A community still divided: new documentary revisits the death of Phillip Boudreau

The documentary film about the popularized "murder for lobsters" case premieres on CBC Docs POV October 17

Phillip Boudreau's best friend Rheal Landry (above in a still from the documentary) says while Phillip may have done a lot of bad things he did not deserve to die the way he did.
Phillip Boudreau's best friend Rheal Landry (above in a still from the documentary) says while Phillip may have done a lot of bad things he did not deserve to die the way he did.

While Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous fishers currently make headlines as they clash in St. Marys Bay, Dartmouth-based documentary filmmaker Megan Wennberg revisits another more tragic story with connections to the lobster industry.

In 2013, Phillip Boudreau’s small red and white speedboat was discovered battered and adrift in Petit-de-Grat harbour on Nova Scotia’s Isle Madame. Boudreau, however, was never found.

As the RCMP began unravelling the mystery of his disappearance, two local lobster fishers would eventually be charged and convicted of his murder. Boudreau’s death would also split a community.

It is a fracture that still haunts many in the small Cape Breton fishing community, a fissure brought to light in Wennberg’s The Killing of Phillip Boudreau. The documentary will premiere on CBC POV Docs on October 17.

“Talking to different people, you’d get wildly different takes on what happened,” says Wennberg of the time she spent among the residents of Isle Madame. “Some said [Boudreau] had been tormenting them for years, and he had it coming, and others said no one deserved to die like that.”

Those two sides would ultimately become the focus of a documentary intended to center on the two convicted men as they were released from prison and returned to the community.

"After six years you would hope some healing would have happened and I was intiially hoping find a happy story of community healing where the divisions had blurred over times and people were moving on. But if you don’t talk about something it is hard tomove on and that killing in particular is very hard to talk about because people are often connected on both sides." -filmmaker Megan Wennberg (above in photo by Adriano Trapani).
“You would hope some healing would have happened … But if you don’t talk about something, it is hard to move on.” -filmmaker Megan Wennberg (above in a photo by Adriano Trapani).

“In this case, the men who killed Phillip and their families did not want any media attention,” she says. “At that point, we were left figuring out if there was a story here even to tell.”

Pivoting, Wennberg then hoped she might find a happier story of healing. Instead, she found a community that continues to be traumatized. “But if you don’t talk about something, it is hard to move on,” she says.

Through her documentary, Wennberg provides residents with that opportunity.

Among them is Rheal Landry. Boudreau’s best friend, the two would have been on the boat together had they not fought the night before.

“When he took us to the beach in the cove where Phillip was killed, that was definitely one of the most affecting shoots, because he was so visibly affected by it,” says Wennberg.

“He later said he never talked to anyone about it, and reinforced this idea that there is not much of a tradition of men being able to talk to other men about difficult things or feelings.”

Landry’s confession underscores what Wennberg witnessed during her time among the residents and clarified in a follow-up email following our interview.

“While I’m no expert on toxic masculinity, how I saw this reflected as an outsider was a community in pain afraid to speak about it,” she says.

With a lack of safe spaces to express emotion or discontent with how things have always been done, Wennberg found it even more difficult in a small community like Isle Madame, where everyone is connected.

“Is this toxic masculinity? I don’t know,” she continues. “I’m not an expert, I’m a filmmaker, and with my documentary, I wanted to give a voice to those who felt their story hadn’t yet been told.”

The Killing of Phillip Boudreau premieres on CBC Docs POV on Saturday, October 17, at 8:00 pm on CBC and the free CBC Gem streaming service. Check your local listings for details.