GENERAL CONCLUSIONS OF THE BROSSARD REPORT (1)
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
The inquiry was not held into the institutions, laws or activities irrespective of individuals who were part of it, were subjected to or dedicated to it ; it was limited to studying the doings of certain members of determined institutions, subjected to particular laws and carrying on activities of a specific character; the task of carrying on this investigation to a conclusion in conformity with its goal is onerous and perilous; the judge who conducts it is in a paradoxical situation; he has the right to judge the doings, but he cannot pass executory judgment against whomever; he may take note that harm was done, but he cannot punish those who would have caused it; he may express his opinion on whether the law was respected or infringed, but he cannot absolve whomever, because there are no defendants against whom he has the right to pass judgment; therefore, his report may only serve as a guideline to those who possess the real and fearsome power to condemn or absolve. The judge who presides over such an inquiry has, however, as commissioner, a privilege that he would not have as a judge : that of making comments on the law and suggesting amendments that could be made to it.
Before drawing general conclusions from the long and often painful proof that was submitted to me, I will, therefore, take the liberty of making comments on certain legal dispositions a) regarding the indictment and the trial of a person charged with murder or b) that could apply to the doings that we were asked to study.
A trial for murder is always one of the most serious events, the most pathetic, and the heaviest in consequences in the judiciary life.
Wilbert Coffin’s trial, like many others of the same character, has its moments of notoriety and caught the attention of those who follow the tragic unfolding of procedures that lead to the conviction and execution of a man accused of having killed another man. These moments of notoriety were however increased in intensity and duration by what I refer to under the name of « the Coffin affair ».
« The Coffin affair » is different; it encompasses all the events, real or fictitious, that unfolded or have been imagined about the trial without being part of the very substance of the trial.
It is this affair that was essentially the object of this enquiry.
The story of this affair, it is the story of a snow ball that rolls down the hill, gets bigger, bigger with all the snow on which it rolls on in incorporating the rubbish that it may contain, until such moment where it hits a wall into which it crumbles.
« The Coffin affair » started modestly in the gloomy head quarters of newspapers and press agencies in search of sensational news and in the imagination too impulsive of newspapermen for whom the rights of the « news » prevail over those of exactness and truth; it was boosted by obtrusive and of bad taste publicity given to judicial procedures or to quasi judicial steps that should have remained more quiet; it picked up on its way, affidavits and statements whose truthfulness was doubtful and a “pseudo- will and testament » made public in more or less honourable circumstances; it was blown out of proportion by writings containing a great number of inaccuracies and falsenesses side by side with half truths; on its way, it smeared clean men and undressed men who were maybe less; the enquiry that terminates should be the wall against which this monstrous and dangerous snowball crumbles.
I have, all along this report, suggested conclusions that could be drawn from each subject studied; the report has been long enough and it does allow me to make a brief recapitulation of those conclusions :
1. It is voluntarily that Coffin did not offer a defence. He kept silent because, in agreement with his attorneys, he did not want to take the risk of not being able to explain the contradictions of his diverse statements nor that of revealing to the jury facts that he knew, but that the Crown might ignore.
2. It was indeed, « the muzzle of a rifle » that Wilson MacGregor saw in the back of Coffin’s pick-up truck, when the latter came back of the woods and the forest on the 12th of June 1953, two days after having gone into with the young Lindsey.
3. The american vehicle that Coffin claimed having seen remains always as « immaterial » as in the first days.
« The jeep » a good number of witnesses talked about was either a jeep that was mentioned at the trial or a jeep that was not one, or a jeep that did not correspond at all to the vehicle Coffin claimed having see, or a jeep that had been inaccurately, falsely or illegally described with a view to misleading the administrators of justice. No jeep, if there were more than one, could be related, by itself or by its occupants, to Coffin’s “immaterial” vehicle. Messrs. Belliveau’s and Hébert’s accounts about this jeep were full of inaccuracies and based on hearsay; they were carelessly false and only represented a slight part of truth.
4. Coffin’s mining claims did not correspond neither in value nor in number to those alleged nor those that boosted Messrs. Belliveau and Hébert.
5. Coffin lied, as to the personal monies that he might have had on him on his departure from Gaspé for Montréal, on the 12th of June 1953, in as much as regards the amount of money as where they came from.
6. It was on Coffin’s instructions that the rifle Jack Eagle had lent him disappeared and was never found.
7. There never existed, otherwise than in the imagination of a few rare persons, a note signed by one of the hunters on the 13th of June 1953.
8. There is no proof that two bottles of alcoholic beverage found on the crime scene might have belonged to other people than Mr. Lindsey.
9. The expert Péclet did not mislead the jury of Percé : on the contrary, he instructed Coffin defenders.
10. THE WHOLE PROOF SUBMITTED TO THIS COMMISSION TENDS TO CONFIRM – AND NOT TO CONTRADICT – THE VERDICT OF THE JURY OF PERCÉ AND THE DECISIONS OF OUR COURTS TO THE EFFECT THAT COFFIN WAS NOT INNOCENT OF THE MURDER FOR WHICH HE WAS ACCUSED.
(TO BE FOLLOWED)