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Police response ‘too little, too late’ in case of Quebec sisters killed by father in 2020: coroner

Click to play video: '‘We expect better’: Coroner faults police response in Quebec sisters’ deaths'
‘We expect better’: Coroner faults police response in Quebec sisters’ deaths
In July 2020, Martin Carpentier murdered his daughters Norah, 11, and Romy, 6. The girls' bodies were found southwest of Quebec City. Martin then took his own life. Now coroner Luc Malouin is blasting the Sûreté du Québec, the province's police service, for how it responded to the case. Mike Armstrong explains what Malouin says the SQ did wrong, and how the children's mother, Amélie Lemieux, is responding – Oct 25, 2023

Police efforts were “too little, too late” to find a pair of missing Quebec sisters who were killed at the hands of their father in July 2020, a coroner has found.

Coroner Luc Malouin’s report into Norah and Romy Carpentier’s deaths was released Tuesday, more than three years after a large-scale manhunt unfolded southwest of Quebec City.

The 85-page report found that Quebec provincial police made a mistake by not immediately launching a search when the two young girls mysteriously went missing. Malouin also outlines a number of recommendations for the Sûreté du Québec’s top brass.

“Land research by competent personnel trained to do so, in this case, can be summed up in four words: too little, too late,” Malouin wrote.

Malouin was tasked with investigating the Carpentier deaths after the province ordered a public inquiry last year. The move came following  Radio-Canada’s report about alleged police errors during the initial investigation and the presentation of new evidence that had not been part of the original coroner’s report into the girls’ deaths.

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The sisters were the subject of an Amber Alert after an outing with their father Martin Carpentier on the evening of July 8, 2020. All three went missing following a car crash on Highway 20 in Saint-Apollinaire and the girls’ bodies were found in a wooded area several days later.

The SQ carried out an intense manhunt to find Carpentier, only to discover his body 12 days later. Investigators ruled the two girls were killed by their father before he took his own life.

Click to play video: 'Quebec coroner rules SQ waited too long to issue Amber Alert for Carpentier sisters'
Quebec coroner rules SQ waited too long to issue Amber Alert for Carpentier sisters

In his report, Malouin points out that while witnesses told police that Carpentier was a good and loving father, they also suggested he was struggling with depression, had lost weight, and was anxious due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Carpentier was scared of losing custody of Norah and Romy in upcoming divorce proceedings with their mother and his behaviour was out of character.

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That information should have been enough for police to immediately call an emergency response team and launch a ground search at first light, according to the coroner. The search efforts only began at 10 a.m. the following day.

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Malouin said he also believes the car crash with his daughters may have been a “tipping point” for Carpentier, causing him to panic and feel an “irrational fear of losing his daughters.”

The coroner also found lack of planning, communication mistakes and a shortage of qualified personnel marred the first two days of the search although he noted he was uncertain whether searchers could have found the girls alive even if proper procedures had been followed. However, Malouin said police could have asked for help from other agencies, such as the Quebec City police, the provincial Wildlife Department or qualified volunteer search-and-rescue groups.

The report outlines a series of recommendations for Quebec provincial police’s administration, including mandating at least two investigators for the disappearance of any child under 13 years old. That kind of situation should also always be treated as the “worst of scenarios” and should be treated accordingly by all police personnel.

A card distributed by the family depicts Romy, left, and Norah Carpentier, at the funeral home in Levis, Que., Monday, July 20, 2020. Romy and Norah Carpentier were found dead in Saint-Apollinaire, Quebec. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Other recommendations for the SQ include setting up a unified command post from the start of land searches and equipping both police officers and vehicles with the necessary technology so that information can be shared quickly when children disappear.

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When it comes to missing persons cases especially those involving young kids Malouin also suggests provincial police quickly launch alerts in media to notify public. In the Carpentier case, he criticized police for not alerting the media early on the morning of July 9, which could have yielded valuable information.

Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel said that the province would work with police to implement the coroner’s recommendations, including better training.

“I think the findings are clear,” he told reporters Tuesday in Quebec City. “The time, the few lost hours, sometimes we just talk about three hours, four hours, five hours, but five hours can make a difference.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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