Coroner orders public inquiry into Montreal shooting deaths
Quebec's chief coroner has ordered a public inquiry into the shooting deaths of three people, as well as that of the alleged gunman, following a killing spree last week in the Montreal area.
Pascale Descary said on Monday the inquiry will probe the deaths of André Lemieux, 64, Mohamed Belhaj, 48, and 22-year-old Alex Levis-Crevier, who died within a span of less than 25 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. The inquiry, led by coroner Gehane Kamel, will also look into the death of Abdulla Shaikh, the 26-year-old man police accused of killing the three man seeminly at random.
Quebec provincial police said Shaikh, who was known to have mental health issues, was shot dead by Montreal police officers at the Pierre Motel in Montreal's Saint-Laurent borough at 7 a.m. Thursday during a police operation. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Descary said the investigation will analyze the factors that contributed to the deaths and make recommendations to prevent similar tragedies.
"The hearings will allow any person of interest to express themselves concerning the circumstances of these deaths in order to analyze all the contributing factors, and this, with a view to proposing possible solutions for better protection of human life," the coroner's office said in a news release.
Kamel has presided over several high-profile inquiries, including hearings following the 2020 death of Joyce Echaquan, and the investigation into deaths at the Herron care home during Quebec's first COVID-19 wave.
A mental health review board ruled in March 2022 that the shooting suspect could continue living outside a mental health institution despite hearing evidence from his psychiatrist that he was "a significant risk to the public safety" due to his mental state.
His doctor and the review board — Commission d'examen des troubles mentaux — both agreed, however, that he could live in the community under certain conditions that were to be enforced by the hospital where he was treated.
In his report, the psychiatrist said Shaikj was diagnosed with schizophrenia and "the denial and trivialization of behavioural disorders, violence and psychiatric pathology" was cited as a concern in a dangerousness assessment.
The board also heard at a hearing that Shaikh had shown signs of improvement prior to the ruling that allowed him to remain living freely.
SUSPECT MAY HAVE ASSEMBLED GUN PARTS
Meanwhile, more questions are being raised about not only the decision to allow the suspect to live freely but also how he got his hands on a firearm in the killings. Police have publicly said that he did not have a firearms license and more investigation is needed to determine how he obtained the weapon.
Police sources told several media outlets that the shooting suspect may have carried a weapon that was not only illegal but built using various readily available parts.
As Canada prepares to ban the import of handguns, replaceable parts remain widely available. Canadian suppliers contacted by CTV News said there would be no problem getting them, even if the guns themselves can't be brought in.
"Even when you try to control everything, at the end, bottom line, people can go and make themselves a gun," said André Durocher, a retired Montreal police officer, in an interview with CTV.
Investigators have yet to confirm what type of gun the suspect used or which assembly parts were used. However, in recent years, the technology has evolved so much that some weapons can be built with the help of a 3D printer. Manufactured parts can then be used to perfect them.
For gun control activists, this is proof that simply banning certain types of weapons doesn't go far enough.
"Our regulations are not strong enough. We still have to find ways because those who want to use these kinds of weapons are really creative," said Nathalie Prevost, activist and survivor of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique shooting in 1989.
3D models, for example, are widely distributed on the internet, while regular parts remain a click away.
Activists say it's one reason why the current gun restrictions announced earlier by Canada's public safety minister still need to be improved before the law is adopted this fall.
"If we can identify ways to improve the bill in order to prevent the possibility to import some parts, maybe we would be able to do that," said Prevost, who advocates for stricter gun-contol regulations with the PolySeSouvient group.
It's one reason why Durocher said Canadians shouldn't put all their hopes into tougher gun regulations.
"Right now, it sounds like a band-aid solution in order to put the lid on the pot of public opinion."
'THEY DIDN'T DESERVE TO DIE LIKE THAT'
Police allege Shaikh shot two men — Lemieux and Belhaj — on Tuesday night in Montreal and killed Levis-Crevier in Laval, Que., around 24 hours later.
Stephanie Lefrancois, whose family has been friends with Lemieux since before she was born, said his friends and neighbours have been traumatized by the killings.
"We can't believe his life was sadly, unjustly ripped away like that, out of nowhere," she said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
Lefrancois describes Lemieux, a former mechanic, as a "very generous man" who took care of his elderly mother and was always helping his neighbours with repairs around their apartments.
She said he would visit her regularly, often to watch videos of his son, professional boxer David Lemieux, of whom he was incredibly proud.
Lefrancois says she, like many others, feels more needs to be done to stop gun violence in Montreal, which she says "didn't start yesterday."
"They didn't deserve to die like that, Andre, or the others," she said.
Premier François Legault, meanwhile, clarified comments he made on the shooter last week, after facing criticism for saying he was happy "we are rid" of the suspect.
Speaking Monday at an unrelated announcement in Quebec's north shore region, Legault said that he'd meant to say he was happy the suspect had been taken out of harm's way.
"Clearly I didn't rejoice that he was dead, we don't want that," Legault said. "There are people who have mental health problems."
Legault said the investigations underway, including the one announced by the coroner, would help clear up, among other things, why the suspect had been released.
With files from The Canadian Press
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