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Friday, August 1, 2014

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Montreal community pays tribute to good cop

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Outgoing Station 9 commander Sylvain Bissonnette, centre, is toasted by Moshe Ben-Shach, left, and Rabbi Reuben Poupko.

MONTREAL — The Jewish community bade a fond farewell to a police officer it considers a good friend: Sylvain Bissonnette, who was commander of Station 9 serving Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West for nearly seven years.

A reception was held Aug. 27 for the well-regarded Bissonnette at Federation CJA just before he left the post to take up his new command of Station 8 in Lachine this month.

The federation’s chief operations officer, Moshe Ben-Shach, spoke warmly of, not only Bissonnette’s close co-operation with the Jewish community, but of his interest in and efforts to understand it.

Ben-Shach recalled that the first time they met was soon after Bissonnette came to Station 9. The federation’s annual March to Jerusalem was departing from Cavendish Mall, and members of the anti-Zionist haredi sect, Neturei Karta, were holding a demonstration.

Bissonnette wanted to make sense of Jews protesting against Israel. “We talked for about four hours about the different facets of the Jewish community,” recalled Ben-Shach, who was impressed by Bissonnette’s quick grasp of the complexities.

From then on, the two worked closely together on many files – some public, some not – including the incidents of synagogue vandalism in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

“You were always available to listen and support, and you instilled that in your team,” Ben-Shach said.

Bissonnette was a familiar figure at community events, such as the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration.

Ben-Shach described two important projects the federation completed with the help of Bissonnette over the past year. One is an emergency-preparedness plan developed in conjunction with Station 9 and Côte St. Luc’s public security department.

“We hope it will never be tested, but it’s comforting to have it in place,” he said.

The other is conducting drills in schools to prepare students and staff for what to do if there is a gun shooting.

“This will go a tremendous way in making our community safer,” Ben-Shach said.

“He was always there to offer security and reassurance when something was happening, whether at holidays or sad events, like vandalism,” said Rabbi Reuben Poupko, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron in Côte St. Luc.

“He was always thoughtful and considerate.”

In a jocular mode, typical of the easy relationship between the two, Rabbi Poupko added, referring to the PQ government’s proposed values charter and its possible ban on displays of religion by public servants: “You’re getting out just before you have to arrest someone for wearing a kippah.”

Bissonnette, a 24-year veteran, was visibly touched by the tribute. He thanked the federation for its constant collaboration.

He said he came to Station 9 with the belief that the police should serve all of the population and that it’s important to form partnerships with local political and communal institutions.

“I knew the Jewish community was important. I wanted to know your needs, your ways, your history, your roots, your traditions,” he said.

“I wanted to do everything in order that history not repeat itself. That was my mission, and I made sure my officers understood it.”

As a history buff, he was already knowledgeable about the Middle East and conscious of the risk of a local reverberation when an incident happened there.

“It’s important to be pro-active,” he said.

As a token of appreciation, the federation has planted five trees in Bissonnette’s name in Israel.

Indeed, the Jewish National Fund is an organization he is well aware of: its office is in the same building as Station 9.

The Côte St. Luc city councillor responsible for public security, Glenn Nashen, told The CJN that Bissonnette “showed great understanding and sensitivity to not only the Jewish community but the greater community, its multicultural and aging [characteristics].”

His co-operation with city officials was exemplary, he said.

“I’ve worked with five station commanders, and I’m saddened to lose him,” Nashen said. “He’s an outstanding leader.”

One project that stands out for him is Bissonnette’s encouragement and assistance in the launching of a volunteer citizens’ patrol about six years ago.

Made up mainly of retirees, the patrol is the only one of its kind in Quebec, he said. Bissonnette recognized the vCOPS (volunteer Citizens on Patrol) as an asset, not a hindrance, to the work of the police.

“He was a partner in this project from day one, helping with the planning and training. It’s in great part due to his vision and willingness that Côte St. Luc has the lowest crime rate in the Montreal agglomeration,” Nashen said.

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