MONTREAL — A Quebec man and his family who say their lives were ruined by the provincial police's attempts to link him to the high-profile disappearance of a nine-year-old girl is suing the force and the province for $10.5 million.
Jonathan Bettez, his parents, and Emballages Bettez Inc. are seeking damages for the destruction of the family business and living through what was described as a terrible ordeal in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In a statement, the law firm representing the Bettez family said police opened a probe targeting Bettez for child pornography without evidence and with an altogether different motive: to jump-start the investigation into the 2007 disappearance of Cedrika Provencher in Trois-Rivieres, Que.
The girl was nine when she disappeared on July 31, 2007. Her remains were discovered in December 2015 by hunters along Highway 40 in St-Maurice, near her home in Trois-Rivieres, halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.
The discovery triggered a homicide investigation.
The suit claims that provincial police investigators adopted "tunnel vision" and carried out searches and seizures that were illegal, abusive or approved on the basis of a false or misleading information. The investigation led to the highly publicized arrest of Bettez on child pornography charges in August 2016.
"They are also criticized for having recommended the filing of charges related to child pornography and for having arrested Jonathan Bettez in plain daylight in front of the company's offices without a warrant and without valid grounds, in order to force Jonathan Bettez to waive his right to silence and to undergo a polygraph test in the file of the disappearance and murder of Cedrika Provencher," the law firm's statement read.
It said this happened "even though Mr. Bettez collaborated with the investigation from the outset and was prepared to undergo such a test under certain conditions."
Investigators looking for a specific model of red Acura in connection with the girl's disappearance found six in the province that matched a description given by eyewitnesses, including one driven by Bettez.
According to court documents, police had asked Bettez to take a lie-detector test in 2007, 2012 and 2015. For the first two, he sought conditions the police did not agree to, while he refused the third one.
Last October, Quebec court Judge Jacques Lacoursiere acquitted Bettez on the child pornography charges and invalidated the warrants used to gather evidence in the case, ruling his rights had been violated.
Provincial police declined comment on the lawsuit, which alleges they exploited the media and the justice system with a singular goal of linking the Bettez name to the girl's disappearance and murder.
The suit also names Bettez's parents, Huguette Drouin and Andre Bettez, and alleges police ignored their interests and that of the family business by targeting them to increase pressure on their son.
To date, there have been no arrests in Cedrika's disappearance and slaying.
Bettez family members are not speaking to the media "in order to preserve the little private life they have left," the statement read. They say their goal in seeking $9,454,500 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages is to ensure police are held accountable.
Bettez family lawyer Jessy Heroux did not return calls seeking comment, but he told Radio-Canada in an interview that Jonathan Bettez has become a pariah as a result of the police probe.
The family faced threats and intimidation and their property was vandalized, Heroux told the network.
The Canadian Press