Gunman in Montreal-area killing spree was released from institution despite 'significant risk'
The gunman at the centre of a seemingly random killing spree that claimed the lives of three people in Montreal and Laval over a 24-hour period was allowed to continue living outside a mental health facility, even though a psychiatrist deemed he was a "significant risk to public safety" last spring.
The shooter, 26-year-old Abdulla Shaikh, was shot dead by Montreal police Thursday morning in a motel parking lot during an operation linked to the three killings.
Court records show Shaikh had a criminal record for charges including assault and mischief.
A recent decision from Quebec's Administrative Tribunal has raised questions about why he was permitted to continue living outside the direct supervision of mental health professionals despite being considered a danger to others.
The man's psychiatrist testified at a March 2022 hearing that Shaikh showed improvements in his mental state in the six months prior, but there were "persistent concerns."
These included "denial and trivialization of behavioural disorders, violence and psychiatric pathology" as well as "the heavy history of accusations of criminal acts of various kinds remains denied, which trivializes the future risks of acting out."
"The Commission accepts from the evidence that [the accused] still represents, because of his mental state, a significant risk to public safety," the March 29 decision stated.
A summary of his case showed that Shaikh was released from a mental health institution on Jan. 25, 2021 and ordered to abide by several conditions after being found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder for a crime in 2018.
During the annual review of his release, the psychiatrist flagged concerns about Shaikh's mental state and public safety risk, citing his patient's "unpredictability of aggressive behaviours" and lack of access to his family members by the treatment team.
The doctor, nevertheless, recommended that he remain outside the mental health institution under several conditions, including living in a place approved by the head of the hospital, complying with the recommendations of his treatment team, avoiding drugs, keeping the peace and regular urine tests.
The summary notes the man showed up near the entrance of Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport and lit his passport on fire with a candle in July 2018.
He also visited the airport two more times, and was told to leave before being arrested after attempting to break into a secured area at the Mirabel Airport.
Lawyer François Legault, who represented Shaikh in March, questions if police acted too quickly, given his delicate mental state.
"It was important to protect the society, I fully agree with that, but why is it so important to not take maybe more steps before entering? Knowing that he might have in his possession a weapon, and also knowing that he had big issues with mental health." he asked. "Why didn't you ask social workers or maybe a psychologist to come with the police team and try to begin a discussion with him?"
He notes that even if someone is "the worst [kind of] criminal," they have a right to dignity.
"Even though this person killed three other people, it doesn't mean that he deserves that," he said. "You have the right to be arrested... It is [up to the] justice system to take care of it. We don't kill people just because they kill others."
Legault adds he hadn't seen Shaikh since March.
"We are all sorry about what happened to the three victims," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, on March 29, nothing let us think that something like that could happen."
SUSPECT SHOT DEAD BY POLICE
Police say Shaikh was armed when he was shot and killed by officers at the Pierre Motel in Montreal's Saint-Laurent borough at 7 a.m. Thursday.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Audrey-Anne Bilodeau, a spokesperson with the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), says police are still working to determine the motive behind the killings.
She notes there is nothing to suggest the suspect knew the three victims.
Officers do not believe he had any accomplices.
As the shooting involves police officers, Quebec's independent bureau of investigations (BEI) has taken over the case.
'I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'
Montreal police interim chief Sophie Roy adds the force worked "day and night" to find the suspect following the first shooting Tuesday night.
"We will continue to work hard to fight gun violence," she said, offering her condolences to the victims' families.
Nevertheless, those living in the area say the incident has made them think twice about how safe their neighbourhood really is.
"I saw police coming out from the back of our building, and I didn't know what was going on," said Beverley Nadeau, who lives nearby. "I can't believe it, in our area, in our home. Now I'm a little worried to go out."
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante took to Twitter to thank the various police forces involved in Thursday morning's operation.
"It is during these moments that we must all work together and trust our authorities in a common goal of ensuring the safety of our population," she wrote. "I would like to offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims."
The BEI is asking anyone who may have witnessed the event to contact investigators online.
THREE DEADLY SHOOTINGS
The police intervention comes after three recent killings in Montreal and Laval.
The first incident occurred at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday in the borough of Saint-Laurent.
Police were called to the intersection of Jules-Poitras and Deguire boulevards near Roman-Zytynsky Park.
"Once on the scene, police found the victim shot and injured to the upper body," said Gabriella Youakim, a spokesperson with Montreal police. "The victim died on site."
The man was later confirmed to be André Lemieux, the father of professional boxer David Lemieux.
Shortly after, at 10:50 p.m., officers were called to a shooting in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough.
When police arrived at the intersection of Sauvé Ouest and Meilleur streets, near Saint-Benoît Park, they found a 48-year-old man lying on the ground.
"His death was confirmed on site," stated Youakim. "No arrests have been made so far."
That victim has been identified as Mohamed Salah Belhaj, an intervention worker at the Albert-Prévost Mental Health Hospital.
Then, on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m., Laval police (SPL) were called to a shooting on Clermont Boulevard.
The victim, a 22-year-old man, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Laval police spokesperson Stéphanie Beshara.
His body was found next to a skateboard.
Police have not released his identity.
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