EXCERPT FROM THE BROSSARD REPORT, PART VI, VOLUME 2,
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
The order-in-council has given the Commission the mandate to investigate the “credibility of the statements made by Francis Thompson to the Miami police, in November 1958”.
In order to report with full knowledge of the facts, the Commission has inquired into all aspects of this funny incident and it has heard, on this sole subject, 36 witnesses and collected 66 exhibits.
The study of this question suggests the following division:
I - Francis Gabriel Thompson’s personality;
II - The Miami events;
III - Notary J. Conrad Moreau’s trip;
IV - Thompson’s alibi;
V - Thompson’s credibility;
VI - Conclusions.
B) THE VINCENT PATTERSON CASE;
D) THE TWO PRISONERS WHO WERE PROMPTED TO TESTIFY AGAINST COFFIN
VINCENT PATTERSON: A STOOL PIGEON IN THE COFFIN AFFAIR?
EXCERPT FROM THE BROSSARD REPORT, VOLUME 2, CHAPTER 7
THE VINCENT PATTERSON CASE
(A literal translation by Clément Fortin)
The police investigation conducted at Gaspé had established that during an indeterminate period, but ending at least before the 7th of June 1953, the man named Vincent Patterson had done, with Billy Baker and Jack Eagle, some prospecting near Wilbert Coffin’s camp; Wilbert, Donald and Leslie Coffin were also doing prospecting in the same vicinity; in the course of that period, Patterson worked with Wilbert Coffin or the latter worked for the former. On April 1954, sergeant Doyon, who was still at the Gaspé post, thought he could get from Vincent Patterson interesting information, and for so doing he was granted permission by his superiors to go, with officer Sinnett, to Toronto, where Patterson was living for a few months already, to question him.
In a report dated the 26th of April 1954 that he sent to the captain of the judiciary police, in this case Mr. Henri Charland, Doyon mentioned, among other things, what follows :
a) Patterson would have told him that while he was prospecting at the end of May, he had gone one night to Wilbert Coffin’s camp where he met Donald Coffin and during a conversation, the latter would have said that he would not hesitate to shoot whoever « would cause him trouble regarding the places where he was prospecting. »
b) Patterson would have also said that on the night of the 11th of June, while he was coming out of his father’s house, he saw Wilbert passing by, in a truck, that the latter stopped, and that following a request from Patterson to Wilbert that the latter pays two days of work that Patterson pretended was owed him, there was between the two of them a pretty strong argument; Wilbert would have been drunk and he told him that he would not pay him and would have threatened him to fight.
c) Patterson would also have said that, while he was at Fort Churchill, he received a telegram from his brother Anthony who advised him to not speak if he was called to testify about the Coffin affair;
d) Patterson would also have said that on the 10th of June, he had someone to drive him to the man named Coleman Patterson, at Gaspé, and that he spent the day preparing for his departure for Québec where he was to embark on an icebreaker and that he left Gaspé, to that end, the following Sunday morning.
e) Patterson would also have expressed the opinion that When drunk Wilbert Coffin could do anything .»
Sergeant Doyon ended his report saying : « Therefore, we should verify with Coleman Patterson if Vincent really went to Gaspé with him on the 10th of June ».
It does not appear that Coleman Patterson has ever been questioned on this subject by whomever, either by sergeant Doyon or captain Matte or by another officer of the Provincial Police.
Examined by this Commission, on two occasions, Vincent Patterson denied having declared to sergeant Doyon that Donald had threatened the Americans mentioned by sergeant Doyon in his report of April 1954; he had told sergeant Doyon that he was told an anecdote about Donald who had, during the 1939-44 War, in the course of a sortie on the enemy lines shot three times with his rifle which should have been, in fact, shot by himself and two other soldiers. Vincent Patterson told us that he was not sure of the date of the 11th of June, but that he was sure that his meeting with Wilbert had taken place a day or two before his departure for Québec City which was on a Sunday. He confirmed having received from his brother Anthony a telegram as mentioned in Mr. Doyon’s report.
We have been able to verify that Patterson had met Wilbert Coffin when the latter returned from the bush, that Patterson had effectively obtained a few days before getting a job on board an icebreaker, that the 14th of June 1953 was a Sunday, and that, therefore, the meeting took place one or two days before, it was more than reasonably certain that it had taken place, not on the 11th, but on the 12th, because the 13th Coffin was gone again. We were also informed that Anthony had sent his telegram at the suggestion of his father following the publication of certain news in the papers. We have been able to see that Vincent Patterson’s father is a man who indulges in liquor, regularly and energetically, and that when he is drunk no one can rely on what he says and what he thinks.
No one has suggested to us and no one appears to ever have suspected Vincent Patterson of being aware of the murders; such was obviously the opinion of the police officers in charge of the investigation, and moreover, that of sergeant Doyon. There is no need, we believe, to linger over this particular aspect of the matter without risking of committing a very serious injustice.
However, another question was brought up concerning Vincent Patterson by Mr. Jacques Hébert.
The evidence made at the beginning of the Québec trial, on July 1954, Vincent was subpoenaed; when he arrived in Gaspésie, the very first night, he showed up at the Police headquarter, at Percé; he was questioned by captain Matte or maybe another officer, or even by one of the Crown attorneys, because, on this point, the proof that was submitted to us was more than vague. It also appears that after that questioning, he received a certain amount of money to obtain, at Gaspé, through discreet questionings, information that could be useful to the Crown. He left Percé for Gaspé; he only stayed two days; he did not have the chance to speak with many people, for, the very first night, at a hotel bar, he received from Billy Baker punches for having shown himself too inquisitive; he was immediately recalled to Percé and received instructions to return to Toronto. He therefore did not testify at the trial.
In Hébert’s second book, we read, at page 52 and at page 53, what follows :
« That is how, from the beginning of the trial, we saw at Gaspé and in the vicinity a man named Vincent Patterson, from Toronto, whose secret mission seemed to be to pay drinks to the persons who testified at the trial, with a view of getting from them information or influence their testimony.
“Patterson was brought to Percé with the intention to have him as a police witness. He never appeared because his testimony, vaguely incriminating for Donald Coffin, was becoming useful to Wilbert Coffin’s defence.
« Since he was at Percé and as we could not count on Gaspesians for this kind of job, the police decided to use Patterson to pump certain witnesses. »
Page 53 :
« If really this Vincent Patterson was paid by the Provincial Police for this dirty job, this affair should have been carried forward. This scandal was the kind that would revolt a whole nation. But the defence, with the carelessness that characterized it, did not insist further. Moreover, we know how easy it was to obtain justice in this province when the Provincial Police was involved. »
Questioned in the course of this enquiry on the reasons why the Crown had decided not to call Vincent Patterson to the witness stand after having subpoenaed him, Mtre Dorion gave us the following explanation :
Firstly, Vincent Patterson had no right to testify on something that would have concerned Wilbert Coffin’s character (reputation) as to the state he was in when he drank liquor.
Secondly, the police was informed that since his arrival in Gaspé, Patterson was practically always drunk and was not able to testify.
Thirdly, it appeared to the police that Patterson « was trying to see witnesses, like Baker, for example, who were not in favour of the Crown, and prompt them to say a lot of things, while he was not asked by anyone, that I know of, either by the Crown or the Provincial Police, to do the work of the latter. »
No one has shown up, either at the request or at the suggestion of whomever, that might allow us to affirm, as does Mr. Hébert, that Patterson was entrusted with a secret mission to pay drinks to witnesses with a view to influence their testimony. Without a doubt, it appears that the police have attempted to have Patterson play the stool pigeon. Unfortunately, the police must resort to those methods to obtain information from people who, for whatever reason, are not prepared to cooperate with the police in its search of truth. It is extremely regrettable that the police have to use those methods, but there is no cause for scandal; those responsible are those « honest citizens, lacking a civic sense of responsibility, who keep silent while they should talk; it seems to have been the case, in Gaspésie, at the time of the Coffin affair in particular, and it would seem that Mr. John Edward Belliveau was not totally wrong when he said « Gaspé the inscrutable. »
Of course, there is no doubt that Patterson would not have been a reliable witness for whoever, if we consider the numerous contradictions in his testimonies before us, his absence of memory, real or faked, and the contradictions between his testimony before this Commission and the information he had given sergeant Doyon in April 1954; we are not satisfied however that the defence was not or might not have been interested to call him to the witness stand, at its risks obviously. No proof was submitted to us that the defence knew the information that sergeant Doyon pretended having obtained from Vincent Paterson or that it was informed that Patterson was summoned as witness. Not knowing that the defence would not call witnesses to the stand because it did not want Coffin to testify, had the Crown the duty to inform the defence of the content of sergeant Doyon’s report of April 1954 and of the presence at Percé of Vincent Patterson? I shall answer this question in a later chapter. (TO BE CONTINUED)