September 14, 2006
Lessons learned from Montreal massacre help save lives
By PETER RAKOBOWCHUK

MONTREAL (CP) — The praise being heaped on police and ambulance technicians for their speedy response to this week’s drama at Dawson College is in stark contrast with the criticism they received after the Ecole polytechnique murders in 1989.

A dose of guilt plus lessons learned from 17 years ago when 14 women were killed by crazed gunman Marc Lepine may have helped keep the death toll low on Wednesday.

Some of the credit is going to the Montreal police officers who happened to be nearby as 25-year-old gunman Kimveer Gill headed into the college armed to the teeth.

Dressed in a black trenchcoat, wearing a scowl and carrying three weapons, Gill was clearly a determined individual.

Montreal police Chief Yvan Delorme said officers were able to respond quickly because two of them who were already at the college on a drug-related matter took action right away when they heard gunshots.

Delorme also said the lessons learned from the Montreal Massacre about the need to co-ordinate emergency services and act promptly helped save lives.

“Before, our technique was to establish a perimeter around the place and wait for the SWAT team,” Delorme said. “Now, the first police officers go right inside. The way they acted, saved lives.”

Images from cellphone cameras show several police officers confronting Gill in a deadly gunfire exchange near the college cafeteria.

Quebec provincial police said late Thursday that Gill killed himself with a bullet to the head after Montreal police shot him in the arm.

Montreal police spokesman Robert Mansueto was not ready to proclaim the officers heroes.

“Their training kicked in and they did what they had to do,” Mansueto said.

“It’s never a very pleasant event to take someone’s life .. police officers don’t become police officers to kill people, we become police officers to help people, that’s our main goal.”

Mansueto said the officers “acted and reacted the way they had to, to neutralize a threat and to help save lives.”

Andre Champagne, a spokesman for Urgences Sante, a Montreal-area emergency ambulance service, said work done in the 17 years since the Ecole polytechique carnage paid off Wednesday.

“Polytechnique was very harsh…our staff found it very difficult because they were confronted with a situation where they couldn’t go (into the engineering school) and they were blamed later on,” Champagne said.

“We felt a lot of guilt at Urgences Sante for a number of years.”

Champagne said there’s been a lot of collaboration with police, fire departments and hospitals since Polytechnique.

“It was a sad event (Wednesday) but it was a demonstration that what we’ve done in the past several years has paid off, and we were able to intervene on the scene very rapidly,” Champagne said.

Yves Francoeur, head of the Montreal police union, said he was “very satisfied” with the work done by officers on the scene.

“The armed suspect would have caused devastation and an unbelievable disaster if he he hadn’t been neutralized quickly.” he said.

Francoeur pointed out the situation was different in 1989 because it involved a hostage-taking.

“The decision taken by officers at the time was to set up a security perimeter to try to negotiate with the individual.

“But, with shots being fired at Dawson, police took the best decision under the circumstances,” Francoeur added.

The union head said since Ecole polytechnique, police have been trained specifically to enter a building as a group where gunshots have been fired.

Sylvie Haviernick, whose sister Maud was one of Lepine’s victims at the engineering school, was also impressed by the swift police response.

Haviernick, a 49-year-old pharmaceutical company worker, said many lessons learned from the 1989 tragedy likely helped to limit this week’s death toll.

“They (the police) showed that they are ready. They did their job finally fantastically. They probably saved a lot of people.”


CANOE.CA CNEWS