September 2, 2012
Informant helped police catch arsonists
By Daniel Renaud, QMI Agency
As the city commemorated the 40th anniversary of one of the most deadly arson fires in Canadian history, QMI Agency has learned an informant helped police catch the arsonists.
On Sept. 1, 1972, three men who were refused entry into Montreal's popular Blue Bird Cafe decided to set the downtown nightclub on fire. Thirty-seven were murdered that night, mostly young people from the city's Anglophone community.
At the time, Gilles Bertrand was a 24-year-old policeman the night of the tragedy and was tasked with finding witnesses to the fire.
Breaking his 40-year silence on Friday, Bertrand said a man approached him at a cafe the night after the arson.
Bertrand said the witness told him the arsonists were regulars at Montreal's Club 67 and the three suspects had a drink at the club after they discovered their fire antics caused a macabre tragedy.
The witness told Bertrand the three men wanted to skip town and he gave the cop the suspects' names.
Shortly after Bertrand's encounter at the cafe, three names echoed over police radios across the city: Jean-Marc Boutin, James O'Brien, and Gilles Eccles.
Bertrand named his source "Johnny," he said.
The next day, the case's lead investigator invited Bertrand to a meeting. Inside the meeting room sat "Johnny," his face red and swollen.
Bertrand learned the police had arrested Johnny, along with about 50 other people in a raid in downtown Montreal. Johnny was hit a few times by the cops so that his identity as a police informant would be protected. Shortly after the arrests, police caught of one of the three arsonists.
The two other suspects were arrested a few weeks later in British Columbia.
Bertrand said the official story was that the B.C. arrests happened "by chance" - but he never believed that.
"Forty years later, there is still confusion as to the arrests (in B.C.)," Bertrand said. "I want the facts to be cleared and I want the good work of the police to be recognized."
The three suspects were sentenced to life prison and released after serving 10 years.