Editor's Note: The narrative surrounding the Quebec City mosque attack of January, 2017, that left six people dead is that it was a random act of hatred against Muslims reflecting Canada’s problem with “Islamophobia.” Although the shootings were the action of one man, Alexandre Bissonette, whose motives were unknown, the Heritage Committee mandated by Motion M-103 to study systemic racism and Islamophobia recommended that January 29th, the day of the shooting, be designated a “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.” But at his trial in March, 2018, at which he pled guilty, Bissonnette insisted that he was not a terrorist or an Islamophobe, but that he was overcome by fear, negative thoughts and despair (see our posting for March 28, 2018). Now, at his sentencing hearing, it has been revealed that two months before the mosque shooting, Bissonnette went to a Quebec City shopping mall and, in an underground garage, drank alcohol and loaded two pistols, intending to shoot other people and then himself. In the end however, he did not. Bissonnette had mental health problems and may have been seeking vengeance for the bullying he had long endured. Unfortunately, he did eventually go out and kill – at a Quebec mosque. However, the actions of this disturbed young man clearly do not reflect bigotry or discrimination against Muslims in Canadian society and do not warrant a “National Day of Action Against Islamophobia.”
He sat in his car in the parking lot with guns and alcohol, pondering whether he should shoot himself or others, a psychologist testifies.
QUEBEC — Two months before he killed six people and wounded five others at the Quebec City mosque, Alexandre Bissonnette made his way to a local shopping mall, armed with two pistols and planning to kill others before shooting himself. Sitting in his car in the Place Laurier underground parking lot, Bissonnette drank alcohol before loading one of the pistols, going back and forth between thoughts of either shooting himself or entering the mall to shoot others. In the end, he put the guns away in his bag and went to the mall’s Starbucks, where he worked on his laptop before returning home. The details of that day in November 2016 emerged at Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing in Quebec City on Monday, where psychologist Marc-André Lamontagne was testifying for the defence. Last month, Bissonnette, 28, pleaded guilty to killing six men and injuring five others at the Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, 2017. According to Lamontagne, Bissonnette had long battled suicidal thoughts due to intense bullying at school and had developed a thirst for vengeance. Lamontagne said Bissonnette was first given anti-depressants after a suicide attempt in 2006, when he was 16 years old. At the same time, he started reading about the Columbine High School massacre and developed a fantasy of getting revenge on those who bullied him. “He had grandiose fantasies of doing something that would show the world that he isn’t insignificant,” Lamontagne said. “He absolutely wanted to prove that he was special.” The idea to attack the mosque, instead of the mall, came to him when he drove by it the next month, Bissonnette told Lamontagne. Bissonnette had convinced himself, Lamontagne said, that there was at least one “religious fanatic or terrorist” inside the mosque and that he could save hundreds of lives if he managed to kill a few. Lamontagne also said Bissonnette had lied about his mental health history in order to get his permit and purchase guns. He had first planned to hang himself but believed shooting himself would be easier, Lamontagne said. “His first motivation was to kill himself,” he said, “but the idea of vengeance was already present.” Lamontagne’s testimony continues Monday afternoon. Earlier Monday, one of Bissonnette’s former high-school teachers testified for the defence. Lucie Coté wasn’t asked to testify, but the 71-year-old told the court she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t. Coté, who was Bissonnette’s French teacher for two years in high school, was the first witness called from the defence at his sentencing hearing Monday. Coté reached out to Bissonnette’s lawyers to tell them she wanted to speak before the court. In the weeks after hearing of his arrest last year, she said, she would lay awake at night with her heart beating through her chest. She’s always felt like she should have done more for Bissonnette. “They didn’t propose it, I insisted,” Coté said of testifying Monday. “I couldn’t sit through this situation” without doing anything. Coté described Bissonnette as a good student. He was involved and asked a lot of questions, she said, and always sat near the front of her classrooms. But he was constantly bullied by others, Coté said. In a meeting with school officials, Coté was told he had been bullied ever since his first year of elementary school. She spoke of students pushing him into hallway walls or knocking his school supplies off his desk. “It happened daily,” she said. “It happened too often.” Coté said Bissonnette never defended himself. It got to the point where, on a day where Bissonnette was absent from class, she asked other students to put themselves in his shoes and pleaded with them to stop. She’s had a hard time believing the student she knew was capable of doing what Bissonnette has pleaded guilty to. “I need to say it,” she told the court. “Alexandre was not a monster.” In ending her testimony, Coté extended her sympathies to Quebec’s Muslim community and the victims’ families. She told Bissonnette’s parents, who were present in the courtroom, she was convinced they were good parents. She then addressed Bissonnette, who was sitting behind her in the prisoner’s dock, his head mostly downward, at times blowing his nose and wiping tears. She pleaded with him to seek help while incarcerated “for all the times you never asked for resources before.” “Consult, consult, consult,” she told him, before then suggesting he read as much as he can, put his feelings down in writing and “be a good prisoner.” The maximum sentence Bissonnette could face is 150 years before being eligible for parole— consecutive 25-year sentences for each of the six first-degree murder convictions. Coté urged the judge to consider a sentence that represents justice, not revenge or vengeance. In early April, Bissonnette’s lawyer, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, said he will present evidence regarding his client’s mental state, the level of danger he poses and the chances he will re-offend during the sentencing hearing. The maximum sentence Bissonnette could face is 150 years — consecutive 25-year sentences for each of the six first-degree murder convictions. The Criminal Code was changed in 2011 to allow for consecutive sentences in multiple-murder cases, as opposed to concurrent sentences. Gosselin has said he will recommend a sentence of 25 years and will later challenge the part of the Criminal Code that allows judges to hand out consecutive sentences. Gosselin intends to argue a sentence that exceeds a criminal’s lifespan is the equivalent of a “death sentence by incarceration” and is unconstitutional because the Charter of Rights protects Canadians from “any cruel and unusual punishment.” Those arguments are scheduled for June.
In a police interview, Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette recounted the attack, and told the SQ that terrorist attacks around the world had been on his mind for months before the shooting.
Crown presents “complete portrait” of the attack Before Bissonnette’s sentencing hearing began two weeks ago at the Quebec City courthouse, Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques said he wanted to ensure the presiding judge, Justice François Huot, has “a complete portrait” of the crime before deciding on a sentence. Several members of Quebec City’s Muslim community were in the courtroom to watch security-camera footage from the mosque — described by Huot as difficult and brutal — that showed Bissonnette shooting the victims while terrified men and children tried to hide. Jacques also presented the 911 call placed by Bissonnette minutes after the shooting. Over the course of a 50-minute conversation, Bissonnette repeatedly asked the operator if anyone at the mosque was injured and told him he wanted to kill himself. During a three-hour police interrogation played in court, conducted 14 hours after the attack, Bissonnette told an officer it was his fear that Canada was on the verge of accepting more refugees who would commit terrorist acts that spurred him to attack the mosque. In a statement made after pleading guilty, Bissonnette asked for forgiveness and said he didn’t know why he attacked the mosque. “I am neither a terrorist nor an Islamophobe,” he told the court, describing the attack as “senseless.” But in a report prepared by prison social worker Guylaine Cayouette, the court heard how Bissonnette had told her in September that he regretted not having killed more people, that he was seeking “glory” that night, and that he had thought about committing a mass killing since he was a teenager. The prosecution also presented contents of Bissonnette’s laptop showing that in the month before the attack, he had immersed himself in Facebook pages and YouTube videos related to firearms, Muslims, immigrants and serial killers. He was obsessively following Donald Trump’s Twitter postings, and those of right-wing American commentators, as well as conspiracy theorists, and alt-right and white supremacist/neo-Nazi leaders. The court has also heard victim impact statements from several widows and children of the deceased, who described Bissonnette as a “monster” and called for him to serve a consecutive sentence. This article was originally published by The Montreal Gazette on April 23, 2018, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.