The SQ help creditors track down those in debt

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SQ-car-e1357074043907-1No one likes to receive a surprise call from the police – especially not if the police are calling to ask about money you owe someone. But it’s even stranger when the police officer won’t give their identity.

That’s what recently happened to Bertie Wapachee, general manager of the Chisasibi Business Service Centre. He knew he owed money to Matagami’s Ultra Sport Garage, where he had brought in his ski-doo for repair. The cost of the repairs came to over $1,200 and he couldn’t afford it, so he had simply left the ski-doo on the company’s lot.

“I took the ski-doo there last spring,” he told the Nation. “Personal financial difficulties slowed me down from catching up on all my bills, so I had to put some [of them] on hold, including my ski-doo. I thought they probably sold it already, [which was] why the garage never called me. I tried contacting them about three weeks ago, and called there about three times, but only got the fax.”

It seems as though Wapachee had the wrong number for the company – their fax and telephone numbers are different. This was one piece of bad luck. The other appeared when Ultra Sport’s owner Jean-François Leduc tried to get in contact with Wapachee.

“This was about a Bombardier-550 snowmobile, a 2007 model,” Leduc explained. “It had been in our yard for one year. The client had been told that his snowmobile was ready [after repair], but he didn’t come to get it. We tried to contact him on multiple occasions, but we always got his voice-mailbox – and we couldn’t leave messages, because the mailbox was always full.”

This was the point when things got uncomfortable. Two weeks ago, Wapachee says, he received a call from someone claiming to be an officer of the Sûreté du Québec – except the officer was calling from a blocked number and would not give his name or rank.

Wapachee said his initial instinct was to believe one of two things was happening: one, that the SQ was somehow involved in collecting debts on behalf of a private business; or two, that someone from Ultra Sport was impersonating a police officer in order to collect the debt (which would be a crime). As it turns out, neither of these suspicions was true.

Speaking to the Nation, Sergeant Gilbert Deschênes, Director of SQ Offices for Matagami et Radisson, explained that the SQ is never involved in the collection of private debts.

However, he said, “The only time there is a recovery of debt is when there is a court-ordered mandate. That happens. But not for private businesses. I don’t know the whole story, but if a vehicle has been towed, or returned, to a garage, and then it is abandoned there or left in storage, it happens sometimes that research is made by police to determine where the owner is, and who it is who is responsible for the debt. That’s not the same thing as recovering debts.”

Deschênes said he could not comment directly on the case. However, he stressed that there was a difference between a customer owing a debt to a private business, like Wapachee’s debt to Ultra Sport, and the SQ calling to attempt to locate the owner of the vehicle.

“For us,” Deschênes said, “with a vehicle that was abandoned or towed, or left in storage, it’s possible that the police officer will try to locate the owner and determine where he is. But it’s not for recovering debts.” The recovery of debts, he stressed, is a civil matter between the business and the customer, and the police are never involved in those civil issues.

This was, in fact, a plausible description of what had happened. Leduc explained that after he had been unable to contact Wapachee directly after one year, he was in a position under Revenu Québec law to legally take possession of the ski-doo in question in return for the value of the bill owing.

“Because we couldn’t reach him,” Leduc said, “I had no choice – I filled out Form 138 from the Sûreté de Québec, that I sent to the government of Quebec, and the government does its own research to try to locate the client. If they can’t locate the client, they send us the paper that says that we now own the vehicle in exchange for the money owing. That’s what happened.”

The only unexplained detail of the incident is why, as Wapachee claims, the SQ officer – whom Leduc identified as Alexandre Bruno – did not identify himself over the phone. The Nation’s attempts to contact Officer Bruno directly were redirected to Sergeant Deschênes. He explained again that he could not comment on the specific details of an investigation, or of allegations of an officer’s conduct, to a third party who was not a complainant or his lawyer.

Nonetheless, said Deschênes, any call from the SQ is supposed to follow a set of rules.

“The first thing we do on a call is we identify ourselves,” he said. “If the person we’re calling does not believe us, which happens sometimes over the phone, then we give them the number [of the local SQ station] and we ask them to call us back at that number. That’s how it works. If the person still doesn’t believe us, we ask them to visit the closest police station to them to discuss the issue in person with officers there. We establish contact with another person [at that station] – so it’s always possible to verify the validity of the officer on the phone.”

It would be against protocol, therefore, for an officer not to identify himself during a telephone call, as Wapachee alleges that Officer Bruno did in his call. In that case, Deschênes is adamant that members of the public should report such breaches of protocol to him directly.

“If the customer [of Ultra Sport] feels that he has been treated unprofessionally by the SQ,” he said, “or if he feels that they have not represented themselves appropriately, I invite him to contact me to talk about the problem. I invite anyone who feels that way to contact me to let me know if they feel that they have been treated unprofessionally by a member of the SQ’s Matagami detachment.”

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