MONTREAL — A former Quebec provincial police officer who drove into a car at high speed and killed a 5-year-old boy has been sentenced to eight months in jail.
Patrick Ouellet received his sentence Tuesday in the suburb of Longueuil south of Montreal, where his dangerous driving caused the death of Nicolas Thorne-Belance in February 2014.
Ouellet, 34, was also forbidden from driving for a total of 20 months — an additional year after his sentence is complete.
The father of two is appealing the guilty verdict, and within hours of his sentencing he was released pending that appeal.
Quebec court Judge Eric Simard had accepted a joint sentencing recommendation presented to him last month by the Crown and defence.
"It is clear that the sentence suggested by the parties is at the lower end of the range of sentences ordinarily imposed for offences of the same nature," Simard wrote. "This suggestion is reasonable, however, when considering all of the circumstances, the degree of responsibility of the accused and the preponderance of mitigating factors."
Simard took into consideration Ouellet's dismissal from the police force, his remorse, his low risk of recidivism and his lack of a criminal record. But the judge also highlighted aggravating factors like the former officer's flagrant lack of judgment and the impact of his actions on the family of the young boy.
The judge referred to letters read in court Oct. 22 by the boy's mother, Stephanie Thorne, and older sister, Dalia, who was in the car with Nicolas that morning. They told the court their family life was largely destroyed that day, and they are still trying to keep their heads above water.
Thorne-Belance's family hugged each other following the sentencing but didn't comment to reporters.
Ouellet's trial heard he was part of a surveillance operation and was travelling in an unmarked police car at 134 km/h in a 50 km/h zone when he hit the car driven by Nicolas' father.
The crash occurred in a residential neighbourhood the day before Valentine's Day, and Nicolas died a few days later in hospital.
Ouellet was rushing to catch up to the vehicle of a former Quebec Liberal official under surveillance as part of a corruption investigation.
"He voluntarily placed himself in a situation where he was unable to respond adequately to the unexpected events that would necessarily occur in a residential area at 8 a.m. on a weekday, where it is reasonably foreseeable that tens, if not hundreds, of people, including children, are on their way to school, daycare, work with all the imponderables that come with it," Simard wrote. "Moreover, absolutely nothing justified such risk taking."
Quebec's prosecutors' office initially decided against charging Ouellet, but the justice minister requested an independent assessment, which recommended a single count of dangerous driving causing death.
Ouellet, who was convicted in July on that charge, kept his eyes down as his sentence was read Tuesday.
"We were convinced that this punishment was just and appropriate given the circumstances that were enumerated by the court," prosecutor Genevieve Langlois told reporters after the hearing.
Ouellet's lawyer Nadine Touma said that as a result of the crash, police have changed the way they approach surveillance operations, ensuring the public is protected while policing obligations are fulfilled.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press