Skip to main content

Retired York Regional Police Detective and Guelph-Humber Alumni played key Role in Netflix's Documentary, "What Jennifer Did"

Bill Courtice sitting in a chair in his living room surrounded by camera and lighting equipment set up for an interview

Bill Courtice is a retired Detective with York Regional Police (YRP) and Military Policeman. In his time at YRP he worked in many areas including as a sexual assault investigator and in the homicide unit. Mr. Courtice is a graduate of the University of Guelph-Humber’s Justice and Public Safety degree. Recently, he played a key role in the Netflix Documentary called “What Jennifer Did,” chronicling one of the most shocking cases in Canadian law. Mr. Courtice took viewers through key points in the investigation, as a lead investigator on the case.

Mr. Courtice corresponded with the University of Guelph-Humber about his time at the university but also his role in the Netflix documentary.

Q: Please share a bit about your career history and how/when you found and chose to apply to the Justice and Public Safety program at the University of Guelph-Humber? What year did you graduate from the program?

My years as a military police officer were split in both uniformed and criminal investigations. I was stationed at CFB Ottawa, during that time. I joined YRP in 1989 and was assigned as a uniformed officer at the Newmarket detachment. During my time in uniform, I was a coach officer and trained new officers. I spent eight years coaching new officers. After 13 years, I was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Bureau where I investigated both property and people crimes. These investigations included minor offences up to and including attempted homicides. Additionally, I was a sexual assault investigator and for the last thirteen years of my career I was in the homicide unit.

I attended Sir Sandford Fleming College in 1980 and graduated from the Law and Security – Law Enforcement program in 1982. I had always intended to pursue a degree and in 2013 applied to Guelph-Humber to further my academics. I graduated in 2015 and in 2016 entered my graduate studies at Guelph, graduating in 2018. 

Q: Can you discuss any ongoing professional development or further education you've pursued since graduating?

I started teaching at Georgian in the Honours BA program and as a requirement, took several teaching courses. These courses were for in class, synchronous and asynchronous modalities. 

Q: Could you share any memorable experiences or anecdotes from your time in the program that stand out to you?

My memorable moments were the experience of going to GH and sharing the academic journey with my cohort. It is difficult to put into words the importance of in-class discussions and debates, which opens the mind to critical thinking. 

Q: How has your perception of the justice and public safety field evolved since completing the program?

Frankly, politics have seeped into the field of public safety as well as the judicial system. The autonomy at both a micro and macro level has been taken away, which negatively impacts both public safety and the judiciary. The catch and release policies of the current government as well as minimum sentences has compromised the safety of the public as well as the people who serve to protect. 

Q: As a graduate of the program, what advice would you give to other justice professionals interested in taking the program? Consider the following:

i.    How did you balance work and school during your time in the program?

Time management is the most difficult aspect of pursuing an education whilst continuing to work. I reminded myself that the stressors I experienced during that time were both temporary and would strengthen my ability to cope during stressful situations. 

ii.    What kind of support did you receive from peers? From faculty?

Each student undoubtedly experienced the same stress levels, and it was a shared experience, subsequently, collectively we encouraged one another to push on and focus on the goal of graduating. Faculty were always understanding and offered sage advice on how to best manage time. 

Q: Please share a bit about your experience with the Netflix documentary, “What Jennifer Did.” Consider the following:

i.    How would you describe your experience making this documentary?

My role was as a fact checker as well as participating in the documentary. I was involved in the production from the beginning to the end. The goal of participating was two-fold - Firstly, to ensure the most accurate version of the case told to the public, and secondly, to inform the public about the outstanding two suspects.

 ii.    Police work is confidential because of the sensitivities you deal with - how did you decide what to include from the investigation in the documentary and why was it important to share?

Given I am retired, I am no longer bound by secrecy, which gave me carte blanche to assist Netflix with the documentary. 

iii.    Looking back, what are the most important elements the documentary captured about the nuances of the case?

One of the key elements of the documentary was illustrating the team effort investigators put into the case. Further, it had been widely published that the parents were overbearing, which simply wasn’t the case. They were like most parents, supportive with high expectations from their children. 

iv.    Have you received any feedback or reactions from colleagues or the public regarding your portrayal in the documentary?

Overall, the feedback was positive. Most were shocked that a child could be so evil and were complimentary of the effort YRP put forth to solve the case. 

v.    What do you hope people understand about policing from watching this documentary?

I am hoping for a member of the public that has more information about the additional suspects comes forward and reports what it is they know.

Q:  In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues facing the justice and public safety field today, and how do you think professionals in the field can address them?

Policing is and always has been ever changing, and for that reason those entering the various fields need to learn how to adapt. Adapting to changing laws, policies, public opinion, and politics to mention a few. Discipline and adaptability and emotional intelligence are key attributes that might assist new professionals in addressing continual change. 

Q: As an alum of the University of Guelph-Humber's Justice and Public Safety program, how do you stay connected with the university community, and do you see value in continuing to engage with current students or fellow alumni?

I stay connected with alumni via social media. I do speak occasionally on the phone with members of my cohort. There is always value in engaging both alumni and current students. Sharing experiences and offering up advice when asked is rewarding.