The man accused in the 2020 Quebec City sword attacks testified in his murder trial on Wednesday, telling the jury that by the time he turned 18, he had become obsessed with an urge to complete a mission — one that required him to kill people and then to die.
“The mission was of the utmost importance,” Carl Girouard told jurors. “It had to be accomplished at all costs. It wasn’t a desire … it was a duty.”
The 26-year-old man has acknowledged he carried out the Halloween night attacks that left two people dead and five injured but says he cannot be held criminally responsible for his actions because he was mentally unstable at the time.
Wearing a white shirt and shackles on his ankles and wrists, Girouard took the stand in the morning, shortly after his mother’s testimony.
During the cross-examination, the defendant admitted to understanding that his plan was illegal as early as 2015, when he confided in his former social worker that he wanted to modify it because he was scared of going to prison.
Girouard also confirmed that he understood that attacking someone with a sword could hurt them, in reference to something he had told another former counsellor in 2014.
But for him at the time, “the pain it causes people — it’s not pain, it’s necessary,” he testified.
He said he felt controlled by the mission he had.
“Doing evil, it was doing good, that’s what it was for me.”
Girouard’s mother cried as her son described the attacks.
The jury listened as he testified that he felt scared and hesitant in the moments before carrying out the assaults but still went ahead with it because he felt compelled to.
He said he had to force himself to feel angry to act, but the anger only really kicked in once he failed to kill his first victim, Rémy Bélanger.
“Why was I failing what I was supposed to succeed [in doing],” he said he thought at the time. He said this drove him to kill François Duchesne, his second victim.
Girouard said he started understanding what he had done and regretting his actions after he killed Suzanne Clermont, and then attacked a group of young men.
As he hid from the police, he told the jury he asked himself repeatedly why he had done it.
“What was the logic in doing that?” he recalled thinking, “but it was already too late.”
Girouard said that his life before the attacks was one where he kept his distance from others, rarely staying in the same job for long, not dating.
“I needed to kill people in my mission, and the idea of that [made it] uncomfortable for me to get close to people.”
He felt torn between two personalities — “two Carls in his head” — one real and one on a mission.
His notion of an alternate reality started in high school, when he was about 15 and starting to play video games that involved violence, fighting, swords and medieval settings, he said.
A message to ‘alter egos’
The young man, who is from Sainte-Thérèse, Que., near Montreal, said he didn’t like the modern world, that there were too many cars, people didn’t say hi to each other and everyone was forced to dress to conform.
He wanted to create chaos to change the world and inspire what he called his “alter egos” — people with similar goals on similar “secret missions” —to follow his example.
That’s why he chose Halloween 2020, a night with a full moon and Old Quebec, he said. He felt the setting was right to send a message.
Girouard said he initially had a few places in mind but that Quebec City’s historic district interested him because it reminded him of his video games with its statues and older buildings.
Behavioural issues since childhood
The first witness for the defence was Girouard’s mother, Monique Dalphond, who told the court that her son had had behavioural and mental issues since childhood.
He started acting inappropriately as early as kindergarten, she said, when he got into trouble for chasing older girls at school and trying to kiss them.
He was antisocial and didn’t have any friends or hobbies throughout his youth, she said, and he preferred playing video games such as Call of Duty: Warzone instead.
She said her son started developing an interest in swords and samurai costumes in 2014, when he turned 18 and was able to get a credit card to purchase them.
“He said it was a collection,” the mother said. She testified he was constantly upgrading swords.
“For sure I was worried but it’s his only interest,” she said, explaining that she didn’t try to stop it because he looked happy.
By 2016, she was even more concerned.
“I noticed something very worrisome: Carl would talk alone in his shower and he would laugh alone,” she said. But when she would ask him who he was speaking to, he would go silent.
Dalphond, who hasn’t worked since the attacks, said her son moved out in 2019.
Over the next few days, Girouard’s lawyer, Pierre Gagnon, will also bring in a psychiatrist and a guard at the detention centre where his client is being held in order to convince the jury that Girouard cannot be held criminally responsible for the attacks.
The defence is leaning on section 16 of Canada’s Criminal Code, which states that a person can be found not criminally responsible for a crime they have committed if they had mental disorders preventing them from understanding the nature of their actions, or understanding that what they did was wrong.
Crown prosecutor François Godin is expected to bring in a neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist in response to the defence’s evidence, to prove that Girouard was sane and understood what he was doing.