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Canada

Suspect in Cédrika Provencher homicide suing SQ for $10 million

Jonathan Bettez, the Sûreté du Québec’s main suspect in the killing of 9-year-old Cédrika Provencher, is suing the police force for $10.5 million, claiming a “bungled” child pornography investigation they orchestrated ruined his life and destroyed his family’s business.

Bettez’s parents and Emballages Bettez Inc. are also listed as claimants. The plaintiffs are demanding damages from the attorney general of Quebec and individual SQ officers, including Martin Prud’homme, the former head of the Sûreté.

“The conduct of the Sûreté du Québec has had the effect of cementing in the public perception that Jonathan Bettez is the person who kidnapped and murdered Cédrika Provencher,” the lawsuit reads. “The name ‘Bettez’ will be forever linked to this sad and tragic affair. The Bettez family will never be the same.”

Alleging that police intentionally targeted his parents and the packaging company they established in 1980 to increase pressure on Bettez, his lawyers accused the SQ of “extraordinary cruelty,” and “tunnel-vision” in their fixation on targeting their client.

Bettez became a lead suspect in 2007 following the disappearance of Provencher in Trois-Rivières, because he had a car similar to a red Acura spotted near the scene and he was unable to provide a strong alibi. He also declined requests to take a polygraph, on his lawyer’s advice. Prolonged surveillance and wiretapping of the phones of his family and friends did not uncover damning evidence. An elaborate sting operation, in which Bettez was tricked into believing he had won a free golf weekend at Mont-Tremblant, was actually attended solely by SQ agents. The ruse allowed an undercover officer to befriend Bettez for 14 months and meet with him two dozen times, but nothing came of it.

Provencher’s remains were discovered by a hunter in 2015. No arrests have been made in connection with her murder.

In 2015, the SQ requested, without a judicial warrant, that Facebook provide the list of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses in order to identify devices like computers or smartphones used to access the account “Jo bt.” Facebook provided 12 addresses, including one linked to the family business, which Bettez’s lawyers note could have been used by other employees, clients or even visitors to the business. That address was linked to the possible downloading and distribution of child porn, and to online child pornography discussion groups, between 2009 and 2013. Police used this information to obtains dozens of judicial authorizations for surveillance and seizures.

In 2016, the SQ arrested Bettez in Trois-Rivières in 2016 on child pornography charges at the family business, where he was general manager, with media present. Searches were subsequently carried out at his residence and place of work. Media presence at his court arrival was heavy, and Provencher’s family was in attendance, even though the SQ told media the two cases were not linked. During 14 hours of interrogation, police tried to coerce Bettez into taking a lie-detector test regarding the Provencher case. As he was driven to his court appearance in Trois-Rivières, an SQ officer put his finger into Bettez’s chest and said: “Today is Cédrika’s birthday, and she isn’t here to celebrate it. It’s your conscience that will take care of you.”

Officers showed Bettez a video statement they recorded from one of his best friends saying their relationship would be over if he didn’t submit to a lie-detector test.

In a scathing ruling highly critical of police procedure, Judge Jacques Lacoursière threw out the charges against Bettez last fall, calling them “a fishing expedition based on intuition or on a very hypothetical theory,” and dismissed all the evidence.

Bettez’s lawsuit alleges the child pornography charges were concocted without just cause by police as a parallel investigation that would allow them to pin Cédrika’s murder on Bettez. Heavy media coverage and the police force’s focus on his parents and their place of business, who were not implicated in any crimes, were conducted with the intention of putting more pressure on Bettez

The family was forced to sell their business in 2017, because suppliers and clients refused to work with them. Vandals targeted his parent’s’ home and left a rope noose dangling from their front-porch light, leading them to hire a security guard. Bettez’s parents are demanding more than half the sum of $10 million.

Jonathan Bettez, 39, is living on welfare, has been the target of death threats and is socially and professionally isolated, the lawsuit reads.

“He cannot, in Quebec, ever come back to a normal life. At the age of 39, his career prospects in Quebec are null. … Were it not for the mistakes of the SQ, Jonathan Bettez would today be living a normal life and would still be the manager of his family company.”

Bettez is seeking close to $4 million in damages. Included in the plaintiffs’ claim is a demand for $1 million “to dissuade similar behaviour from happening again, and to denounce it.”

rbruemmer@postmedia.com

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