Sword attack in Quebec City didn’t require a mass public alert, police say

Police cars block the Saint-Louis Street near the Chateau Frontenac, early Sunday, November 1, 2020 in Quebec City. A man wearing medieval clothed was arrested. Two people are dead and five people were injured after they were stabbed. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Police overseeing the manhunt for a suspect in the Halloween night stabbing rampage in Quebec City judged that a mass public alert to residents wasn’t necessary, a senior officer said Wednesday.

Quebec City police Insp. André Turcotte said in an interview the force felt it had the situation well under control.

“We were analyzing the situation in real time and with the information we had, we were able to keep control of the situation and didn’t need to use a tool to massively communicate with people,” Turcotte said.

READ MORE: Vigil held for Quebec City victim of Halloween sword attack

He said the first 911 calls came in about 10:20 p.m., with police tweeting at 11:57 p.m. Saturday, warning people that a suspect in medieval clothing had left multiple victims and instructing people to avoid the Old Quebec neighbourhood.

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In a subsequent tweet at 1:33 a.m., they announced an arrest had been made half an hour earlier and repeated that people should stay indoors as the investigation continued.

Some residents who spoke to The Canadian Press Sunday said they heard about the police operation on local social media groups or noticed the heavy police presence in the district. But they only learned much later that a man with a sword had been at large, allegedly targeting victims at random.

Local residents Suzanne Clermont, 61 and Francois Duchesne, 56, were killed and five others were injured during the attacks.

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Carl Girouard, 24, from a suburb north of Montreal has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder.

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Turcotte said given how the situation was unfolding, the police force decided not to use the Quebec Alert Ready system, a platform that since 2018 has transmitted emergency messages to smartphones.

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Turcotte said police were comfortable not issuing a mass communication order given few people were out and bars and restaurants were closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

By the time police sent their tweet, Turcotte said police had established crime scenes, identified victims and set up a perimeter, with officers on the ground telling people on the streets to go home or take shelter.

“Yes, there were people walking, but not like it would have been on a different day in a different year without the pandemic,” Turcotte said.

“If they’d (establishments) been open, we would have had to take different decisions, make adjustments.”

Turcotte said authorities quickly advised local transit and taxi dispatchers, military police at the nearby Citadelle, security at the provincial legislature and guards patrolling Quebec’s port, where Girouard was arrested.

Last spring, RCMP in Nova Scotia were criticized for not using the alert system during a shooting rampage that claimed 22 victims, and they have since vowed to develop a national policy for using the system as one doesn’t exist.

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The Quebec Alert Ready system has been used six times in the province in the past two years: four tornado warnings, one dam breach and one Amber Alert.

Marie-Josée De Montigny, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s Public Security Department said in an email the tool has undergone several improvements since it was first deployed, and the department plans to use it for situations outside of natural disasters, such as active shooter situations. That will involve detailed procedures and additional training for police forces.

Turcotte said the police would have considered using Quebec Alert Ready had the arrest not come relatively quickly.

“It hasn’t been used by police services in Quebec . . . but all that to say that if the event had continued into the night . . . we had the capacity to use the application,” Turcotte said.

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