Montreal

Family of slain Quebec soldier condemns 'incompetence' of mental health workers who saw killer before attack

In an exclusive interview, family members of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent talk about the shock they felt after reading that the man who killed the 53-year-old should have seen a psychiatrist — but never did.

Louise Vincent says psychiatric clinic 'didn't listen' to Martin Couture-Rouleau year before 2014 attack

Louise Vincent, sister of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, said she was 'absolutely and totally upset' with the findings of a coroner's report on the death of Martin Couture-Rouleau, who killed her brother. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Family members of the Quebec soldier killed in a jihadist attack in 2014 are angered after learning that his attacker spoke with mental health workers the year before, but no action was taken. 

Louise Vincent, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent's sister, has only been able to read the coroner's report into his death once because she was so troubled by it, and is speaking publicly about it now for the first time.

"I was absolutely and totally upset," said Vincent in a phone interview about the willful hit-and-run executed by Martin Couture-Rouleau on October 2014 and the coroner's findings.

Couture-Rouleau rammed two members of the Canadian Armed Forces with his car in a parking lot of a commercial plaza in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu south of Montreal, fatally injuring 53-year-old Vincent. 

Couture-Rouleau was shot and killed by police following a high-speed chase as he fled the scene.

In his report on Couture-Rouleau's death, coroner André H. Dandavino wrote in April that Couture-Rouleau should have seen a psychiatrist but didn't because staff at an outpatient psychiatric clinic in the Montérégie region decided it wasn't necessary.

"To me, it's pure incompetence, or again they didn't care, they didn't listen," said Louise Vincent. "If the medical system is not ready to deal with these things, then change it."

CBC News has obtained the Montérégie Health Authority's response to the coroner's recommendations through an access to information request. 

Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed in a planned hit-and-run on Oct. 20, 2014, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, south of Montreal. (courtesy Louise Vincent)

The coroner recommended the Montérégie Health Authority require all those showing signs of mental illness and radicalization consult a psychiatrist.

A 'questionable' decision

About a year before his planned attack in the parking lot, Couture-Rouleau was spending hours on the internet reading about Sept. 11 conspiracy theories and the "Illuminati," and writing a blog lauding al-Qaeda.

He was out of work, recovering from a break up and smoking 25 joints a day.

"He believed the whole world was being controlled," the coroner's report said. Around this time, he converted to Islam. Couture-Rouleau also began watching an increasing number of violent videos and chatting with Muslim extremists online.

Increasingly worried, his father turned to staff at the CLSC Vallée des Forts — the local community health centre — at least twice.

Couture-Rouleau voluntarily contacted his local health clinic in August  2013 and was referred to the psychiatric outpatient clinic l'Éclusier.

The following week, he met with a health care worker at l'Éclusier, and told her he had met Allah, converted to Islam and talked about his belief in psychics, chakras and astral projection.

Staff and a psychiatrist at l'Éclusier talked about his case. They decided Couture-Rouleau did not need to see a psychiatrist because the 24-year-old refused to believe he was sick.

Martin Couture-Rouleau was spending hours on the internet reading about September 11th conspiracy theories, the Illuminati, and writing a blog lauding al-Qaeda before the attack that killed Patrice Vincent. (Martin Couture-Rouleau/Facebook)

In his report, the coroner called the decision "questionable" given Couture-Rouleau appeared delusional and out of touch with reality.

"If they had listened, the terrible thing is that he would be alive, and my brother would be alive," said Vincent.

But she also said the coroner's report made her rethink the nature of the attack.

"When my brother was attacked and killed, it seemed only like a ... a jihadist thing. But when I read the report, it's like 'Wow' there's a lot more to it."

Health authority addressing coroner's recommendations

The Montérégie Health Authority's response to the coroner's recommendations, obtained by CBC, outline steps it plans to take to prevent a radicalized, mentally ill person from slipping through the cracks again. President and chief executive officer Richard Deschamps, who was appointed in March 2015, wrote that there is an "action plan."

It includes the following steps:

  • Raising awareness of radicalization with mental health and addiction services staff.
  • Making sure family members understand what's required to force mental health treatment on a loved one.
  • Promoting the phone number for the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization.
  • Letting psychiatrists know about a client's possible radicalization.
  • Assigning people to follow up.

Several measures are due to be in effect in November 2017, three years after the death of Patrice Vincent.

There is no mention of following the coroner's recommendation that people who show signs of mental illness and radicalization must be seen by a psychiatrist.

Health officials at the authority refused CBC's request for an interview.

Vincent family calls killer's father 'courageous'

Suzanne Vincent met with Martin Couture-Rouleau's father earlier this year, following the release of the coroner's report.

"From the start, as a parent, I wanted to know how he was doing," said Vincent.

She said she told him she could never forgive what his son did, and she hoped he didn't feel guilty.

"He told me everything he had done to get his son help. He did everything," said Vincent.

She said it helped her to speak with him.

Louise Vincent called him "courageous." Both sisters said it was incredible that he went to police about his son's obsession with violence and his plans to go overseas to join extremist groups.