Alexandre Bissonnette watched videos of mass murders before Quebec City mosque attack, court hears

The man convicted of killing six men inside a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, 2017, spent hours watching videos and researching mass murders in the weeks before he gunned down the worshippers.

28-year-old spent several weeks searching online massacres before killing 6 men in January 2017

Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of worshippers at a Quebec City mosque in January 2017. (Facebook)

The man convicted of killing six men inside a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, 2017, spent hours searching online for videos and references to mass murders in the weeks before he gunned down the worshippers, it was revealed Friday at a court hearing.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 28, also entered online search terms for mass murderer Dylann Roof 201 times between Jan. 1 and Jan. 29, 2017 — the day of the attack. Roof killed nine people at a South Carolina church in 2015.

One week before the mosque attack, Bissonnette watched a video montage made from the shooting scenes in director Denis Villeneuve's 2009 drama Polytechnique — a fictionalized account of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre that left 14 women dead.

Crown prosecutor Thomas Jacques said Bissonnette also watched footage of the 1999 Columbine school shooting carried out by two students, who killed a dozen students and a teacher.
This was the scene inside of the Quebec City mosque where Alexandre Bissonnette's attack occurred, two days after the shooting. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

Friday's hearing before Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot will help determine whether security camera footage from the mosque on the night of the attack should be released. A media consortium, comprised of seven different media outlets including the CBC, is trying to have the footage made public.

The Crown is arguing to have the video remain under a strict publication ban.

Bissonnette pleaded guilty March 28 to six counts of first-degree murder, changing an earlier plea. He also apologized to victims and survivors, saying he was deeply sorry for the pain he caused and was ashamed of his actions.

Jacques is expected to present the video during the sentencing hearing for Bissonnette next week.

Around a dozen people, including survivors of the attack, sat in the audience at Friday's hearing, some visibly disturbed by the possibility the video could be made public.

The president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, Boufeldja Benabdallah, testified that simply discussing the possibility that could happen had revived tensions and frustrations at the mosque.
An ambulance is parked at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Jan. 29, 2017. Alexandre Bissonnette, 28, pleaded guilty last month to the first-degree murders of six men in that attack. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

Benabdallah said mosque members were shocked when they found out this request had been made.

"We were extremely saddened. We thought once again, if this goes forward, we will relive the atrocities of Jan. 29," he told the court today.

Copycat effect a concern

Earlier Friday, Jacques called an expert witness who testified that broadcasting the video, or portions of it, could be devastating for the families, the survivors and the population in general.

Dr. Cécile Rousseau, a pediatric psychiatrist and researcher who has worked for 30 years with victims of torture and people with post-traumatic stress disorder, said seeing images of the night of the shooting or of Bissonnette could revive anxiety and distress for those who witnessed the attack.

"This can rekindle [PTSD] symptoms, when they are in remission or fading out," Rousseau testified via videoconference from Montreal.

Rousseau also said making the video public could provoke a "copycat" effect.

"Is there reason to use the principle of precaution?" Rousseau asked. "I would say so, without a doubt."

Extremist groups could also use the video for recruiting and radicalizing youth, Rousseau said.

"Neo-nazis would be extremely happy to put a video like this online, which is a direct incentive to hate and Islamophobia," she said.

Another expert for the Crown, international security expert Stéphane Leman-Langlois, supported Rousseau's argument when he testified.

"This is like candy for people who want to recruit," Leman-Langlois told the court.

It's the sort of video that could be used both by white supremacists or jihadist groups, he said.

"It has an incredible power of attraction."

Hearing resumes Tuesday

The lawyer representing the media consortium, Jean-François Côté, said he could not disclose the arguments in favour of the media's request before next Tuesday, when he'll present those arguments in court.

"There is a general principle that exists: it's the publication of judicial debates and public access to these documents, and that's what we debated today," he said.