Tuesday morning, the crown cross-examined the defence’s first expert witness, a forensic psychologist, called to the stand Monday by the lawyers for the Quebec City mosque shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette.
Bissonnette is guilty of six counts of first degree murder and six accounts of attempted murder for the shooting at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre on January 29, 2017. He faces between 25 – 150 years in jail before the possibility of parole. A sentencing hearing began at the Quebec City palais de la justice on April 11, 2018.
The forensic psychologist Marc-Andre Lamontagne told the court the risk that Bissonnette poses should he ever be released on parole is “medium,” or average. He said if certain factors are mitigated and conditions for his parole – such as he not be allowed to consume alcohol or drugs – the risk could be lower.
Lamontagne testified that Bissonnette has a tendency to blame external factors for why he committed his violent act, such as a demon made him do it.
Lamontagne described Alexandre Bissonnette as immature and irresponsible, as well as manipulative, lacking empathy and even narcissistic – a man who struggled with the “adult world.”
Once incarcerated, Bissonnette pretended to have symptoms of psychosis “to explain his actions.”
“Even recently when I interrogated him about the consequences of his actions, he didn’t mention the people he killed, hurt or traumatized, which among other things suggests a lack of consideration for the victims,” Lamontagne said.
“However, Mr. Bissonnette seems able to act sensitive and warm towards other people, principally his parents and brother,” Lamontagne said, adding that the remorse he showed towards the victims seemed to fluctuate, and in some cases not exist at all.
He is not a psychopath though; Lamontagne suggests rather that his problems with anxiety and depression coloured the way he viewed the world. This was made worse by the fact that Bissonnette did not follow the recommendations of his doctors or take the proper dosage of anti-depressants he was prescribed.
On top of that, he consumed large amounts of alcohol.
In his report prepared for the defence, Lamontagne reports: Bissonnette was bullied all through school, starting around the age of ten. At 15 or 16 years old, he began to have homicidal thoughts. This could be linked to his reading about the Columbine shooting – Bissonnette thought about burning down his school to enact revenge on his harassers.
Starting in 2014, he began to identify more and more with mass shooters. He had the idea that he couldn’t commit suicide without doing something “grandiose” so that his harassers wouldn’t still laugh at him after his death.
Two months before the mosque shooting, Bissonnette told Lamontagne that he considered a shooting at the Place Laurier, Quebec City’s largest shopping centre. He tried to convince himself that even if he would be shooting innocent people, they probably did something bad in their lifetimes.
“He then turned towards an alternative strategy, towards more acceptable targets in his eyes, more threatening people for him, people, among whom, he convinced himself, or tried to convince himself, he could find ‘terrorists’ or ‘fanatics.'”
When it came to the fateful night of Jan. 29, 2017, Lamontagne said that Bissonnette couldn’t carry through with the shooting sober. After the shooting, the psychologist suggested that the effects of the alcohol had worn off and he was unable to find more alcohol to help him commit suicide.
Lamontagne said that Bissonnette represents a “medium” risk of recidivism. In his report, he says his risk to commit other violent acts should he ever be released on parole, depends, among other factors, on his ability to learn to manage his anger, develop interpersonal skills, control his symptoms of anxiety and depression, and change his drinking habits.
After Lamontagne’s cross-examination, the defence called its second expert witness, Dr. Sylvain Faucher, who evaluated Bissonnette to see if he was apt to plead guilty.
Dr. Faucher testified that even in his late twenties, Bissonnette “depended in a significant way” on his parents, particularly on his father.
“He couldn’t tolerate going one day without talking to them, without having their support,” Dr. Faucher concluded in his report prepared for the defence. “(Bissonnette) hasn’t been able to define who he is, what he should be, what he should do, opting, for example, to study political science, not so much because that interested him, but rather because he was able to be closer to his twin brother who studied in this area.”
When asked during cross-examination if Bissonnette, given this dependence on his family, would be able to work on his problems alone in prison, Faucher replied, “Alone, no.”
He suggested that psychiatrists could work with him in jail and that Bissonnette was a good candidate to receive help to better deal with his anxiety and depression and overcome “the after-effects of many years of ostracism and harassment (the negative perception of others, feeling of injustice, limited empathy, propensity to view himself as a victim, the search for power).”