Two children have died and six have been injured after a city bus crashed into a daycare centre in Quebec.
Police in the city of Laval said the bus had ploughed into the centre at around 8:30am on Wednesday morning, in what witnesses described as a deliberate act.
Officials named the man behind the wheel as Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, who has been arrested on charges of homicide and dangerous driving and will appear in court on Wednesday afternoon.
According to reports, he had worked for the Société de transport de Laval (STL) for about ten years, and had no previous criminal convictions.
“From what I saw, it wasn’t an accident,” local resident Hamdi Ben Chaabane told CBC News, adding that the bus appeared to be going between 30 and 40 kph.
He then described how the driver stepped out of the bus, removed all his clothing, and began screaming incoherently, forcing Ben Chaabane and several other parents to subdue him before trying to rescue children whohad been trapped under the bus.
As many as 12 people required medical attention, with eight others taken to hospitals, according to the local ambulance service Urgences-santé.
What do we know about the bus’s movements?
Based on aerial photos and media reports, it is hard to see how the crash could have happened inadvertently if the bus was running its normal route.
According to The Toronto Star, the bus – following route number 151 – would usually drive down a long, quiet road before entering a cul-de-sac and coming back the other way.
Instead, on Wednesday morning, the bus seems to have turned sharply right into the daycare’s car park, drove straight across the lot, and struck the daycare itself, just to the right of its main entrance.
“It’s my hometown,” said Christopher Skeete, who represents the area in Quebec’s National Assembly. “You drop your kids off at the daycare and you expect you’re going to be able to go and pick them up.
“I think everybody who’s listening today should hold their kids a little tighter. It’s a sad day.”
Io Dodds9 February 2023 02:56
Flowers laid at the scene of the tragedy
Many people came to place flowers near the daycare centre where the crash happened on Wednesday.
Pictures from the scene showed bouquets and soft toys laid in the snow or on the front hoods of police cars, not only as a tribute to the dead but a sign of solidarity with the staff.
One man told Radio Canada that he felt “anger” and “rage” at the thought that someone would intentionally try to hurt children.
Io Dodds9 February 2023 01:50
Flags at half mast, lights extinguished
The flag of Quebec will be flown at half mast above the province’s National Assembly from dawn until tomorrow, prime minister François Legault has said.
The lights on Montreal Tower, originally constructed for the 1976 summer Olympics, will also be extinguished this evening, as with the lights of Montreal’s city hall.
“All of Quebec is in mourning… all my heart [is] with the victims and their loved ones,” Mr Legault said.
The premier will visit the daycare centre in Laval tomorrow to pay his respects, along with leaders of all Quebec’s three main opposition parties.
Io Dodds9 February 2023 00:53
Prosecutors say driver is mentally fit to stand trial
Bus driver Pierre Ny St-Amand has now appeared in court, via video link from the Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal.
According to Radio Canada, Mr St-Armand did not speak at all, only nodding to answer questions from Judge Serge Cimon.
Prosecutor Karine Dalphond told reporters that the accused will be transferred to a mental health hospital to undergo psychiatric evaluation, but this will only assess his dangerousness and not his fitness to stand trial.
“What we could have asked for, the Crown or the defence, is an assessment of his level of aptitude or responsibility,” she said. “But at this stage, there is no reason to ask for this kind of order.”
Mr St-Amand is charged with two premeditated murders, a number of attempted murders, two counts of aggravated assault, and two counts of assault causing bodily harm.
Io Dodds8 February 2023 22:59
‘I saw patrol officers in tears this morning’
Police officers were brought to “tears” by the situation they found at the Laval daycare, the town’s police department has said.
According to Radio Canada reporter Angie Landry, a police spokesman said: “I saw patrol officers in tears this morning. When we are patrollers, we are ready to face many situations, but when they are children, it is difficult.”
Io Dodds8 February 2023 21:55
Daycare children will be moved to other facilities
All children who attend the daycare centre will be relocated to other daycares no more than five miles away beginning from tomorrow, Quebecois family minister Suzanne Roy has confirmed.
She added that affected families can call +1 855-336-8568 for more information.
Io Dodds8 February 2023 21:28
‘Don’t confuse hatred with mental illness’
A psychiatrist in Montreal has warned the public and the media not to leap to any conclusions about the driver’s mental state.
Marie-Eve Cotton, a clinical professor at the University of Montreal and a mental health columnist, posted on Facebook earlier today: “Please do not diagnose mental illness until a psychiatrist assesses the bus driver and makes a decision.”
Early reports have described the driver as seeming to be “in another world”, stripping naked after exiting the crashed bus and yelling incoherently.
But Dr Cotton notes that after a spate of stabbings near Quebec’s parliament building in 2020, “everyone cried schizophrenia”. Although the perpetrator argued in court that he was suffering from psychosis, a jury eventually convicted him of first degree murder.
“Hatred is not a mental illness. Continually confusing the two stigmatises people with mental illnesses, who are more at risk of being abused than being violent,” Dr Cotton went on.
Officials have said they do not yet know the motive for this incident.
Io Dodds8 February 2023 21:03
Six children in hospital, including two in critical care
Here’s what hospital officials have said about the situation.
Dr Marc Girard, a spokesperson for St Justine’s Children’s Hospital in Montreal, said it had admitted two boys and two girls, all between the ages of three and five, with “various types of trauma”, according to local broadcaster CTV News.
The hospital issued a code orange alert to free up resources, and one of the children is now in intensive care. Mr Girard said that their lives are not in danger.
Two more children with more serious injuries were sent to another hospital in Laval.
“It is very difficult to see how situation will evolve in young children, but we want to make sure that they go back to their normal lives,” Mr Girard said.
Io Dodds8 February 2023 20:37
Justin Trudeau mourns ‘the biggest nightmare imaginable’
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has made a statement about the incident in Parliament.
“I can’t imagine what these families are going through now. The families and loved ones of the two children we lost, and the others who are seriously injured, it is […] the biggest nightmare imaginable for all parents,” Mr Trudeau said before beginning the daily ministerial questions period.
“We will be there for the days, months and years of mourning to come.”
The House observed a minute of silence at the beginning of the question session in honour of the victims and their families.
Io Dodds8 February 2023 20:15
Bus driver to appear in court today
The alleged bus driver Pierre Ny St-Amand will appear before court via a video link late this afternoon local time, Radio Canada reports.
Officials say he will be charged with dangerous driving and murder.
Io Dodds8 February 2023 20:07