Nfld. & Labrador

Paris attacks shock, horrify St-Pierre-Miquelon residents

Even though it's 5,000 kilometres from Paris, similar feelings of sadness and anger are reverberating through St-Pierre-Miquelon this week, the French overseas collectivity that sits just 25 kilometres off Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula.

Locals plan vigil and memorials despite being 5,000 km away from tragedy

The Gendarmerie buidling in St-Pierre flies its flag at half-mast after the Paris attacks. Gendarmerie is a local police force that also is involved with homeland security. (Submitted by Albin Girardin)

All of France is still in shock and mourning, following the attacks in Paris Friday night that killed more than 120 people and left hundreds more wounded.

Even though it's 5,000 kilometres from Paris, the same feelings are reverberating through St-Pierre-Miquelon, the French overseas collectivity that sits just 25 kilometres off the coast of Canada, near Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula.

St-Pierre resident Albin Girardin on Paris Attacks 4:20

"Everybody is very shocked and horrified," said Albin Girardin, a St-Pierre native who previously spent four years living in mainland France.

"We are French and we feel that we are being attacked, and it's terrible. It threatens our way of life."

Albin Girardin was born and raised in St-Pierre-Miquelon, but had previously lived in mainland France for four years. (Submitted by Albin Girardin)

Girardin, a musician who was familiar with many of the sites that were attacked, visited Paris last June and even spent time in the same neighbourhood as the Bataclan nightclub — where nearly 90 of the victims were mercilessly gunned down during a rock concert. 

"When I was reading that for the first time, I could not fathom that 100 people could be shot down like that — like rabbits," Girardin said from his home in the town centre of St-Pierre. "They had no chance of doing anything, of running away."

"It's very traumatizing to see that, and to see people on the ground screaming. Seeing the blood of just regular people who go out to enjoy a Friday night and end up dead. It's appalling and it's sad."

St-Pierre-Miquelon is a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France, situated in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean near Newfoundland, Canada. (Google Maps)

The 37-year-old was driving home when he heard the first reports of the attacks on on his car radio. At first he expected something similar in scope to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. 

However, he soon realized that the casualties were much worse, that hundreds of his countrymen had actually been killed — meaning a scary new chapter in France's struggle with extremism and terrorism.

Expects security to increase

Girardin said although St-Pierre-Miquelon is geographically far removed from the Paris attacks, it's shaken the people living on the islands just as much as those in mainland Europe.

"It's very close to us, even though it's on the other side of the ocean," he said.

"It's a big topic of conversation, every household, everybody I meet. We talk about it, we are very close to Canada geographically, but we are French. Everyday people are watching French news, and French TV here."

Albin Girardin took this photo of the Eiffel Tower in Paris while visiting the city in June, 2015. (Submitted by Albin Garardin)

While it is an emotional time, Girardin also expects security, which was already heightened since Charlie Hebdo, to get even tighter in St-Pierre.

"I think the security level will rise, especially for people coming to the islands from the outside and people leaving," he said.

"Movement will be monitored more closely for sure, because something could happen here too."

"ISIS —the Islamic State, they see France as a big enemy to them, and they want to cause the most harm possible. There's a small chance, but still you don't want anything to happen here too, or anywhere in France really."

Vigil, moments of silence planned

Hundreds of residents of St-Pierre-Miquelon took part in a walk and vigil on Sunday, and will join the rest of the country in three official days of morning, as announced by French President Francois Hollande.

A local journalist told CBC News that employers in the French archipelago are being encouraged to allow their employees to participate in a moment of contemplation that is planned for Monday.

All government offices and businesses will be lowering their flags in St-Pierre-Miquelon and the rest of France until Tuesday, Nov. 17.

A rose is pictured on a sign depicting the flag of France next to candles during a ceremony for the victims. St-Pierre-Miquelon is planning its own vigil and ceremonies in the coming days. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

When asked if he'd hesitate to make another trip to Paris as he did last June, Albin Girardin said he wouldn't, but that he would certainly be sensitive to the risk that now faces all French citizens in their own land.

"I will go, but maybe I would be scared going out," he said.

"Maybe I would watch around at night, that's for sure — but that's me speaking 5,000 kilometres away. Imagine for somebody who was involved or witnessed that, or who lives in Paris? The daily lives of Parisians is going to change in the coming months, and that's sad in a way."

Girardin expects the French government will take swift action in some way to prevent further attacks, given the shock that went through his country this weekend — even striking the hearts of those far away from the atrocities. 

"It's scary when you know people. It puts things into perspective," he said,

"When you hear of a bombing in the middle east you think, 'It's so far away, it could never happen in a western country,' but now it's very real."

About the Author

Geoff Bartlett

Contributor

Geoff Bartlett is an educator and journalist in Corner Brook.

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