REPORT OF THE ROYAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON THE COFFIN AFFAIR (27TH NOVEMBER 1964)
VOL. 1 CHAPTER 5
THE JEEP WHOSE PRESENCE IN THE GASPÉ PENINSULA OR IN THE VICINITY WOULD HAVE BEEN SEEN BY « EYE » WITNESSES AT THE TIME THE CRIMES WERE PERPETRATED.
A literal translation by Clément Fortin
When Mtre Doiron, for the defence, asked him (sergeant Doyon) if it was possible that a jeep could have circulated in that place, without chains, without leaving tracks, or if tracks might have been erased, he answered : « It is difficult to answer… It may be possible ».
Re-examined by Mtre Noël Dorion, attorney for the Crown, he declared « that in early June in that area, the snow still melts… the ground is very damp, chains have left an imprint, … that, in the same circumstances, a jeep having driven on that ground in the same conditions would have normally left tracks… the thread being in « V » shape, a kind of « V » … that usually, on a jeep, standard tires are in « V » shape.
At the end of the examination, he affirmed what follows: “Naturally, a jeep – a tire may not leave a mark as imprinted as a chain ; anyway, I did not see any jeep tracks ».
One must remember that Wilbert Coffin’s attorneys were at liberty to cross-examine sergeant Doyon on these matters and that they did so in as far as they believed it was wise and useful to do so.
When Coffin’s attorneys decided, on August 1955, to submit representations to the Minister of Justice, realizing without a doubt that Doyon’s testimony might have been an important element in the decision of the jurors, and remembering the affirmation of the Honorourable Justice Rinfret of the Appeal Court that « any attempt to find tracks of a jeep occupied by two Americans that Coffin had declared having seen with the three American hunters on his last trip to the bush, proved negative”, Mtre Gravel seems to have attempted to obtain from Doyon information and a declaration contradicting his testimony at the trial. To these ends, he convened Mtre Raymond Maher to a meeting at Doyon’s home on the 11th September, on a Sunday, in the afternoon. The following day, on the 12th September, Mtre Gravel wrote in his notes what he thought having been Mr. Doyon’s affirmations during that meeting. The same afternoon, there would have been a meeting at his own office with Mr. Doyon during which Mr. Doyon would have confirmed the exactness of the notes taken par Mtre Gravel and written as aforementioned.
Neither during the meeting at Doyon’s home nor during the one that took place at his own office, Mtre Gravel has succeeded to obtain from Mr. Doyon a written declaration.
On the 1st October, Mtre Gravel wrote the Sollicitor General of Canada a letter in which he invited the Sollicitor General to examine sergeant Doyon and affirmed that sergeant Doyon declared that he had really seen jeep tracks in the Gaspé bush when he went there with constable Louis Sinnett, and moreover, tracks of chains made previously by Coffin and attested to by Angus MacDonald.
On the 13th October, Mtre Gravel transmitted to Mr. Allan McLeod of the Department of Justice the memorandum of the joint meeting he had with Mtre Maher at Doyon’s residence. Mtre Gravel declared that it had been approved by sergeant Doyon in a footnote to the memorandum ; joined to that memorandum was an affidavit from Mtre Gravel attesting that the facts contained in the memorandum had been stated in his presence.
On the same date, Mtre Gravel sent, through Mtre Maloney, to the Department of Justice, this time, under his signature, with his own affidavit, the summary of a new meeting which he would have had with sergeant Doyon, on the 26th September, meeting during which sergeant Doyon would have repeated having really seen jeep tracks and having declared to him that he hesitated in signing a declaration to that effect by fear that it would be taken to the attention of the officers of the Police and lose his job.
However, in an affidavit transmitted to the Department of Justice and bearing the date of the 3rd February 1956, Mr. Doyon, recalling the affirmations he had made at the trial, declared maintaining his testimony at the trial and most particularly maintaining that there was no jeep tracks in July and that it was probable that if jeep tracks had been made in June, they would have still been visible in July ; he affirmed having told Mtres Gravel and Maher having not seen jeep tracks and that there was none, and having referred them to his testimony because they told him that in his testimony, at Percé, no mention of jeep tracks was made. He affirmed moreover what follows: « Coffin’s attorneys declared to me, on that occasion, that there were jeep tracks and I told them that if there were, it could be along the Saint-Jean river, at the place where Lindsey’s truck got stuck in the river, on the 9th June (not the 10th), because I know that Patterson tried to pull them out of there and he was driving a jeep but I declared moreover that I did not know if there were such tracks at that place because I did not go there”. He declares even more that if it was possible that he made contrary declarations to Coffin’s father, it is not because he believed they were true, but with the hope that such an admission would allow him to get more interesting information from Coffin’s father, and, lastly, to tell the truth, Coffin never showed him jeep tracks.
On the other hand, in an affidavit bearing the same date, one Mr. Jean Demers, Mr. Doyon’s nephew, affirmed that he was at his uncle’s residence when Mtre Gravel and Mtre Maher visited him, that he heard all that was said, that Mr. Doyon was categorical in affirming that he had never seen jeep tracks at the place Coffin pretended having met a jeep and referred the attorneys to his testimony : this witness reaffirmed his statements before the Commission. Messrs. Doyon, Gravel and Maher were heard before this Commission.
As it was the case, unfortunately, in many instances during numerous testimonies that Mtre Gravel was called to give on this particular question he was ambiguous, reticent, hesitating, full of evasion, beating about the bush, in raising pretended memory gaps, with several requests for permission to refer to his files or to his office memos, often dodging the questions with words like « I don’t believe … most probably not .. I could not tell you … I know nothing, now, that would allow me to swear this... if I am not mistaken » and full of ways out, from which no certainty comes out that Mr. Doyon did not say the truth in his affidavit of the 3rd February 1956. (to be continued)