he said.
Bellemare took issue with the security guards who were in the room with Bouillon and who must have heard his confession, according to witnesses interviewed by the coroner.
“Richard Bouillon was not interrogated while he was alive,” he said. “He lived six days (after the confessions), and he could have been met during that time by investigators.”