Three Quebec cases of domestic homicide with multiple victims have produced a grim tally that has shocked the province: Nine dead in 13 days.
The killings vary in method, location and in the relationships between alleged killer and victims, but share several common traits: The principal targets have died at home, allegedly at the hands of male loved ones or acquaintances who have wiped out anyone else who happened to be in the house.
In the latest case, Guillaume Gélinas, a military reservist, was in court Monday to face a charge of first-degree murder in the deaths of his father, Luc Gélinas, and Julie Lemieux, his father’s partner, in their suburban home near Montreal. Friends and neighbours described tensions between father and son.
The deaths – frequently captured in French in Quebec by the shorthand expression drame familiale, or family drama – have caused a stir in a province with a homicide rate consistently below the national average.
An author who has examined the copycat phenomenon in suicides, murders and other violent crime believes the alleged killers may be taking inspiration from prior cases. Other experts caution grim coincidence is a more likely explanation.
Loren Coleman, the author of The Copycat Effect, says clusters of such crimes sometimes take place when distressed people on the cusp of striking out may “realize the possibility” of their violent fantasy when they see other cases.
The deaths of Mr. Gélinas and Ms. Lemieux, both well-regarded managers at the provincial liquor Crown corporation, fall on the heels of a case where a 17-year-old boy described as a love-struck obsessive, and an alleged accomplice, were accused of killing a teenaged girl along with her boyfriend and sister.
In another case that took place south of Quebec City, a man is accused of killing his two daughters along with his ex-wife and her new partner.
“Copycat crimes are really difficult to establish, and they don’t usually involve homicides,” said Frankie Bailey, a criminologist at the University of Albany. “Family tension is common, but murders are rare. So it’s not because you hear of a case that you will discover this is a solution. But it is possible seeing or hearing about other cases could reinforce the idea they already had in their heads that this is a way out.”
Quebec’s most infamous recent domestic homicide took place in 2009, when cardiologist Guy Turcotte allegedly killed his two children. Mr. Turcotte was initially found not criminally responsible, but the verdict was set aside due to procedural errors and the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. The Crown maintains he killed the children in a fit of rage against his ex-wife.
The case prompted Quebec to strike a committee to study domestic homicide. It found the number of intra-family killings in Quebec has remained stable at 30 to 35 per year, despite a spate of recent high-profile cases. The committee’s 2012 report suggested beefing up the psychological care available to people suffering from family breakup.
Canada’s and Quebec’s rates of domestic homicide have declined for decades, but Neil Boyd, the head of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said they remain the largest segment of multiple killings in Canada. He said the breakdown of intimate relationships and the presence of feelings of anger and revenge remain the biggest risk factors for domestic homicide. External inspiration is “highly unlikely” to play a role because of the very specific nature of the crime, he said.
Steven Stack, a criminologist who has studied patterns in domestic murder-suicides, said there’s some evidence in the United States that mass murder-suicides have triggered imitators. “It’s plausible there may be copycat homicide-suicides, especially if they are given a lot of media attention,” said the professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. But, Dr. Stack cautioned, there is little academic research specific to whether domestic homicide inspires imitation.