By Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press on January 22, 2024.
MONTREAL – A Quebec man who police say remains a suspect in the high-profile disappearance and death of nine-year-old Cédrika Provencher 16 years ago is eager to clear his name, his lawyer said Monday.
Jonathan Bettez was at the Montreal courthouse for a hearing regarding the $10-million lawsuit he launched in 2019 against the provincial police for the way they targeted him in the case.
Investigators testified Monday that Bettez is still considered a suspect in the 2007 disappearance in Trois-RiviÃ¨res, Que., of Provencher, whose skeletal remains were discovered in December 2015. No one has been charged in her killing.
Bettez’s lawyer, Jessy Héroux, told reporters at the courthouse his client had nothing to do with what happened to the young girl. Bettez, he said, is innocent and disappointed he is still being linked to Provencher’s disappearance.
“Jonathan will testify during the trial and he looks forward to it,” Héroux said.
Héroux said the case has been held up for nine months because provincial police refuse to provide documents from the investigation, claiming privilege. The case has also been delayed because police are fighting to keep certain proceedings out of the public view.
“There’s a certain irony that now we decided to limit the publicity of the case and access to the public when we know police publicized the case and we also know they associated Jonathan’s name to Cédrika Provencher’s disappearance and police leaked information to the media,” Héroux said.
“For us, it’s a little late to be discreet.”
The documents police are refusing to release establish that there is no link between Bettez and the crime, and that police ignored exculpatory information, Héroux claims.
Lawyers for the Quebec government told the court that the homicide investigation into Provencher’s disappearance and killing could be negatively affected if certain information is made public. Government lawyers say they want to argue against the release of the police documents before a judge alone – without lawyers for Bettez present; they also want part of the trial to be held with restrictions over what the public can see.
Ruth Arless-Frandsen, a Quebec government lawyer, said the attorney general’s office is aware that the restrictions being sought are the exception rather than the rule. The office will do “everything it can to make the debate public as much as possible,” Arless-Frandsen told the court, but added there needs to be a balance between the public interest and preserving secrets of police techniques.
A Quebec provincial police investigator said Bettez remains a suspect in Provencher’s disappearance because police have been unable to clear him. Karine Sirois, who has been in the file since last August, said there are elements in the Provencher case that have not been made public; revealing those specific details during the trial, she said, could jeopardize the case and benefit potential suspects – including Bettez.
Chantal Daudelin, a former provincial police lead cold case detective in the file, testified that her colleagues tried to clear Bettez but couldn’t. In 2007, authorities looking for a red Acura in connection with the girl’s disappearance found six models that matched a description given by eyewitnesses, she said, adding that all the owners had an alibi except Bettez.
“These are suspicions, because we have not been able to exclude him as a suspect,” Daudelin told Quebec Superior Court Justice Gregory Moore.
“The window of opportunity was not closed in his case.”
Bettez refused to submit to a polygraph test, but his lawyer said Monday that was because his client did not trust police and that results are affected greatly by stress.
Héroux told reporters that his client was tailed by police, had his devices thoroughly searched and was interrogated for 14 hours. Bettez was also put under an elaborate sting operation, and police put pressure on friends and family but couldn’t find tangible evidence to charge him in the killing, the lawyer said.
Bettez was arrested in 2016 on child pornography charges but was ultimately acquitted after a judge ruled that police had engaged in a fishing expedition, and the judge quashed warrants used to seize materials. The family then sued police claiming the arrest ruined the family business and their reputations.
Neither Bettez nor his parents – Huguette Drouin and André Bettez – spoke to reporters on Monday, but Héroux said they want the lawsuit to be heard in public so police are held accountable.
“What the family hopes for the most is that the police explain how they carried out this investigation of the murder and the disappearance of Cédrika Provencher,” Héroux said. “I think Quebecers deserve an answer and, above that, the parents of Cédrika and her sister merit an explanation (from police.)”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2024.