The City of Châteauguay did not follow all of the recommendations made by the coroner who conducted the inquest into Valérie Fournel’s drowning on June 11, 1999.
Translation Courtesy Amanda Bennett
Aged 14 at the time, the teenager tragically lost her life after being suctioned into a fish crossing commonly referred to as the “fish way” in one of the Châteauguay River’s dams.
In his investigation report dated September 3, 1999, the late coroner Dr. Roger Laberge recommended that the City of Châteauguay install panels on both sides of the shoreline to prohibit swimming and crossing the dam on foot. “I also recommend that a substantial fine be included on these panels so as to discourage young people from passing there,” he wrote.
The City Council at that time had a gate installed complicating access to the dam, as well as signs prohibiting swimming, but no fine amount was displayed.
The coroner also recommended that the city and Attorney General of Canada, Minister of Justice “seriously study the location of the ‘fish way’ and install a sort wire grid upstream, which would prevent people from being engulfed but would still allow fish to pass through. Or any other adequate solution”. No wire grid has been installed to date.
The issue of the dam’s safety was raised by a citizen, Gail Catherine Walker, who questioned the city council regarding the matter on June 15th.
With the river’s low water level, the upper part of the dam is dry and young people are daring to venture across. As not everyone is aware of the dangers hidden at the location, Ms. Walker says she fears another tragedy. Elected officials indicated that they would look at what was possible to enhance safety.
It was in conditions similar to those we are experiencing today that Valérie Fournel lost her life. “At the date of the tragedy, 11-06-99, the water level was relatively low and it was dry, which made it possible for people to cross on foot,” the coroner’s report indicated.
Valérie Fournel and some of her friends were walking across the dam to reach a small island. “In an attempt to leap over the fish way, she slipped on seaweed, lost her footing and found herself swept away by the current underneath the dam”, the coroner explained.
“With the current that comes from upstream, there is significant suction that siphons everything around and drags it underneath the cement dam. The speed of entry and exit are quite violent”, he detailed.
“Her friends tried everything to pull her from her unfortunate position, but to no avail. Their cries for help led a resident to call the police at 8:06 pm and by 8:10 they were on site. Two police officers assisted by two firefighters had a difficult time extracting Valérie from underneath.”
Six people have lost their lives at the dam since 1944.
The six victims
Valérie Fournel (1999)
Gordon Gardner (1975)
Paul Deschênes (1968)
Paul Tissel (1968)
Christopher Brown (1963)
Cécile Dumouchel (1944)