Quebec City police officers honoured for response to 2017 mosque shooting
Quebec Police Awards pay tribute to officers for quick thinking, compassion for victims of deadly attack
Quebec City police dispatchers receive at least one phone call per week from a citizen who reports having heard gunshots, according to Sgt. Jonathan Filteau.
"Ninety-eight per cent of the time, it's a Hydro-Québec transformer that has blown up," he said.
But on the evening of Jan. 29, 2017, Filteau said it took only seconds to realize the calls coming in weren't about another false alarm.
"There was a roller coaster that came rushing down within those first ten seconds," he said.
The dispatcher informed officers there were several 9-1-1 calls coming from the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Sainte-Foy, and there were multiple victims.
A gunman had entered the mosque moments after Sunday prayers ended, shooting into the crowded room where men and children were saying their good-byes.
Filteau, on duty at the station where he's worked for the past 25 years, was a 60-second drive away from the mosque.
The only thought going through his head as he made his way there was that the gunman had to be stopped.
"We don't think about our own safety, you think about one thing — neutralizing the shooter," he said.
The 27-year-old gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, had already left the mosque by the time Filteau arrived. He later turned himself in.
Six men died and nineteen others were injured.
Officer's quick thinking saves injured man
Filteau is being honoured at the Quebec Police Awards gala today for his leadership and compassion on the night of the shooting and for his role in quickly setting up a crisis unit to co-ordinate rescue efforts.
His colleague, Const. Francis Simard, is also being honoured for attending to a seriously injured man. The officer used a belt and a rubber hose as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding before paramedics arrived.
"Simard's makeshift treatment would later prove to be a lifesaver for the injured man," the organizing committee of the Quebec Police Awards said in a news release.
Filteau said being able to act quickly and be resourceful in such a stressful situation all comes down to training.
"When people freeze up, it's because they've never gone through the motions and haven't been trained for that," said Filteau, who also trains new recruits.
He said he has not been seriously affected by post-traumatic stress, he was aware that he did have physiological reactions to what he'd been through in the weeks following the tragedy.
He said in a crisis, the body goes into a state of hypervigilance, and that has an impact.
"I was forgetting the last names of people I've known for 20 years," he recalled. "I'd end up driving somewhere that was nowhere near where I wanted to go."
Filteau said he took those episodes "with a grain of salt," using humour to get through them.
"When you know it's going to happen, you don't overreact," he said.
On the eve of his retirement from the Quebec City police service, Filteau said he knows what he lived through on the night of the shooting is an integral part of him now, as it is for other first responders went to the aid of the victims.
"It's a part of me, part of my life experience. You don't forget something like that."
With files from Radio-Canada's Bruno Savard