Villanueva judge steps down

Judge Robert Sansfaçon, the judge who was to preside over the inquiry into the 2008 shooting of Fredy Villanueva by a Montreal police officer, abruptly retired last Friday, citing health issues and personal choice. The case, postponed in the spring due to the Villanueva family’s inability to afford legal counsel, was set to resume on October 26.

Despite the setback, Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis told the CBC he is trying to replace Sansfaçon as soon as possible so that the trial can begin.

Alain Arsenault, the lawyer representing the Villanueva family, said he respects Judge Sansfaçon’s retirement and believes it will not have a negative impact on his client’s case. “While I would like to go to trial with [Sansfaçon], he has some health problems that we need to respect and we will have to wait for a new coroner. It will have no negative impact on my client’s case,” Arsenault said.

Villanueva, an 18-year-old Honduran immigrant, was playing dice with his brother and friends at a park in Montreal North on the evening of August 9, when police approached the group and arrested his brother. During the ensuing argument, Villanueva was shot three times and died early the next morning at Sacré Coeur Hospital. Two of his friends suffered gunshot wounds.

The police officer responsible for the death, Constable Jean-Loup Lapointe, has contended that the shooting was in self-defense, although no motive or warrant has been established regarding the arrest of Villanueva’s brother.

The shooting has raised questions regarding police violence, racial profiling, and immigrant rights; the days following the shooting saw a two-day riot in which cars were overturned and set on fire.