Quebec City sword attacker has narcissistic personality disorder, says Crown expert

·4 min read
Neuropsychologist Dr. William Pothier, right, met Carl Girouard twice in March 2022. He is pictured walking with psychiatrist Dr. Sylvain Faucher, left, at the Quebec City courthouse Friday. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Neuropsychologist Dr. William Pothier, right, met Carl Girouard twice in March 2022. He is pictured walking with psychiatrist Dr. Sylvain Faucher, left, at the Quebec City courthouse Friday. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Carl Girouard, the man charged in the Quebec City Halloween sword attacks of 2020, has narcissistic personality disorder, the Crown's first expert witness testified Tuesday.

As Girouard listened, rocking back and forth in his seat, neuropsychologist Dr. William Pothier refuted the idea advanced by the defence team's expert witness that the accused was psychotic when he killed two people and attacked five more on Oct. 31, 2020.

The defence argues Girouard cannot be held criminally responsible for his actions because he had a mental disorder at the time that prevented him from distinguishing right from wrong.

Pothier met Girouard twice in March 2022. His job was to determine whether the 26-year-old defendant had a psychotic disorder or if other elements of his personality could explain his actions.

Pothier said narcissistic personality disorder usually begins to manifest in childhood, and that psychologists' reports from Girouard's youth show evidence of that.

The neuropsychologist said Girouard would act inappropriately and try to make people laugh to attract attention. When Girouard started getting rejected and intimidated by his peers, his self-esteem plunged and he started isolating himself to avoid further rejection.

Illustration by Hbé
Illustration by Hbé

As Girouard started playing video games and retreating into a world of fantasy where he could be a hero, he became disappointed with society and started thinking other people were sheep and didn't appreciate who he was, Pothier said.

"That triggers a feeling of superiority," Pothier told the jury. It's at that time Girouard's narcissistic personality disorder started developing, the expert said.

The fact that Girouard kept perfecting his plan to kill people with a sword and was very concerned with the image he would project further points to this diagnosis, Pothier said.

Pothier explained that as a neuropsychologist, his job is to do a clinical assessment of a person, but that it's up to a psychiatrist to determine whether or not that person was conscious of what they were doing.

Pothier's testimony will continue Tuesday. The Crown plans to call one more expert witness to testify, psychiatrist Dr. Sylvain Faucher, later this week.

Crown questions bias of defence expert

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

Another expert, the psychiatrist who testified that Carl Girouard was likely in a state of psychosis when he carried out the attack, found his own actions under the microscope at the trial today.

The Crown played an interview that Dr. Gilles Chamberland gave to a radio station less than 12 hours after the attack in which he said the suspect was likely in psychosis.

Dave St-Amant/CBC
Dave St-Amant/CBC

In a tense cross-interrogation, Crown prosecutors asking Chamberland whether his opinion of Girouard's mental state had already been formed months before the two actually met.

Prosecutor François Godin asked the psychiatrist whether he was familiar with the concept of confirmation bias — when someone interprets new information in a way that supports their initial beliefs or theory.

Chamberland said it was "absolutely false" to say that his mind had been made up before he saw Girouard and denied trying to match his diagnosis with what he told the media right after the attacks.

The doctor said he based his statements in the interview on what he knew at the time, for example that Girouard was wearing a bizarre costume. He said the information when he met the defendant confirmed what he thought initially.

He added that he isn't the type of person who refuses to change his mind, saying for example, that in a previous trial he changed his opinions after two years of working on a case.

Girouard fell between cracks

Screenshot/Video provided by the Service de police de la Ville de Québec
Screenshot/Video provided by the Service de police de la Ville de Québec

Earlier in the day, Chamberland testified that Girouard was not deemed an immediate threat when, at the age of 18, he first told a social worker and a school counsellor of his plan to kill people with a sword. And so, he was not fast-tracked to see a psychiatrist.

The doctor said that even if his family had gotten a prescription for an emergency visit with a psychiatrist, it probably wouldn't have been enough to force Girouard into treatment.

While Girouard's plan had disturbing elements, it was still "blurry" so it's likely police wouldn't have been able to arrest him at the time, because they didn't have enough evidence that the young man planned to act imminently, Chamberland said.

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