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By STÉPHANE ALARIE
The suspect in the shooting at the Quebec mosque was under the influence of alcohol and antidepressants at the time of the attack. If the authorities had known of his this, he would have been denied a permit for possession of a restricted weapon or had his permit revoked.
When arrested, Alexandre Bissonnette was in possession of a duly registered 9-mm pistol. This is the first time that a legally acquired weapon has been used in the province for such carnage.
To obtain a permit, applicants like this 27-yr old have to go through a comprehensive audit process under the Act. He had to meet with a police officer, provide two references and give information about his mental health and behaviour.
“Those identified as references for applicants are all systematically contacted”, explained Martine Asselin, spokesman for the Quebec provincial police, without explaining what happened in the Bissonnette case. Spouses or ex-spouses are also always contacted.
People close to the applicant are questioned
This process ensures that people can speak freely about the applicant without them there, says Lieutenant Asselin. References are specifically asked if they have concerns about the State of mind of the applicant, on his actions or the people he hangs around with.
Every applicant must fill out a form, disclosing any criminal record, alcohol problems, depression and/or suicidal thoughts. An applicant may be required to produce his medical records. ‘If he refuses, the permit will not be issued’, according to Lieutenant Asselin.
The applicant must also disclose if he has been involved in any incidents, even if no charges were laid, even something as trivial as an argument with neighbors. Such incidents will be come to light anyway during the audits conducted with the Québec Police Information Centre. The SQ posts its check-ups on social media when the slightest concern appears in a folder, or if the request is for an assault rifle. Sources disclose that when Bissonnette applied for a permit for a restricted weapon barely two years ago, among the people contacted nobody, including his father, expressed concerns. Neither did any of these people subsequently report to authorities the deterioration of his condition, even though he was being treated for anxiety and had developed alcohol problems, according to our information.
The same thing happened with his fellow shooting club members, who said they found Bissonnette “bizarre”, without thinking that perhaps they should alert the police.
Many are unaware that the SQ offers a hot line, which allows concerned people to report any concerns about firearms permit holders, by calling 1 800 731 – 4000.
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Attentat à québec: L’accusé était traité pour anxiété et avait des problèmes d’alcool — (Actualité, le Journal de Québec)
Lors de son arrestation, Alexandre Bissonnette était en possession d’un pistolet 9mm dûment enregistré. C’est la première fois qu’une arme légalement acquise sert à un tel carnage dans la province.
Pour obtenir son permis, comme tout demandeur, le jeune homme de 27 ans a d’ailleurs dû passer à travers un processus de vérification exhaustif établi par la loi. Il a ainsi dû rencontrer un policier, identifier deux répondants et fournir des informations sur son état de santé et son comportement.
«Les personnes identifiées comme répondantes de tout demandeur sont systématiquement contactées», explique Martine Asselin, porte-parole de la Sûreté du Québec, sans toutefois pouvoir s’étendre sur le cas de Bissonnette. Les conjoints ou ex-conjoints sont aussi toujours contactés.
Chaque fois, on s’assure que ces personnes peuvent parler librement et en l’absence du demandeur concerné, précise la lieutenante Asselin. On leur demande alors, notamment, s’ils ont des inquiétudes sur l’état mental du demandeur, sur ses agissements ou sur son entourage.
Quant au demandeur lui-même, outre ses antécédents judiciaires, il doit divulguer sur un formulaire s’il a déjà eu des problèmes de consommation d’alcool, de dépression ou des pensées suicidaires.
En de tels cas, on peut exiger du demandeur qu’il produise son dossier médical. «S’il refuse, le permis ne sera pas donné», souligne la lieutenante Asselin. De toute façon, de tels événements seront relevés lors des vérifications menées auprès du Centre de renseignements policiers du Québec.
Le demandeur doit aussi dévoiler s’il a été impliqué dans des incidents, même s’ils n’ont pas mené à des accusations, comme une banale chicane de voisins.
La SQ pousse les vérifications jusque sur les réseaux sociaux lorsque la moindre préoccupation apparaît dans un dossier ou si la demande concerne un fusil d’assaut.
Selon nos sources, lorsque Bissonnette a fait une demande de permis pour arme à autorisation restreinte il y a à peine deux ans, personne n’a émis de réserves parmi les gens contactés à l’époque, dont son père.
Personne de son entourage n’aurait non plus signalé aux autorités la détérioration de son état par la suite, même s’il était désormais traité pour anxiété et avait développé des problèmes d’alcool, selon nos informations.
Même chose du côté de membres de son club de tir, qui ont dit avoir trouvé Bissonnette «bizarre», sans pour autant penser à alerter les policiers.
Fait méconnu, la SQ offre précisément une «Ligne préoccupation», qui permet aux gens de signaler toute inquiétude au sujet d’un détenteur de permis d’armes à feu en composant le 1 800 731-4000.
The suspect in the deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque was known in the city’s activist circles as an online troll who was inspired by extreme right-wing French nationalists, stood up for U.S. President Donald Trump and was against immigration to Quebec – especially by Muslims.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, a student at Laval University, grew up on a quiet crescent in the Cap-Rouge suburb of Quebec City and lived in an apartment a few kilometres away.
His online profile and school friendships revealed little interest in extremist politics until last March, when France’s far-right National Front Leader Marine Le Pen visited Quebec City, inspiring Mr. Bissonnette to vocal extreme online activism, according to people who clashed with him starting around this time.
Vincent Boissoneault, a student in international relations at Laval University, knew Mr. Bissonnette from childhood and was friends with him on Facebook.
He said they frequently argued over politics when Mr. Bissonnette attacked refugees or expressed support for Ms. Le Pen or Mr. Trump.
In the wake of Sunday’s attack, rumours about the identity of the attacker have run wild alongside speculation about motivation, ranging from white supremacy to Islamic terrorism.
“I can tell you he was certainly no Muslim convert,” Mr. Boissoneault said. “I wrote him off as a xenophobe. I didn’t even think of him as totally racist, but he was enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement.
“It never occurred to me he might be violent,” Mr. Boissoneault added, referring to the hard-line anti-immigration sentiment growing in popularity in Europe and elsewhere.
François Deschamps, an employment counsellor who runs a refugee-support Facebook page, said he immediately recognized Mr. Bissonnette’s photo from his frequent appearances online, including on the page he administers.
“He was someone who made frequent extreme comments in social media denigrating refugees and feminism. It wasn’t outright hate, rather part of this new nationalist conservative identity movement that is more intolerant than hateful.”
Both Mr. Boissoneault and Mr. Deschamps recalled Mr. Bissonnette sharing anti-immigration sentiment, especially toward Muslim refugees making their way to Europe from the war-torn Middle East.
Mr. Bissonnette’s Facebook profile was removed from public view just after 11 a.m. Monday along with his comments on other social-media feeds.
In addition to being a student, Mr. Bissonnette worked in a call centre for Quebec’s blood donation agency, Héma-Québec. “These events have sent a shock wave through the organization,” the agency said in a news release. It was not clear how long he worked there.
Mr. Bissonnette lived on the top floor of a four-storey apartment in a complex of buildings filled with retirees and students. The complex on de la Verdure Street is one kilometre away from the mosque where the shooting took place and a 40-minute walk from the Laval campus.
Police searched the apartment Monday night and offered no details as they left.
Sarah-Jeanne Viau, who lived underneath the apartment, said she’d never seen who moved in last fall but there was “all kinds of noises. Steps, jumps, sometimes I’d hear a piano and often yelling.”
Ms. Viau said Monday was one of the quieter evenings from the apartment above hers.
A couple of nights before the shooting, Ms. Viau said she and her boyfriend were awoken at 3 a.m. by yelling and loud banging from upstairs.
“It got to the point where I had trouble sleeping,” Ms. Viau said. “It’s such a ruckus.”
Piano playing drifted down through her ceiling sometimes. “It was beautiful so I didn’t mind it that much,” Ms. Viau said, noting the melodies would last late into the night.
Other neighbours reported seeing Mr. Bissonnette’s silver Mitsubishi in the parking lot, but not much of the man himself. Two men living across the hall said they didn’t know who lived there but that it was often noisy.
Before Ms. Le Pen’s visit, Mr. Bissonnette’s friends say he showed little interest in politics, despite studying the subject at Laval University.
Former classmates from the CEGEP junior college he attended after high school described him as a quiet, unassuming guy who blended in. “It’s scary that this would happen here,” said one of the friends, Antoine Cabanac.
Michel Kingma-Lord, who grew up with Mr. Bissonnette in the Cap-Rouge neighbourhood, said he was “shocked” by the news that his erstwhile friend was suspected in a mass shooting. The two had grown apart in recent years, but spent many happy hours collecting minerals together as boys, scouring the schoolyard for bits of quartz.
“He was a really good guy,” Mr. Kingma-Lord said. “A very generous kind of guy, always listening, polite.”
Mr. Bissonnette studied political science, Mr. Kingma-Lord said, but seemed more interested in the campus chess club than any kind of ideology. “He never posted anything about hate speech,” Mr. Kingma-Lord said.
“He wouldn’t share any political ideology. When we talked, it was just normal talk.”
Acquaintances from Mr. Bissonnette’s earlier years at Les Compagnons-de-Cartier high school in Quebec City say he was introverted, socially awkward and frequently bullied. Toma Popescu remembered bigger kids teasing Mr. Bissonnette for his slight, pallid appearance and his unfashionable clothing. “He dressed like a country boy,” Mr. Popescu said.
The bullies who targeted Mr. Bissonnette would demand his money and his lunch, even roughing him up, Mr. Popescu added. But Mikael Labrecque Berger said that Mr. Bissonnette wasn’t cowed by his social problems at school.
“He never seemed to take it like personally,” Mr. Berger said. “He had an almost happy attitude about it.”
“Someone [would] tell him, ‘You’re ugly,’ and he would say, ‘You too are ugly.’”
Before it was removed, Mr. Bissonnette’s Facebook page revealed normal preoccupations of young adulthood. While he “liked” the page of Ms. Le Pen and other right-wing politicians, he also liked Garfield and pop stars such as Katy Perry.
On Halloween, Mr. Bissonnette posted a picture of himself in a screaming ghoul costume – first popularized by the Scream horror-movie franchise. “Nothing original but it’s a classic,” he wrote.
He also posted a photo of himself wearing what appeared to be a cadet uniform several years ago.
A spokesman for the Canadian Forces confirmed that Mr. Bissonnette had participated in the cadet program from 2002 to 2004 in the Quebec City area.
Records show he bought a Chevy Malibu with his twin brother, Mathieu, in 2011. They were also chess-club teammates around that time.
Police searched a house belonging to Mr. Bissonnette’s father, Raymond Bissonnette, on Monday morning.
The address showed up on several traffic tickets issued to Alexandre Bissonnette in recent years.
Police say the suspect was not on their radar before the attack. A search of court records shows no other involvement with police other than traffic tickets.
With reports from Verity Stevenson and Sean Gordon in Quebec City, Colin Freeze and Tu Thanh Ha in Toronto and Daniel Leblanc in Ottawa