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Archive | Donald Lavoie and the birth of the Witness Protection Program

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar15,2024

Archives | Donald Lavoie and the birth of the Witness Protection Program

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Téléjournal, March 5, 1985


Recently, the Quebec film Twilight for a Killer brought to light the story of Donald Lavoie, a hitman who worked for the Dubois clan in the 1970s. Donald Lavoie became the first witness informer to have received police protection. The Witness Protection Program has since been the subject of much questioning and criticism, as evidenced by our archival reporting.

The Dubois clan comes from a Montreal family made up of nine brothers and one sister. They ruled the roost in the Saint-Henri neighborhood from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The criminal organization, which already had nearly 200 members , was involved in several illicit activities: drug trafficking, prostitution, loan sharking, arms trafficking…

During the 1970s in Montreal, the Dubois clan was the second largest criminal organization behind the Cotroni family which led the mafia.

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Donald Lavoie was a henchman of the Dubois family for around ten years. Today he remains one of the greatest hitmen the country has ever known. He confessed to committing 15 murders himself and being involved in a total of 27 murders for which he testified.

In 1982, while members of the Dubois clan were attending a reception, Donald Lavoie overheard a conversation and understood that Claude Dubois, his boss, was plotting to have him assassinated. He then hides in the laundry chute of a large hotel on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal to avoid those who are chasing him.

He then turns against the Dubois clan and becomes an informant for the police who, in return, offer him their protection. It is for Donald Lavoie that the Witness Protection Program was created.

On May 11, 1983, on the show The Fifth Estate, CBC broadcast an interview with the repentant witness (New window). p>

If Donald Lavoie incriminated himself in 27 assassinations, he allowed Montreal police officers to solve 76 murders linked to the Montreal underworld.

Since becoming an informer, Lavoie has been protected 24 hours a day. Recently, he was provided with a new identity. He changed his appearance, remarried and even gave lessons to police officers on the behavior of gangsters.

A quote from Claude Gervais journalist, 1985

The use of informer witnesses is an important means of infiltrating the criminal environment, but this method of investigation is questioned by several experts, who doubt its effectiveness.

On March 5, 1985, the show Contrechamp hosted by Anne-Marie Dussault also presented an interview with Donald Lavoie. The informer now appears in the shadows, as his physical appearance has been changed for his protection.

Journalist Claude Gervais reveals some extracts from this interview in a report in which he focuses on informer witnesses, a phenomenon which, at this time, is becoming more and more widespread.

< p class="StyledImageCaptionLegend-sc-57496c44-2 sbxsP">Téléjournal, March 5, 1985

Donald Lavoie became an informer to save his life, but also out of revenge. The ex-criminal claims to be living on borrowed time.

In Claude Gervais' report, Toronto lawyer Edward Greenspan questions the credibility of informers for moral reasons.

Donald Lavoie will never be convicted for the murders he committed. He will serve eight years in prison for bank robbery.

They are not credible and the more they are paid, the more they lie.

A quote from Edward Greenspan, lawyer, 1985

The Protection Program Act witnesses was born in 1996.

Some time later, on July 21, 1997, Le Point presents a report by journalist Michel Sénécal which questions the use of informers in criminal cases.

Le Point, July 21, 1997

In this report, legal affairs columnist Claude Poirier talks about informer Mike Blass, the brother of Richard Blass, a notorious criminal who has long made headlines.

Mike Blass decided to become an informer because a criminal organization had placed contracts on his head. According to the journalist, his testimonies did not serve justice, because all the people against whom he had testified were acquitted.

Contrario, lawyer André Vincent mentions that during the four or five years preceding the report, the Witness Protection Program made it possible to obtain several convictions which would not have been obtained otherwise.

The advantage that we are going to give to certain people is to be able to give a greater advantage to society and prevent repetition (of crimes) by structured groups who benefit from what is called the law of silence.

A quote from André Vincent, lawyer 1997

In 2006, in an unprecedented judgment, the Superior Court of Quebec openly criticized the way the State managed detention, but especially the release of repentant witnesses.

On December 22, 2006, journalist Isabelle Richer presented a report on this issue.

< p class="StyledImageCaptionLegend-sc-57496c44-2 sbxsP">Téléjournal, December 22, 2006

In the early 2000s, around fifty witnesses would have benefited early releases in Quebec.

In a striking judgment, Judge Fraser Martin concludes that the management of the release of informers is a real mess.

A quote from Isabelle Richer, journalist 2006

In the report, criminal lawyer Jacques Normandeau testifies to releases where the level of dangerousness was not assessed. He also mentions that some repentant witnesses receive little support for their rehabilitation. Without help and supervision, their potential for recidivism remains high.

After twelve years of incarceration, where he was in solitary confinement, no one lifted a finger to try to help him, even though he, precisely, he wants to be correct.

A quote from Jacques Normandeau, criminalist 2006

In 2012, Stephen Harper's government reviewed and modernized the Program federal witness protection system to grant longer protection to repentant witnesses.

The RCMP, which manages the Witness Protection Program, considers it a key tool in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Quebec has its own Protection Program for Collaborators of Justice which is administered by the Sûreté du Québec and the Ministry of Justice.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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