Skip to main content

Silver Donald Cameron is host and executive producer of and

On June 1, 2013, Philip Boudreau, 43, was killed, allegedly by three lobster fishermen from the Acadian fishing village of Petit-de-Grat, N.S., on Isle Madame.

News reports also described Mr. Boudreau as a fisherman. Well, not exactly. He was a Cape Breton original – a poacher and a thief, a rustic Robin Hood with a deep affection for dogs and children. His rap sheet ran nearly 11 pages, but he was not particularly acquisitive. One neighbour says he would "steal the beads off Christ's moccasins" – then give the booty away to someone in need. He served some fishing skippers as a conscientious security guard. He was funny and reckless, loathed, loved and feared. In prison, he was diagnosed as bipolar, and his behaviour was curiously child-like and innocent, as if he were surprised at the fury he sometimes aroused. He welcomed a jail sentence in the fall, but he liked to be freed by the spring.

The three fishermen and the skipper's wife were all charged in Mr. Boudreau's death. James Landry, 67, had given the lobster licence and the fishing boat Twin Maggies to his daughter Carla Samson, 39. On that fatal day, he was a deckhand. He was charged with second-degree murder, as was the skipper, Dwayne Samson, 44, Carla's husband. Carla was charged as accessory after the fact. A second deckhand, Craig Landry, 41, a distant cousin of James, was also charged with murder, later reduced to accessory after the fact.

Lobsters are caught in weighted and baited cages that lie on the sea floor, each connected by a rope to a buoy floating at the surface. Every day, the fishermen lift the trap and empty it, renew the bait and drop the trap again. During the season, the crew of the Twin Maggies do this 250 times every morning, seven days a week.

Nothing prevents a poacher from hauling traps, stealing the lobsters and selling them. Nothing prevents a vandal – or a competing fisherman – from cutting off buoys, making it impossible to find the traps. A trap is worth $100, plus any lobsters that it might have caught. Robbing traps and cutting off one fisherman's buoys on behalf of another were among the professional services Mr. Boudreau provided to the lobster industry.

And he taunted his victims. Know who stole your four-wheeler? I did, and I sold it. See this? It's the knife that cut your traps. You want to do something about it? I'll burn your house down – with you in it.

How do you deal with an outlaw who intimidates the authorities, goes happily to jail, carves up your livelihood – and laughs at you as he does it?

Mr. Boudreau, they say, became ever more brazen. Aboard Midnight Slider, a speedboat that could outrun any lobster boat in Isle Madame, he may have thought himself invincible. But on a calm and brilliant June morning, he was not beyond the reach of a .30-30 Winchester in the hands of an enraged James Landry. Four bullets hit his boat without killing him – but then Midnight Slider stalled, and the Twin Maggies rammed the speedboat twice before driving right over it. Mr. Boudreau's body has not been found. Last Saturday, after seeing his videotaped confession in court, six men and six women found James Landry guilty not of murder, but of manslaughter. The other three have yet to be tried.

With intermissions, Isle Madame has been my home since 1971, and I have never seen the community so stressed. But what I detect, beneath the shock, is a profound sense of failure. Why were the police and the fisheries officers so ineffectual with Mr. Boudreau? How did this situation become so toxic? What should we have done?

This reaction impresses me deeply. Ottawa's current narrative is that criminals are not citizens but aliens – demons to be expelled and locked away. But the Petit-de-Grat church was packed for Mr. Boudreau's memorial service, and Dwayne Samson's bail hearing received an 800-signature petition supporting his release. "Maybe James committed murder," said a neighbour, "but he's not a murderer."

Isle Madame recognizes the accuseds and the victim as members of the community – outlaws, perhaps, but not outcasts. And that's the streak of sunlight in the dark clouds lying over Petit-de-Grat, and the inscrutable sea.

Silver Donald Cameron is working on his 18th book, on the death of Philip Boudreau.