In his first public address since a sword attack that killed two people in Quebec’s capital on Halloween, Premier François Legault says the province will invest more time and money into improving mental health services.
“What happened on Saturday night is appalling,” Legault said at a news conference Monday morning. “It’s hard to understand how such violence can occur. It raises questions about mental illness.”
“We can reduce the impacts for certain people who have mental illness by offering more services,” he said.
When announcing details of $100 million in provincial funding for mental health services Monday afternoon, Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s junior health minister, said he didn’t want to draw any links between the pandemic’s effects on people’s mental health and the attack, but said the government was taking those effects seriously.
The funding announcement was expected next week, but was pushed ahead in light of the attacks.
On Sunday, 24-year-old Carl Girouard was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder after allegedly attacking seven people in Old Quebec on Halloween night with a sword while dressed in a medieval outfit. He is expected back in court Thursday.
Carmant said he also wanted to make sure people don’t confuse mental health issues with mental health illnesses, and said that people who experience either are rarely violent.
“I think that what happened this weekend was unpredictable and that we can’t make a definitive link to the pandemic.”
A third of the $100 million in funding will go toward reducing wait lists for mental health services, both in public health and education settings. There are 16,000 people in line for mental health services, Carmant said.
Another third of the money will go to improving services in health facilities. Of the rest of the funding, $19 million will go to street workers who are part of a team called Sentinelle, whose role is to meet with vulnerable populations, and $10 million will go to community organizations providing mental health services.
Too soon to diagnose suspect, expert says
Though experts say it is too soon to diagnose the suspect in the attacks, some drew comparisons to the trauma experienced in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting. Meanwhile, the province also moved to provide psychosocial supports for those affected by the attacks.
Marc-André Lamontagne, a psychologist who interviewed the Quebec City mosque shooter over two days in 2018, said there are some commonalities between the two incidents, namely that they occurred in a public place and people were not expecting to be attacked.
“But when it comes to motivation, what’s hidden behind the act, the personal history — for now, we don’t know enough to establish resemblance between the two cases,” Lamontagne said.
University of Ottawa psychology professor Tracy Vaillancourt, who studies the links between mental health and violence as a Canada Tier 1 Research Chair, pointed out that the mosque shooting “was a targeted event — it was directed at individuals because of their religion.”
Police and provincial and municipal officials held a news conference Sunday morning, where Quebec City police said the suspect’s actions show that he likely premeditated the attack, but that the victims were chosen at random. They said Girouard does not have a criminal record, but the suspect did reveal five years ago in a “medical context” that he wanted to commit a violent act.
Vaillancourt said that past history is a better indicator of the likelihood someone would commit a violent act, rather than mental health issues.
Mental health support crucial, officials say
Describing mental illness as the “biggest safety concern” in major Canadian cities for decades to come, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said during Sunday’s news conference that it is becoming increasingly difficult for authorities to manage.
Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault echoed Labeaume’s call for public discussion about mental health Sunday, calling it “a major issue that has perhaps been too long and too often forgotten.”
Manon Massé, co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, said COVID-19 public health restrictions “are causing even more distress” than usual.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said the question of mental health is “at the heart of what we do.”
Monday evening, Labeaume held a news conference saying he welcomed the $100-million investment from the provincial government, but was calling for a debate about how mental health services are administered in the province.
“People want to know what innovations there are in how we intervene in mental health; what other places are doing; whether we’re doing things the right way, and can we re-discuss existing laws? People want to understand why mental health feels like a bigger problem than it was 10 or 20 years ago,” Labeaume said.
Quebec City’s regional health authority is sending an intervention team to provide psychosocial support to citizens of Old Quebec on Monday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the corner of Hébert and Remparts streets, near where the attacks occurred.
The Info-Social 811 line is also available to answer calls for people who need support.
Labeaume will offer a message of reassurance and comfort to students at the Collège François-de-Laval and the École des Ursulines in Old Quebec, which are also near the scene of Saturday’s attack. Psychological support staff will also be sent to the schools.
Memories of Quebec City mosque shooting
Labeaume said the sword attack reminded him of the mosque shooting that took place at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre just under four years ago in his city.
Mohamed Labidi, founder and president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, said he was also reminded of the 2017 attack.
“These were gratuitous attacks which should never have taken place,” Labidi said, offering his condolences to the families of the victims.
He said addressing mental health issues is extremely important.
“The more we address these issues, the more we will have a peaceful society.”