Brussels attacks prompt outpouring of support from Quebec

"I know you are living difficult moments and will endure difficult moments in the coming days," Premier Philippe Couillard said. "Please know that we are with you."

Attacks on airport, subway kill dozens of people, injure many more

Passengers leave a gym where they took shelter after the explosions, near the Zaventem Airport in Brussels on Tuesday. (Michel Spingler/Associated Press)

Deadly attacks at the Brussels airport and its subway system have left Quebecers in that city reeling — and those here at home extending their condolences.

A group of Montrealers from the Belgian community planned to gather at a downtown restaurant Tuesday evening as a show of solidarity for people in Brussels.

A vigil is planned for Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. in front of the Consulate General of Belgium in Montreal, at 999 De Maisonneuve West.

Earlier in the day at a news conference, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Quebecers stand with the people of Belgium.

"I know you are living difficult moments and will endure difficult moments in the coming days," Couillard said. 

"Please know that we are with you."

Authorities locked down the Belgian capital on Tuesday after the explosions rocked the Brussels airport and subway system, killing dozens of people and injuring many more.

The Belgian flag is flying at half-mast at city hall in Montreal and in Quebec City, as well as at the National Assembly.

The Belgian and Quebec flag fly at half mast on the towers of the National Assembly in reaction to the Brussels bombing. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Extra precautions in Montreal

The Montreal police officers stationed at Metro stations and Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport are on patrol and are more visible than usual to reassure the public.

At the airport, officials said that agents were not searching people's suitcases but sniffer dogs were on hand and making rounds outside the airport.

Montreal's public transit authority, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), has asked bus drivers and inspectors to be more careful and alert.

"On our part, we are asking our staff to remain vigilant," Amélie Régis of the STM said.

An Air Canada flight due to arrive in Montreal from Brussels at 1:25 p.m. ET today is cancelled. Another Montreal flight bound for Brussels was redirected to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Quebecers in Brussels

Michel Audet, the Quebec government's delegate general in Belgium, said Brussels remains in complete lockdown.

His office is one metro station away from Maelbrook station, where the explosion was reported early this morning.

"We were immediately in crisis mode," Audet said.

People leave the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)
​ Audet told CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada, there are hundreds of Quebecers — a mix of business people, students and lawyers — living in Brussels and its outskirts. 

"There are Quebecers who are here who we were able to reach to ensure they are safe," Audet said. "It's a sad day for Brussels."

Cynthia Desmarais, a native of Sherbrooke, Que., was supposed to be at the airport when the explosions went off, but her flight was delayed.

"I would have been in the middle of the chaos," she told Radio-Canada, adding that the check-in counter was close to that of American Airlines, the site of the explosions.

For now, Desmarais is back at her hotel. She said the company that has organized her return trip to Canada said it could be several days before she can travel.

Police attend the site of the explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

"It's something that affects us directly," Guillaume Perron-Piché, a Quebecer residing in Brussels, told Radio-Canada. "It's shocking."

Nairi Khandjian, a student at Université de Montréal, is currently in Brussels on an exchange program at Université Libre de Bruxelles.

She was in class when her professor announced there had been attacks at the airport, which is about 20 kilometres away from the school.

"Then around 10 a.m., the school was on lockdown. They decided to let us go and cancel classes for a day or until further notice," Khandjian told CBC, adding that sirens have been blaring all day around the city.

Every 20 minutes, there's a siren.- Nairi Khandjian, Université de Montréal exchange student

"Every 20 minutes, there's a siren... If there's going to be a lockdown, a friend of mine and I are planning to leave. We might drive to a different city where there isn't a lockdown… and take a train…maybe a bus [to Budapest or Berlin]," she said.

Dan Gagnon, a Quebecer who has been living in Brussels for the last 12 years, hosts a late-night television talk show.

Gagnon lives four kilometres away from the Maelbrook station.

"When we open the door, we can hear a lot of sirens," he told CBC. "There were police investigations in our neighbourhood, but we're in the calm…[There's] a lot of military presence in the streets, in the metro."

Gagnon said that while public transportation remains closed, people are still out and walking around in the streets.

"No one is happy about it. We're sad, some are mad... But I don't feel less safe than I did yesterday," he said. "This fear everyone feels… when you feel it for a few weeks, you get used to it and don't really change your habits."

Politicians offer condolences

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent out a tweet early this morning condemning the attacks.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre also offered his condolences, saying he would not bow to intimidation in the wake of the attacks.

Even Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban sent out a note saying "his heart goes out" to people in Brussels.

In a statement, the federal government said officials are "closely monitoring the situation and are endeavouring to determine if Canadian citizens have been affected."

"To date, we have no reports of any Canadian citizens being affected by the incidents," said Rachna Mishra, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.

with files from Associated Press