‘The Killing of Phillip Boudreau’ re-visits a case that caused a media sensation and divided a community

Isle Madame is depicted in the documentary as a cluster of postcard-perfect Acadian fishing villages off the coast of Cape Breton.

ISLE MADAME: The Killing of Phillip Boudreau is the story of a death that tore apart the community of Isle Madame.

Phillip Boudreau, a local man known for poaching lobsters, was killed by fishermen in a crime the non-local media dubbed “Murder for Lobster,” which made international headlines seven-years-ago.

But as anyone from the area will tell you, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Photos courtesy Tell Tale Productions Inc.
Jean Claude Heudes claims in the documentary The Killing of Phillip Boudreau that many lobster fishermen benefited from Boudreau’s crimes.

With her hardest project to date, Megan Wennberg unpacks a complicated and tangled web of blame in The Killing of Phillip Boudreau. The film looks at Boudreau himself, the challenges of policing this area and the role the community played as a whole; everyone knew there was a problem, but no one did anything before it was too late.

“Initially, we were looking to see how, more broadly, how violence effects small communities long-term when it’s still in the hearts and minds of many in the community,” Wennberg told The Reporter from her New Brunswick home. “My producers asked me if I was interested in doing something on vigilante justice and I told them I definitely was and we started researching this case.”

Nicole Gionet said in the documentary that Phillip Boudreau’s death didn’t stop lobster poaching on Isle Madame.

In a small group of outsiders – with herself as director, accompanied by a cameraman and a sound engineer – coming to Isle Madame Wennberg remembers telling people the reason for her visit and how awful it was watching their faces change as it still effected them, whatever side they were on.

She knew they were re-visiting something a close-knit community was uncomfortable talking about after already suffering enough, and because of that, it was important to get it right.

“The last thing we wanted to do was pick at that scab and inflict more pain. Ideally, anything that works towards healing in the community would be good,” Wennberg said. “I’m really grateful to everyone who did trust a group of strangers with their stories because that’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s especially hard in a small community.”

Rheal Landry was interviewed where his friend Phillip Boudreau would come to look out over Mackerel Cove.

On the morning of June 1, 2013, Boudreau’s small red and white fiberglass speedboat, Midnight Slider was found battered and adrift on Petit de Grat Harbour off an uninhabited stretch of shoreline known as Mackerel Cove and Boudreau was nowhere to be seen.

This wasn’t the first time Boudreau had disappeared — he would often take off for days or weeks to evade local authorities or fellow islanders he had angered. So at first, no one was overly concerned about this latest disappearance.

Most assumed that Boudreau was on the run again – as he didn’t have a license to fish lobster.

By evening, a search had turned up Boudreau’s rubber boots and ball cap, but there was still no sign of him. It was starting to look like something more sinister was behind his disappearance — that it was more than a case of a petty thief on the run.

While rumours swept the area, the RCMP were following up on a tip that the crew of a local fishing vessel called the Twin Maggies were believed to be carrying a rifle or shotgun. Red and black marks and scuffs could be seen on the boat’s starboard side. The next day, the RCMP questioned the three-man crew: Dwayne Samson, James Landry and Craig Landry. By June 8, they had all been charged with second-degree murder.

It sent shockwaves through the area and anyone who heard the details was severely shaken, including the lawyers and RCMP officers interviewed for the documentary, something Wennberg describes as a career-defining case.

“It effected them so much because one, it was a horrific crime and involved people taking the law into their own hands,” she said. “And also just the way it affected the community and really kind of tore the moral fabric of the community and divided people along bloodlines, marriage lines, and community lines.”

The accused men were well-liked and respected members of the community and hadn’t been in trouble with the law before. Some islanders saw it as a case of good people who had been pushed too far; they believed Boudreau got what was coming to him.

Others saw Boudreau as a sympathetic character; someone from a rough upbringing who was good for a laugh and whose crimes were a plea for attention. They believed that, whatever Boudreau may have done, nobody deserves to be killed like that.

In January 2015, James Landry was sentenced to 14-years in prison for manslaughter in the death of Phillip Boudreau. Later that year, Dwayne Samson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10-years in prison. Craig Landry pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact and received two-years of probation.

“We then planned a trip to the island just to research to see if anyone would even speak to us and if it would even be possible to make this film,” Wennberg said. “That was tricky because a lot of people have a lot of different opinions and very strong opinions, but for the most part, people were very reluctant to say anything on camera just because it is a small community.”

Crown prosecutors Shane Russell and Steve Drake believe they had a strong case for second degree murder.

She suggested that was the most challenging part; the culture of silence they faced and trying to break past that by finding people who were willing to talk and had relative stories and experiences to share.

James Landry and Dwayne Samson each served fewer than five-years before being released back into a community that is still reckoning with their crime.

While “Murder for Lobster” made a clickable headline, it ignored the bigger picture, and worse, caused hurt that is still felt throughout the community.

“The hope for this film is, we’re certainly not answering all the questions either, but we’re hoping it will give more context to it, as to when you’re just telling a news story,” Wennberg said. “The ‘Murder for Lobster’ headline really doesn’t explain anything at all.”

The 44-minute documentary sheds new light on this misunderstood case. It asks: What happens when members of a tight-knit community kill one of their own? Where do the lines between good and bad and right and wrong blur? And who is at fault when everyone bears some responsibility?

“I was surprised every single time we went back and every person I spoke to – another layer would kind of reveal itself,” Wennberg said. “It’s a really complicated story with a lot of really complicated intra-personal, socio-economic, and cultural factors at play.”

Due to the NHL play-offs, The Killing of Phillip Boudreau was been rescheduled to at least October, in association with CBC Docs POV which offers unique and often unexpected point-of-view documentaries that ignite discussions, question perspectives and open up conversations about relevant issues. It will be available for streaming on CBC Gem the same day it airs.

“It’s a shame; I wish we would’ve got the Landry side but we approached them multiple times and they weren’t interested, which we understand,” Wennberg added. “It just would’ve been nice to have either them or someone speak for them.”