Survivors testify as trial of alleged Quebec sword attacker resumes after COVID delay

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QUEBEC — Survivors of a stabbing rampage in Quebec City on Halloween night 2020 testified at the murder trial of the accused Tuesday about their encounters with a methodical, emotionless attacker.

The first victim that night told the court he was out for a walk in the city's historic neighbourhood and thought it was a joke when a man wearing a costume and brandishing a sword approached him.

But Rémy Bélanger testified the man then raised the sword and he felt blows to his head, hand and back, resulting in injuries that required two weeks of hospitalization and three months in a rehabilitation facility.

Bélanger was one of several victims who took the stand to describe the rampage that claimed the lives of Suzanne Clermont, 61, and François Duchesne, 56.

Carl Girouard, 26, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder in connection with the attack. The judge has told jurors that Girouard admits to the physical acts but will argue he was not criminally responsible at the time of the events because he was suffering from a mental disorder.

Bélanger told the court he shouted for help in French and English, but two people who saw him covered in blood fled. He finally managed to make his way to the nearby Château Frontenac hotel, where employees helped him.

A musician, Bélanger had his fingers severed in the attacks, and doctors sent him to Montreal for treatment before he was hospitalized in Quebec City and underwent a lengthy rehab.

Jurors also heard from Pierre Lagrevol and Lisa Mahmoud, who also came across a man dressed in black during a stroll. Lagrevol said the man was silent and "very serene" as he methodically struck them with a sword. Lagrevol suffered cuts to his skull and shoulder.

Girouard's lawyer, Pierre Gagnon, asked the witness if there were signs of rage on the accused's face. "No, he was not in a state of shock," Lagrevol replied.

Mahmoud told jurors she thought Girouard was wearing a Halloween costume, adding that she smiled at him before being struck by the sword 13 or 14 times.

"What are you doing?" Mahmoud said she yelled at her attacker, without getting any reply from Girouard. "He was going to put the sword in my neck."

Mahmoud and Lagrevol managed to escape, but the attack continues to haunt them. "I have a lot of trouble sleeping," Mahmoud said, adding that she can't work as a hairdresser anymore.

Another victim, Gilberto Porras, told the court he was out with three friends when they came across Girouard, who wished them "Happy Halloween" before drawing his sword. He said he quickly realized the weapon was not made of rubber, and he suffered cuts to his head and a finger before he managed to escape. He spent two weeks in hospital.

Crown prosecutor Pierre-Alexandre Bernard read aloud written statements from other witnesses, including from the spouse of Clermont, who was murdered in front of her home.

"I saw that she had a deep gash in the middle of her forehead," Jacques Fortin wrote. "I tried to close the wound with my hands to hold her face together."

Quebec Superior Court Justice Richard Grenier said he appreciated lawyers' efforts to speed up the proceedings in the midst of the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The trial resumed Tuesday with 11 jurors after being suspended last Wednesday due to COVID-19 cases among the panel. According to the Criminal Code, a minimum of 10 jurors are required to deliver a verdict.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2022.

Caroline Plante, The Canadian Press

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