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Why Republicans and Democrats are fighting a U.S. presidential election campaign battle in Canada – CBC.ca

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The U.S. election is being fought on Canadian soil, too.

Both the Republicans and Democrats are pushing for a share of the 620,000 Americans living in Canada who are eligible to vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

With tight races in battleground states like Michigan and Florida, where some of the latest polls have Joe Biden and Donald Trump neck and neck only a few weeks before the election, both parties hope that votes coming from Canada will make the difference in this election.

“We can’t sit back anymore,” says Heather Peterson, 37, as she plants a sign on a front lawn in St. Catharines, Ont., that reads “Americans can vote from Canada.”

Peterson was born in Buffalo and votes in New York state, but lives as a landed immigrant in St. Catharines. Three months ago, she helped start a brand new Niagara chapter of a group called Democrats Abroad Canada.

Peterson’s goal is to motivate as many Americans on the Canadian side of the border as she can to vote for Joe Biden.

“What’s on the ballot for me this time around is voting for women’s rights, Black rights, gay rights,” Peterson said.

“I am just seeing this dark cloud over everything. I wish there was something brighter in the world again.”

Heather Peterson is an American living in St. Catharines, Ont. Just three months ago she helped create a brand new chapter of Democrats Abroad Canada to get as many of the 620,000 Americans on this side of the border as possible to vote for Joe Biden. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

When asked what another four years of the Trump presidency would mean to her, Peterson can’t hold back her tears.

“I don’t want to think about it,” she said. “I am so broken that I can’t. I just have a fear that if it continues down this path, that we won’t be able to undo it anymore.”

Peterson admits she won’t say Donald Trump’s name out loud, because she dislikes the president so much. “His name infuriates me,” she says.

‘The Trump effect’

“American democracy is on the ballot this time around,” said Steve Nardi from his backyard in Mississauga, Ont.

Nardi is the chair of Democrats Abroad Canada. And while he doesn’t support Donald Trump in any way, he says the president has done wonders for the growth of his organization.

Nardi says his membership has grown by 73 per cent over the past four years, with 35 per cent of that occurring in the past seven months. The increase in membership has been so strong that in the past two years Democrats Abroad Canada hasn’t just opened the new chapter in Ontario’s Niagara region, there are also new ones in Windsor, Ont., and in the Atlantic provinces.

“People are angry, people want to make a change,” he said. “And they are finally beginning to hear the message that they are eligible to vote, even if they live outside the U.S.”

Steve Nardi lives in Mississauga, where he is the chair of Democrats Abroad Canada. He points out that Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016 by just 10,704 votes. He believes there are enough voters living in Canada who vote in Michigan to help win the state for Joe Biden this time around. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

While there are roughly 620,000 Americans who are eligible to vote from Canada, most of them don’t. Four years ago fewer than 33,000 cast ballots.

Nardy says he’s working hard to double that number.

He has 400 volunteers working to get out the vote — 150 of them are making calls to reach potential U.S. voters across Canada.

“My life is head-down, focus on this game,” Nardi said.

“On the morning of Nov. 4, my team and I need to wake up and know that we have put everything in the tank on the table, into the game. No ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.'”

One state Nardi and the Democrats are targeting is Michigan — where he himself votes.

Trump won the state by only 10,704 votes in 2016, and Nardi insists at least that many Democrat Michiganders live in Canadian border cities like Windsor. That’s why Democrats Abroad have run ads in local media and on buses.

“I strongly believe the Michigan vote is there,” Nardi said.

Steve Nardi, the chair of Democrats Abroad in Canada, thinks American voters in Canada have a good chance to influence results in Michigan – a perennial swing state. ‘In the Windsor area there were almost 30,000 individuals who identify as being U.S. born,’ he said. ‘They are all eligible to vote.’ (Nick Purdon/CBC)

There’s another reason Nardi is so committed to winning this election — it’s become personal for him.

As the only Democrat in his family, he admits that the past four years have been taxing.

“I called my father three days after the election [in 2016],” Nardi remembers.

“It was veterans day in the U.S. He’s a Silver Star medalist, so I called him to thank him for his service, and he gloated. It was the heartiest laugh that I had heard in 20 years from him. And all I said was, ‘what concerns me is the unbottling of hate that this man [Trump] seemed to have uncorked.’ And he yelled at me for 20 minutes. That broke my heart.”

Nardi says he and his father have come to a truce.

“Politics is a third rail,” he said. “We stay away from that, but if he puts on Fox News, things go downhill.”

With only a few weeks until the election, Nardi says he is cautiously optimistic that he’ll get the win he wants so badly.

Republicans overseas

Ask the chair of Republicans overseas, Toronto lawyer Mark Feigenbaum, who he’ll vote for in 2020 and he just laughs.

“Well, that’s a secret ballot,” he says. “I vote in California — I’ll leave it to you to figure out who I voted for.”

While California has tilted to the Democrats in every election since 1992, Feigenbaum still makes a point to cast his ballot.

Feigenbaum is a tax lawyer and has been involved with Republicans Overseas since 2000. He’s aware that his organization isn’t doing as much in Canada to get out the vote as the Democrats — but he’s not worried.

Mark Feigenbaum is a Toronto lawyer and the chair of the Canadian chapter of Republicans Overseas. He votes in California. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

“The Democrats are really motivated because they have a fear that people aren’t going to vote,” Feigenbaum said.

“They are coming up from behind at this point and trying to win this election — and so you ask me why are they so active? Well, that in itself is an admission that they have a lot of work to do to win this thing.”

Feigenbaum says he hopes all Americans who are eligible to cast ballots from Canada will vote, but he isn’t convinced that Democrats Abroad Canada can make a difference in battleground states like Michigan.

“I think they are trying, but there are so many Republicans everywhere that are gonna vote, that want the current government, that as much as they [the Democrats] try they are going to fall short,” he said.

‘The most important election of my lifetime’

Not every Republican voting from Canada is as confident.

Georganne Burke introduces herself as an “unabashed supporter of Donald Trump.” She says it worries her that the Republicans are less active in Canada.

“I am just fearful that If the Democrats are in power, they will undo all the good things  and there are many good things that Donald Trump has done over the past four years — I think they will undo them,” she said.

“I think they will hurt the economy. I think they will continue to divide the country. So I am extremely worried.”

Georganne Burke calls herself ‘an unabashed supporter of Donald Trump.’ She votes in the swing state of Florida, where some recent polls have Trump and Biden neck and neck. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

Burke has been a political operative in the United States and Canada for years, and she is the senior vice-president of a government relations company called The Pathway Group. However, for the next few weeks she will be campaign manager for Julius Tiangson, the Canadian Conservative candidate in the Oct. 26 federal by-election in the riding of York Centre. It’s fair to say that elections are in her blood.

“I believe that the vote, and the actual ballot itself, is a sacred thing,” she said.

“I can’t express enough how important and sacred and what a duty it is to vote in an appropriate and ethical way. I haven’t missed a single election in the U.S. in all the years I have lived in Canada,” Burke added.

“It matters a lot to me to continue to vote. I am very devoted to voting and I will do it until my last breath.”

Burke casts her ballot in the swing state of Florida where Trump won in 2016 by a little more than 100,000 votes. She knows it will likely be just as close this time around.

“Maybe he will win by one vote, and maybe that one vote will be mine.

“This election is so crucial to what the heart of the U.S. is and what it stands for,” she added. “I am worried, and I am not even sure the election is going to fix the problem. This is, without question, the single most important election of my lifetime.”

That sentiment seems to be shared by both Republicans and Democrats on this side of the border in the run-up to Nov. 3.

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U.S. oil giant Exxon set to announce layoffs in Canada – CBC.ca

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Exxon Mobil Corp is “very close” to completing its workforce appraisals in the United States and Canada and expects to unveil job cuts, its chief executive told employees in an email on Wednesday.

The second-largest U.S. oil company by market value lost nearly $1.7 billion US in the first six months of the current fiscal year and analysts forecast a third-quarter $1.17 billion loss, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The job cuts are part of a plan unveiled this spring to redesign how Exxon works and to increase competitiveness, CEO Darren Woods said in an email to its nearly 75,000-person workforce.

Exxon has exceeded a target of reducing operating expenses by $1 billion and capital budget spending by $10 billion, he wrote. But the COVID-19 pandemic has cut oil demand by about 20 per cent, he said, delivering a “devastating impact” on the oil business.

Woods told employees that “we are very close” to completing the jobs review and that they could expect details soon after the company’s board of directors is briefed.

“I wish I could say we were finished, but we are not. We still have some significant headwinds, more work to do and, unfortunately, further reductions are necessary,” he said in the email.

Exxon was slower than rivals to react to this year’s oil price decline and borrowed $23 billion US to shore up a balance sheet strained by the losses and a nearly $15 billion US annual dividend payment to shareholders.

Royal Dutch Shell and BP have outlined up to 15 per cent workforce cuts while Chevron has asked employees to reapply for their jobs.

Woods said the demand loss is five times the decline of the 2008 financial crisis, but “industry under-investment today will increase the need for our products in the near future.”

All oil companies face the same loss of demand, but Exxon has the burden of promising to keep its huge dividend without adding new debt, said Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov. U.S. oil prices must rise another $10 a barrel to cover the payout without borrowing, he estimates.

“If management has to walk back their pledge” not to issue new debt to protect the dividend, “it would damage credibility,” Molchanov said.

Exxon’s dividend yield, the percent of the share price paid annually to holders, was 10.3 per cent, the largest among major oil companies and another sign of Exxon’s weak finances.

Its shares fell 1.6 per cent to $33.14 on Wednesday as oil prices declined on worries that the COVID-19 infections are on the rise globally. The stock is trading near a 18-year low.

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How Doug Ford's COVID-19 legislation helps advance his party's agenda – CBC.ca

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Premier Doug Ford is facing accusations of using the response to COVID-19 as a guise to advance his political interests. 

Two new pieces of legislation that the government portrays as helping the province recover from the effects of COVID-19 contain provisions unrelated to the pandemic.  

The government’s proposed Better for People, Smarter for Business Act — framed as boosting the economy by reducing red tape — would transform Canada Christian College into a university with the power to grant bachelor of science and arts degrees.

The college is run by the prominent conservative evangelical pastor Charles McVety, a staunch ally of Ford and opponent of previous Liberal reforms to Ontario’s sex education curriculum. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the government tabled a separate bill to shield organizations from legal liability for spreading COVID-19, provided that they tried to follow public health guidelines. Included in that bill is legislation to ban Ontario municipalities from using ranked ballots in the 2022 elections for mayor and council. 

Charles McVety is president of Canada Christian College and a donor to Doug Ford’s PC leadership campaign. The Ford government has introduced legislation that would make the college a university and give it the power to grant bachelor of arts and science degrees. (CBC)

“To the extent that they’re using the pandemic as cover for these controversial initiatives, it just stinks to high heaven,” said Emmett Macfarlane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.

The politics of omnibus bills

Governments of all political stripes — both at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa — have long used so-called omnibus bills to pass measures without the level of scrutiny they would receive in standalone legislation. 

By putting unrelated items into bills that are supposed to be about COVID-19, the Ford government’s tactics could be considered worse than the typical omnibus bill, says Macfarlane. 

“It does make one wonder to what extent the government was trying to sneak certain controversial amendments through,” he said in an interview with CBC News. 

The move to give Canada Christian College university status is coming under fire in large part because of McVety’s political ties, his stance on sex ed and his views on same-sex marriage.

The Progressive Conservative campaign team selected McVety to be among the few attending the first leaders’ debate in the province’s 2018 election campaign. The reverend sat with some of Ford’s top advisers. McVety did not respond on Wednesday to CBC’s requests for an interview. 

WATCH / Doug Ford on Canada Christian College:

Ontario’s premier says the Canada Christian College’s request to grant degrees is going through the appropriate channels. 0:43

“I have a lot of friends within churches and in colleges,” Ford said Wednesday when asked about McVety. “He went through the process like every other college, and the process is independent.”  

However, CBC News has learned that Canada Christian College has not actually completed Ontario’s official independent process for approving degree programs. 

The province’s Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board, the independent agency that considers applications for new degree programs and makes recommendations to the minister for approval, is in the midst of considering two applications from Canada Christian College.

One of the applications is to change its name to Canada University and School of Graduate Theological Studies. The other proposal, submitted last month, is to create new Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree programs. In both cases, the board is yet to make any recommendation for approval.

A spokesperson for Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano said the college’s applications are currently under review by the board and said the legislation will not come into effect until after the reviews are complete.

Laura Mae Lindo, the NDP’s anti-racism critic, raised the issue of Canada Christian College in the legislature this week. ‘Why does this government continue to use the cover of a pandemic to make good on back room deals with the Premier’s friends?’ she asked during question period. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The college seems to think approval for the arts and science degrees is in the bag. 

“The present legislation governing the college has disallowed further enhancements of our educational offerings in the liberal arts and sciences,” says the college’s 2020-25 academic plan. “We expect this situation will be rectified in the coming months.”

Canada Christian College currently has the legal authority to grant degrees only in such fields as theology, religious education and Christian counselling.

“Charles McVety has a history of making Islamophobic and homophobic statements and for using Canada Christian College, of which he is the president, to host Islamophobic speeches,” the NDP’s anti-racism critic, Laura Mae Lindo, in question period this week.

“Why does this government continue to use the cover of a pandemic to make good on back room deals with the Premier’s friends?” Lindo asked

The government’s response didn’t directly address her question.

London was the first city in Canada to adopt a ranked ballot system for its municipal election. Others may not have a chance: One of the bills the Progressive Conservatives introduced this week would scrap ranked ballots at the municipal level. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

The province is “establishing an equal playing field for our post-secondary institutions to compete and attract world-class talent from around Ontario and abroad,” said  David Piccini, parliamentary secretary to Romano. 

Canada Christian College “simply isn’t on par with any other university in the province,” said Macfarlane. “This seems to be nothing more than a reward to a friend of the premier in a bill that that is presumably about COVID.”

The government is also facing criticism over its other recent move to insert unrelated legislation into a COVID-focused bill: scrapping ranked ballots at the municipal level.

In that system, voters rank all candidates in an election instead of simply choosing just one. If no one is ranked first on 50 per cent of the ballots cast, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and their votes go to the second-ranked candidate on each ballot. The process is repeated for multiple rounds until someone surpasses 50 per cent of the votes.

London used ranked balloting in its municipal election in 2018. Voters in Kingston and Cambridge approved plans to switch to the method for 2022, and other municipalities have been considering such reforms.

Ford won PC leadership on ranked ballot

The existing first-past-the-post system typically sees candidates win with far less than 50 per cent of the vote, but ranked ballots are “a small and simple change that make local elections more fair and friendly” said Dave Meslin of Unlock Democracy Canada, an electoral reform advocacy group. 

Ontario’s existing legislation for municipal elections “lets cities decide if they want to use ranked ballots or not,” Meslin said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning.

And why a former city council candidate says the Ford government’s move is robbing Toronto of better representation 1:59

“What Doug Ford is doing is more of an iron fist approach, saying, ‘Well, we’re just going to ban ranked ballots. No one is allowed to use them anywhere.'”

Ford says first-past-the-post is simple and voters “don’t have to be confused” by another system.

“We’ve been voting this way since 1867. We don’t need any more complications of ranked ballots,” the premier said Wednesday.

Dave Meslin, the creative director of electoral reform advocacy group Unlock Democracy Canada, pointed out the current legislation gives municipalities a choice on whether they want to use ranked ballots. (Supplied)

Almost every political party in Canada uses a ranked ballot system to choose its leader. Ford won the Ontario PC leadership on a ranked ballot vote in 2018.  

“This is another gross abuse of power from a government that continuously undermines local democracy with snap decisions,” said Green Party leader Mike Schreiner in a statement. “These overnight changes totally disrespect the rights of municipalities to improve democracy and encourage diversity on city council.”

There’s some evidence the government was hoping the move would slip under the radar.

The day before the legislation was tabled, officials with the attorney general provided multiple media outlets (including CBC News) with advance copies of the news release, so that stories about the COVID-19 liability protection measures could be published as soon as the bill was introduced.

Those advance copies of the news release did not mention the provision to ban ranked ballots.

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Deadly day, lasting impact – CBC.ca

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Every year on Oct. 22, former House of Commons security guard Maurice Montpetit makes a solemn pilgrimage to the National War Memorial before heading to Parliament Hill.

He stands at the spot where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, was gunned down in 2014 before the sentry’s killer, armed with a rifle and a long knife, raced up the Hill and stormed Centre Block.

That day, Montpetit spent hours locked down in the antechamber and lobbies outside the House of Commons, comforting the MPs and others hiding there. Sometimes he carried a handgun, but that day he was unarmed.

“There were MPs who were scared. An MP had her baby with her. Some MPs wanted to get out through windows and construction scaffoldings. I kept telling them, we don’t know what is outside. Stay inside,” he recalled six years later.

Montpetit, seen here in a still from a video taken the day of the shooting, was among about 30 House of Commons guards on duty when the gunman burst through the doors of Centre Block and began firing. The next day, he returned to his post ‘as if nothing had happened,’ he said. (Radio-Canada)

Confusion reigned. At one point, Montpetit heard over his radio that there could be as many as 13 gunmen on the building’s roof. 

The fallout was long-lasting.

“For three years I comforted people. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t talk about the shooting.”

Breakdown came 3 years later

Eventually, that took its toll on Montpetit. One morning in November 2017, more than three years after the attack, everything came to a crashing halt.

“Usually, I would have gone for coffee, stopped at the gym, but I did not do any of these things. I went to my locker to get ready. It took me about three hours to get dressed,” Montpetit recalled. The intense fatigue he suddenly felt was tinged with terror.

“I was afraid I would see something coming out of a corner. I felt that I was totally out of control. I finished my day and then I cried, because I knew I wasn’t coming back the next day.”

Radio-Canada has learned that out of the approximately 30 House of Commons security guards on duty when the shooting occurred, at least 13 have since suffered serious psychological problems. One has taken his own life.

Montpetit said he wishes all the guards had been convened for a debrief following the attack. Instead, he said he returned to work the next day “as if nothing had happened.”

Louis Létourneau was decorated with the Star of Courage for his part in stopping the gunman, but later began experiencing severe anxiety. ‘It’s a pressure that is there, that stays there, no matter what you do or what you’re thinking about.’ (Emilien Juteau/Radio-Canada)

‘The Hill is a bad place for me now’

While returning regularly to the scene of the shooting has been an important aspect of Montpetit’s therapy, his former colleague Louis Létourneau can’t bring himself to go back.

“I try to avoid Parliament Hill,” the Gatineau resident said. “My psychologist is in Ottawa. Technically, it would be shorter to drive near Parliament Hill. But I make a detour. The Hill is a bad place for me now.”

I emptied my cartridge. Fifteen bullets. I didn’t give him a chance to shoot back at me.– Louis Létourneau, retired Parliament Hill security guard

On Oct. 22, 2014, Létourneau was standing in the Hall of Honour, between Centre Block’s main entrance and the Library of Parliament, when he heard a boom. He turned his head to see the assailant at the top of the stairs, rifle in hand.

“I said to myself, ‘There is no way you’re going to stop me from seeing my kids tonight,'” Létourneau said. “He didn’t stop running. I emptied my cartridge. Fifteen bullets. I didn’t give him a chance to shoot back at me.” 

He reloaded and shot twice more. Bullets from Létourneau’s gun were among the 31 that struck the attacker. Létourneau was later decorated with the Star of Courage by the former governor general for his part in that day.

Const. Louis Létourneau shakes hands with Governor General David Johnston after receiving the Star of Courage at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Haunted by flashbacks

Létourneau’s retirement, forced by his post-traumatic stress disorder, became permanent just a few weeks ago. Vivid flashbacks still haunt him.

“The first gunshot, when he enters the main door, and probably the end of the event, when I see him on the ground with the blood coming out. Those are the images that always come back.”

Like Montpetit, Létourneau felt fatigued, but in his case it happened about two months after the shooting.

“I would be at work, and as soon as I had a 30-minute break I would go to the constables’ room and take a power nap. That’s something that had never happened to me before. I could do 13-, 15-, 16-hour days without having to lie down.”

About 30 House of Commons security guards were on duty when the gunman stormed Centre Block. (Radio-Canada)

Létourneau’s demeanour took a dark turn. “I would blow up for no reason,” he said. He first left his job in 2015, one year after the shooting. He tried to return progressively the following year, but it didn’t work out and he left again.

He still has difficulty concentrating and suffers bouts of depression, but said the anxiety is the worst symptom. “Anxiety is the toughest thing. It’s like a ball in here,” Létourneau said, pointing to his chest. “It’s a pressure that is there, that stays there, no matter what you do or what you’re thinking about.”

Suffering widespread

According to the president of the Union of Officers of the Parliamentary Protective Service, Létourneau and Montpetit are hardly alone.

“The great majority of officers in the Parliamentary Precinct buildings on duty that day have suffered at different levels from the events,” said Roch Lapensée.

That includes the guard who took his own life a little over three years after the attack. According to the man’s sister, he was never the same after the events of Oct. 22, 2014.

Eight months after the attack, the House of Commons and Senate security services were merged into the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS), under the direction of the RCMP. (Simon Lasalle/Radio-Canada)

Radio-Canada has interviewed several guards and supervisors, and has identified at least 13 House of Commons security guards who suffered serious mental health problems. Every interviewee agreed the way they were treated after the attack only contributed to their stress.

Following the shooting, the Harper government moved quickly to reform Parliament Hill security. Eight months after the attack, the House of Commons and Senate security services, which were in charge of security inside the Parliament Buildings, and the RCMP unit that was in charge of security on the Hill, were merged into the new Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS). Management of this new service was handed over to the RCMP.

“The guys felt like they had been shoved aside,” Létourneau said. “‘You did a good job, but now we’re the ones in charge.'”

‘Heroes to zeros’ 

Security guards who had never carried a weapon suddenly had to undergo firearms training. The new “protection officers” were expected to perform a job similar to that of RCMP officers, but for less pay.

In 2017, the RCMP reprimanded guards who wore hats with the word “respect” as a sign of protest.

“We went from heroes to zeros,” said Jean-Louis Franchi, another former security guard who was on duty the day of the shooting, and who has also suffered from psychological problems.

“When there is a suicide amongst your security guards, you’d think that as a boss you would ask yourself questions. The employer will tell you it offered psychological support to the employees, but where is the moral support, the respect? The guys did heroic acts and you reprimand them because they are asking for better salaries and respect?”

Some PPS officers were reprimanded for wearing hats with the word ‘respect’ on them. ‘The guys did heroic acts and you reprimand them because they are asking for better salaries and respect?’ asked one former guard. (Simon Lasalle/Radio-Canada)

PPS responds

In a statement to Radio-Canada, PPS wrote: “We take mental health issues very seriously. We have initiated a series of mental health and wellness activities for all our staff. Our goal is to make sure our staff have access to the proper mental health support they need.”

The labour dispute lasted until the end of 2019 when the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board granted the officers a wage increase.

Létourneau said psychological help was offered on the evening of the shooting to the small group of guards who had been directly involved, but he believes their employer should have done a better job watching for mental problems surfacing long afterward.

In his case, it came down to colleagues telling him he didn’t seem well and recommending he seek help.

For some of the Parliament Hill security guards on duty on Oct. 22, 2014, the trauma of the day has had a lasting impact. 2:49

Oct. 22 remains a painful anniversiry for Létourneau and Montpetit, but they are now learning to cope with the horror of that day thanks to the professional help they both sought.

“It saved my life,” Létourneau said. “It’s something you have to do for yourself first, and for your family.”

“You will hit the bottom and even beyond before you go back up. It’s normal,” said Montpetit, who now tries to find peace of mind by doing what he likes best: music and camping.

Now, the two men have agreed to share their stories to encourage others who are struggling with similar issues to seek psychological help.


Need help? Here are some mental health resources:

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