Six shot dead while peacefully praying and one man, Alexandre Bissonette, remains behind bars. The sole suspect in the Quebec mosque attack now faces six charges of first degree murder and five charges of attempted murder. After appearing in court, Bissonnette has yet to enter a plea.
In the time since the attack, I have had several conversations with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who remain involved in the ongoing investigation; however, RCMP media spokespeople would not confirm if mental illness is being considered as a possible motive.
However, sources close to Bissonette say the suspect reportedly suffered from severe anxiety, problems with alcohol, and was taking antidepressant medication.
Meantime, while the media and political class labelled the gruesome attack an act of terrorism shortly after the massacre took place, terrorism charges have yet to be laid; but, by virtue of the fact that RCMP remain on the case, all signs point to the fact terrorism charges are still being pursued.
To be sure, based on the charges Bissonnette now faces, if convicted, he would not be eligible for parole for some 150 years; whereas, any punishment Bissonnette could receive from a terrorism offence would not be more than that.
So, why continue to pursue terrorism? Ultimately the symbolism of terror charges carries more political weight than its actual impact on Bissonnette's sentence.
Which invites the question:
What’s the threshold that police are looking to meet in order for terror charges to be laid?
The Canadian Federal government has a list of terrorist entities but it’s possible whoever perpetrated this attack acted alone. More broadly, Canada’s criminal code defines a terror attack as an act committed “for political, religious or ideological purposes, objective or cause,” with “the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public with regard to its security.”
And so, the question becomes, did the suspect who allegedly perpetrated this attack do so for political, religious, or ideological purposes?
And, if the suspect turned himself into police and never turned the gun on himself, why does he have yet to reveal a motive?
Despite the lack of official motive to date, members of the Canadian mainstream media continue to point to two ‘likes’ on Bissonnette's facebook page for two popular politicians: US President Donald Trump and France’s Marine LePen. The police, however, have a higher threshold than two Facebook likes for determining motive.
Or do they?
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson spoke about the attack during the Senate National Security Defence Committee this week. Paulson refused to provide specific numbers of individuals or groups under investigation. However, Paulson described Bissonnette as a "criminal extremist" who allegedly perpetrated "non-classic terrorism." Paulson then went on to warn about how a caustic tone of political discourse — that is, by definition, a sarcastic or bitter tone in political discourse — can radicalize people.
Again, no evidence outside of those two Facebook likes (for Trump and LePen) have been provided to substantiate the claim that Bissonnette behaved like an extremist online.
Moreover, refugee advocacy group members who say Bissonnette was known to them as an extremist online… Well, they too have yet to provide any evidence to substantiate their claim.
In the meantime, Canada’s mainstream media has carried on with a portrait of the suspect as a right-wing extremist, while calls for more gun control abound.
Alexandre Bissonnette will next appear in court on February 21st when he is expected to enter a plea.