(Rapport Brossard, chapitre 12, volume 3, pages 526 à 531)
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
At the very beginning of his book « I Accuse the Assassins of Coffin », at page 15, after having made a touching description of Coffin’s last moments and of the execution itself, Mr. Hébert, with delicacy and charity gives himself up to the following virulent comments against captain Matte :
Pages 15 et 16 :
« Among the witnesses, there was captain Alphonse Matte of the Provincial Police, to whom was entrusted the task of finding the murderer of three American hunters murdered in the bush near Percé. Captain Matte decided one day that Coffin was the guilty one ; then, with sadism, partaking of the psychiatrical clinic, he hounded his culprit until he was condemned to death.
His role ended on the day he handed Coffin over to Mtre Noël Dorion and Mtre Paul Miquelon, two reputed headhunters who would certainly not let go a good Crown suspect.
«Noble souls, you do not know captain Matte yet ! Be informed right away that this conscientious police officer wanted to hear the last gasps of his hanged victim: it was his reward. Without shame, he left the prison through the main entrance and appeared before a crowd of bystanders. He was relishing his victory. The day before, he had declared to newspapermen : « Justice has prevailed » »
Of all Mr. Hébert’s insulting accusations towards captain Matte, this one is the most indecent.
A proof, the exactness of which is unquestionable, has established before us the following :
For a long time, a line of conduct, followed at the Department of the Attorney General, requires that the police officers, who were in charge of an investigation, following which the accused of murder has been found guilty, attend the execution and be witnesses of the following Coroner’s inquest ; it was on the instructions of the Department of the Attorney General that captains Matte and Sirois went to the Bordeaux jail a short while before midnight, the evening of the 9th of February 1956, to attend, for this sole purpose, Coffin’s execution. (Click on the image above to read a copy of the letter from the Quebec Provincial Police ordering captains Matte and Sirois to attend Coffin’s execution.)
At the hotel where they had retired before going to the prison, captains Matte and Sirois, while waiting the moment where they would have to go to the prison to accomplish their painful duty, were invited by an acquaintance of captain Sirois, whom he had met in the afternoon, were invited to be driven to the prison.
This friend of captain Sirois, Mr. O’Dowd has told us what happened : The three of them arrived, in an automobile, around 11.15, 1.30 in the evening, at the entrance gate opening on the long interior way leading to Gouin Boulevard at the prison doors. Before the iron gates, there were some bystanders: his car having been admitted to go in, by guards on duty, he drove the two police officers to the prison door, came back outside the iron gates and parked his vehicle along the boulevard: as he was feeling jittery, he decided to take a walk while waiting the time his passengers would come out of the prison; he came back to the prison around a quarter to one o’clock in the morning; a short time after, the two captains came out on foot. There were some people near the iron gates ; there were also a certain number of automobiles parked along the Gouin Boulevard : as soon as he saw the two captains, he drove with his car towards the entrance ; the two officers got immediately into his car and returned to the hotel. To his knowledge captain Matte and captain Sirois talked to no one: the pedestrians who were near the prison entrance were some 30 to 40 people at the most ; these people kept quiet. There were as many people around one o’clock in the morning than there had been at their arrival around 11.30. He was not aware, when the two officers came back, of any demonstrations ; no one seems to have recognized them : they were all dressed in plain civilian clothes.
According to Mr. O’Dowd, when his passengers and he returned to the hotel, captain Matte and captain Sirois were jittery and depressed and did not talk. Mr.O’Dowd suggested then to Raoul Sirois to go and have a drink ; « You might feel better » said he ; Sirois and him went, then, to a restaurant on the other side of the street for a drink, but captain Matte did not follow them and went back to the hotel.
Captains Matte and Sirois confirmed Mr. O’Dowd’s account of their trip to the prison, and affirmed that they had not at all asked the authorities to send them to attend the hanging, that it was with no light heart that they accepted and that, on the contrary, this gloomy spectacle that took place before their eyes left them depressed and sad.
It was then “ the cynical manner in which captain Matte received his award while hearing the last gasps of his hanged culprit and showed himself to the crowd of bystanders to relish his victory and the triumph of justice”.
All this is very sad, but sad most of all because of the immense extent of the injustice made by the author without any reason other than that of running a pen dipped in vitriol.
To the facts that I just described, an incident is linked up to what happened before us, in the course of our enquiry.
While captain Sirois was testifying, Mtre Gravel showed him a photo which proved subsequently to be one of those that a Toronto newspaper had published the day following the hanging ; this photo was one of the two persons seated on the bench of a van; the legend at the bottom of the photo mentioned that one of those two persons were “captain Matte, hirsute, seated in the van carrying Wilbert Coffin’s corpse.” After Mtre Gravel had asked captain Sirois to look at the photo and read the legend, the legal adviser to the Commission asked immediately Mtre Gravel to file this photo as exhibit; the latter one refused bluntly and withdrew the photo from the hands of Mr. Sirois, but not before the witness had had time to state that captain Matte did not appear on the photo. Rather than having to file this photo that he ought to know it was accompanied by a legend, Mtre Gravel withdrew, then, the questions he had asked captain Sirois about it.
In the afternoon, the legal adviser to the Commission filed, himself, copies of the same photo and of the newspaper in which it had appeared and proceeded to prove the following facts : the same photo had been reproduced in a Montréal newspaper ; a few days after that production, captain Matte summoned the newspaper to retract ; this newspaper published a retractation and excuses explaining that following false information (no doubt from the Toronto paper), they had stated erroneously that this photo represented captain Matte.
The two captains affirmed that effectively captain Matte did not appear on that photo, which it was not necessary to demonstrate to the Court because this photo manifestly was not that of captain Matte.
This incident demonstrates the means, small, cynical and unjust to which may resort to certain newspapers to make sensation and what means, not less petty, cynical and unjust use sometimes unfortunately certain lawyers to diminish witnesses or parties against whom they act. Such methods are neither to the honour of the newspapers nor to that of those lawyers.