How a relentless, stubborn — and retired — cop got the job done when the victims had nowhere to go
By Claude Aubin
In June 2014 a female acquaintance, who knew that I had worked as a police officer for over 30 years, contacted me. The woman was frazzled, telling me that she had been scammed by a pedophile. This young mother was not the least bit impressed with how authorities had investigated her complaint. She told me that despite many promises of taking action, the investigator working her case seemed to be dragging his feet. He did not act like a cop who was taking her story seriously. So I met up with her, and over coffee, the hard-nosed investigator in me decided to spend a few hours to listen to her harrowing tale.
A predator sets the stage
For the past several months, Phylip St. Jacques, a man in his early 20s, trolled websites and online chat rooms for parents with autistic kids. He presented himself as an expert in the field of autism, Aspergers Syndrome, ADHT and other related conditions. The predator was targeting primarily single moms with young autistic children. These young women then became easy targets. But because St. Jacques appeared to be knowledgeable about autism, he offered advice, as well as diagnostics and urged some of the women to visit other sites dedicated to autism. He was smart and clever, and, in no time, became a very useful person who always seemed to be available and ready to help. He quickly infiltrated movements and community and social groups dedicated to autism in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. St. Jacques even managed to become a resource person for councillors in the field of special education for autistic youth, offering to assist mothers who needed help to fill out questionnaires. Up until that point, it all seemed legit.
Slowly but surely, the young man had a dozen mothers trusting him. After all, he seemed inoffensive, shy, even childlike. “If a mother likes a certain TV show, he’ll like, and if a mother hates that same TV show, he’ll hate it as well,” one mother told me. Just like a chameleon, St. Jacques would change his colours depending on which branch he was perched on. More and more, he became the mothers’ confidante that they never had, and that they had always desired. A man who actually listens to you and understands you? To these vulnerable mothers, he was a miracle come true!
St. Jacques would open up to women differently, depending on the situation. “His youth was marked by his drug-dealing father’s sexual abuse, as well as abuse inflicted on him by his sister, his sister’s friends, and just about everyone in the end,” I was told. All of these stories were complete fabrications, of course, but how was one to verify these claims? After all, this man was so gentle, so attentive and now so vulnerable — how could he be of danger to anyone?
Once he had obtained the trust and compassion of the mothers — especially since he was autistic — he painfully admitted that he did not know how to properly wash himself. “My doctors urged me to find a mother who understands, and who can teach me how to clean myself,” he told one mother. The mothers offered him pictograms and medical photos, or if there were any men around, it was suggested that they could show him how to take a shower. But St. Jacques explained that he was afraid of men, given his abusive past, and turned down that option. Eventually, he asked the mothers if he could look on as they bathed their children, especially those between the ages of 2 and 6. At one point, that wasn’t enough, and he offered to bathe the children himself — something he got to do several times.
A so-called expert on autism
St. Jacques always seemed to have his cell phone handy, and he did not hesitate to take photos of the children he bathed, creating a stockpile of photos on a computer. He later traded these photos online. He even convinced some mothers that he needed to take photos of their sons’ penises because, he explained, there was a link between the length of a boy’s penis and autism. As an expert in the field who was supposedly recognized by his peers, St. Jacques even had his 15 minutes of fame when he was interviewed on French CBC radio as an expert in autism, and attended conferences on autism. Who would doubt the intentions of this man?
A lack of empathy and interest by police
By the end of April 2014, police in Laval opened a file on St. Jacques and assigned an investigator to look at the mothers’ allegations. One mother who stepped forward told police that she lent a laptop to the suspect and, later, while searching for a document, stumbled on a set of photos of nude children taking baths, and, much to her shock, one of the bathtubs was hers. That’s when she was horrified to realise that St. Jacques had waited for her to be absent from her home, and introduced another mother and her child to her home.
The investigation now included a laptop, lent to the suspect, two victims, and the name of the suspect. A month and a half later, the investigation didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and more victims were coming forward. The investigator did not seem interested in moving the investigation forward or providing information.
When my coffee chat was over, I knew I had to get involved. I made repeated phone calls to the investigator, trying to set up a meeting, but that proved useless. Meanwhile one of the mothers told me that police had told her that nothing would happen with the investigation and that this was a matter best resolved by the autistic community. And to top it all off, the lead investigator interviewed St. Jacques and told one of the mothers that the “suspect told me that he won’t do it again,” adding: “There are only two victims and the rest are all crazy.”
My investigation begins
None of this sat well with me, so I began my own investigation. But first, I needed to set up a team of people I trusted. My wife and daughter immediately stepped forward, as did my old friend, Laval Larouche, a retired investigator with the Laval Police Department. The four of us would eventually form a solid and tireless team.
Over the course of four months, we patiently did our work. We met with a dozen victims in the greater Montreal region, as well as in Gatineau and Sept Iles. In the end, we tracked down 109 young mothers, including one in the U.S., two in France and one in Switzerland.
During my investigation, I discovered that St. Jacques was under a Criminal Code of Canada order — more specifically, Article 810 — imposed by a judge in St. Jérôme, Quebec. The judge had found enough evidence that St. Jacques posed a potential threat to children, and that he was not to be found in their presence. Severe conditions had been imposed, and clearly, he had violated them. We were now dealing with a predator.
I attempted to get the Montreal Police Department interested in the case — after all, 13 of the victims lived in Montreal. But because the Laval Police Department was officially in charge of the investigation, I was bluntly told that they could not be of any help to me. My team then had to complete our work based on the interviews that we would conduct. In the process, I got to hear some unbelievable things from some police officers, such as:
“It’s been two months, so it’s too late,” or “You could be charged with being an accomplice,” or “He never touched them,” or “Call the (Quebec Provincial Police)”, and “We can’t charge him with that.”
I simply couldn’t believe my ears. How could there be such a lack of compassion and empathy? My team and I had to console the mothers and we were forced to explain why and how certain police officers conducted themselves. We also had to reason with some fathers, friends and brothers so that they did not carry out their brand of vigilante justice.
Caught in the act
In August 2014, a mother informed me that the suspect was planning to attend a children’s autism party in Lafontaine Park, in Montreal’s east end. I decided to show up and take photos of him, as he was happily photographing the young children present. At that moment the suspect was violating two conditions imposed by the judge. That’s what I was waiting for. The hunter in me had been anticipating this moment after weeks of observing my prey, who had been too busy trying to lure his victims to even notice that I was on his tracks.
Several minutes later, armed with court documents, our team alerted police and we identified the suspect to the officers who arrived on the scene. The suspect’s life had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. The poor guy had unfortunately made himself a new friend — me!
After two days of being in police custody, St. Jacques was released with a new set of conditions. Over the next several weeks my team and I would conduct several surveillances and observations, and we even visited police stations to alert police officers about the suspect. We were determined to make this pedophile’s life as difficult as possible.
The case inches its way to court
Another two months would be needed for my team to finalize our investigation. We gathered thousands of pages of online conversations and hundreds of pages of victim testimonials. All of it packed in two full boxes.
In October 2014, we went to the Sureté du Québec (Quebec’s provincial police) and brought with us boxes of documents, including photos of naked children, the victims’ written declarations and facts about the case. The SQ investigators were overwhelmed. The investigation needed only to be validated, the suspect’s computer analyzed and dots connected.
Finally, in December 2014, during his court appearance for violating terms of his release, St. Jacques was arrested. He would end up in custody awaiting trial for 13 months.
On March 2, 2016, St. Jacques pleaded guilty to all charges, and was sentenced to 22 months in jail, along with severe conditions upon his release. Crown prosecutor Roxane Laporte did an outstanding job on the case. However, the justice system being what it is, St. Jacques was soon back on the street. And that’s when I warned Laporte that we would probably see the suspect within six months.
Back in jail
On July 15, 2016, I was contacted by several new mothers with new complaints. It seemed that St. Jacques’s freedom wouldn’t last six months. On July 29, 2016, he was once again in jail on various charges. He had returned to trolling various Internet sites dedicated to vegans and contacted young mothers to presumably offer them tips on the best vegan dishes to make for their children. He even went to one mother’s residence and also found a job working in a daycare. This time, I must admit that police acted quickly, and as a result, St. Jacques was soon back behind bars.
What would have happened if a stubborn old retired cop, who refuses to let go of a bone, had not shown interest in this case? How would parents, who don’t know how police and the legal system functions, have obtained justice? Where do victims turn when people who are supposed to help you don’t do their jobs? How can police officers show such a lack of compassion, empathy and determination? Have we all abandoned our ideals somewhere along the way?
I spent 32 years serving and protecting with heart, and I saw my fair share of difficult moments and difficult cases. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about how to bring justice to criminals, without being vengeful. Accompanying crime victims and their loved ones is often a painful and gut-wrenching ordeal. I’ve only known this way of doing things, and it’s the only way, according to the fine officers who worked with me and embraced my work ethic.
Cops live in a world of violence, lies, blood and chaos, and they sometimes end up paying the price. With time, they develop certain coping mechanisms and become cynical and cold so as not to be swept away by the darkest sides of society.
Despite all of this, we must persevere because it’s our mission — to serve and to protect victims of crime, to accompany them, inform them and to fight through a justice system that they don’t understand. To these families, and for us, the cops, let us remain human despite all the horrible things that we have to deal with every day. To police officers, I say this: act as if your own child was one of the victims.
We, police officers, have chosen to do this job that many people simply don’t have the capacity to do, so it up to us to conduct ourselves with care and with pride.
— Claude Aubin is a retired sergeant detective with the Montreal Police Department. In his 32 years of service, he arrested more than 3,000 criminals. He survived three contracts on his head from the Irish mob and East European mafia. Aubin is also a celebrated author, with three books about his years as a police officer to his credit, as well as a Huffington Post blogger. In his spare time, he enjoys conducting investigations.