British Columbians express solidarity after Paris attacks

Thousands of French immigrants living in British Columbia and members of the province’s Francophone community had gathered in Richmond for an annual meeting.

But the gathering quickly took a back seat to phone calls home, as family members desperately try to get in touch with loved ones following the attacks in Paris that have killed more than 100 people.

READ MORE: Death toll in Paris attacks could exceed 120; 5 attackers killed

“We’re quite shaken, to be honest,” said Pierre Rivard with the Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver.

He said people at the meeting spent much of the evening trying to get in touch with friends and family back home to make sure they’re safe.

“At the opening of the meeting, we had a minute of silence for those killed in Paris,” Rivard said. “There’s a lot of people here from France originally, so there’s a lot of sadness and emotion.”

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The organization was in the middle of a festival, highlighted by a performance by French artist Gaël Faure Saturday night on Granville Island.

“It’s going to be tough for them to get on the stage, considering they know a lot of people in Paris,” he said.

Still, the show will go on.

“If we don’t do it, well the terrorists win,” he said. “If anyone can convey what we are about and what matters for our freedoms, it’s artists.”

Pierre Touzel with the Assembly of French Abroad said a vigil is being planned for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“After the attacks in January, we thought we were behind this, and it hits us one more time in a more dramatic way,” said Touzel. “I know that everyone here is trying to get in touch with friends and relatives in Paris.

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“I don’t think there will be a lot of speeches or officials or talking. It’s a very simple way to express our solidarity.”

There are approximately 8,000 French immigrants living in British Columbia, of which around 5,000 live in the Lower Mainland.

British Columbians in France react to attack

As coordinated attacks happened across Paris Friday night, resulting in the deaths of at least 100 people, British Columbians visiting the city tell Global News the mood is tense as people begin to sleep for the night.

“It’s pretty terrible,” said Mike Miltmore, a Kamloops businessman. He was eating dinner at a restaurant in the French capital when shots rang out nearby.

“I heard a bunch of sharp pops, like firecrackers, and that was the gunshots. I started running, and all the police came by [with] guns strapped over their shoulders, telling everyone to close restaurants and leave,” he says.

“I’m back in my hotel. I decided that was the best place to be.”

Cherie Hanson, a Kelowna artist who is in Paris for a conference, was staying in an apartment across the street from a cafe where one of the first attacks happened.

“What I heard was explosions, and there were I believe three of them, and then there was machine gun fire. It was very continuous. It wasn’t on and off,” she said.

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“People were screaming and were crying out, and there was a woman’s voice that was yelling ‘run, run.'”

Her apartment building was quickly filled with people injured from the attack and police officers accounting for everyone.

“I’m laying in my bed, and three armed men come in with visors and swat gear and guns into my apartment, and tell me to put my shoes on and go downstairs,” she said.

“It got crowded. We had one injured man with a bullet through his leg, another…with a bullet through his arm, and three armed men standing at the doorway.”

WATCH: Hanson describes the scene at her apartment

A Vancouver man named Bryan was at a party in the north of the city when the attacks happened.

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“It’s much quieter here, but there has been the constant din of sirens in the background,” he said after travelling back from the party to his hotel in the south of the city.

“Taking the Metro back, everyone’s faces were glued to their mobile phones. Just the uncertainty faced with what’s going on.”

Bryan works for the federal government in Ottawa and was under lockdown during last year’s shooting at Parliament Hill. He says virtually everyone is trying to find out as much information as they can.

“Comparing it to the attack last year, there’s the [same] uncertainty associated with how many attacks are happening, what’s happening, who’s affected, what locations are affected,” he said.

“The difference was having a lockdown midday in Ottawa and you have the entire day work as usual. This, you’ve wound down for the day, you’ve gone out for a couple drinks and this situation transpires and you don’t know what to do,” he said. “What’s your first instinct? Do you leave, do you stay, do you go? We made the decision to go back, and we’re here and we’re safe.”

WATCH: Amateur video shows chaotic aftermath of attacks on Rue Bichat in Paris

Meanwhile, Premier Christy Clark issued a statement on the attack, saying: “Those who commit such acts of violence want to change us, and our shared values. They will fail.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and with security personnel who put their lives at risk to keep others safe. Vive la France.”

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READ MORE: Trudeau says Canada will offer ‘all possible assistance’ in Paris attacks
Those visiting Paris still don’t know when they’ll be able to leave, or what Saturday will hold.

“Tomorrow I’ve got some business meetings. I’m supposed to fly out. But to be honest I have no idea,” said Miltmore.

There’s no travel advisory in place yet from the Government of Canada, but Canadians in France are encouraged to phone the government if they need assistance. The Canadian embassy’s number in Paris is +33144432900.

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