Violence in a public place

Public places are sometimes the scene of violent acts that can involve the use of firearms, explosives or chemical agents. It is difficult to prevent such acts from occurring. However, simple steps can prevent a number of hazards or reduce the impact of certain acts.

There are certain steps you can take to reduce hazards:

Stay alert

The following steps can prevent or reduce the impact of a violent act:

  • Comply with the safety instructions in place.
  • Locate the emergency exits.
  • Trust your intuition and report to the security services on the premises anything unusual that causes you to suspect that a malicious act is about to take place (it is better to be mistaken than to regret not having acted).
  • Never agree to look after a package or luggage for a stranger.
  • Follow the instructions of the authorities in the event of a threat, for example if you are asked to evacuate the premises.
  • Learn how to administer first aid to an injured person.

Exercise good judgment

If you witness violence:

  • Do not do anything that would put your life or that of others in danger.
  • Call 911 to alert emergency services of the situation. Describe the situation clearly.
  • Provide assistance to injured victims and, when all danger is past, comfort witnesses who are in shock.
  • Do not use your cell phone to avoid jamming the network. If you must use the telephone, be brief and provide essential information only.
  • Reassure your family. It’s better to use email, text messages and social media messaging, to avoid overburdening the voice networks.
  • Remove children from the scene of the violence when possible, and comfort them.
  • Make way for emergency services as soon as they arrive, and be available to provide information about what you have seen.
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Know how to respond when there is an active shooter

Common sense and the following instructions should determine your behaviour if there is a shooter on the premises:

  • Evacuate the premises, leaving your belongings behind, if you know the way out and you are certain that it is accessible.
  • Tell everyone you encounter while fleeing to leave.
  • Avoid elevators and escalators.
  • Get far enough away from the premises.
  • Immediately alert the security services on the premises, or call 911 to alert emergency services.

If you cannot safely evacuate the premises:

  • Hide in a place that is safe and nearby.
  • Close the doors and lock them, or blockade them with heavy objects.
  • Close the curtains or shut the blinds to avoid being seen.
  • Turn off the light fixtures.
  • Turn off any devices that could attract attention by making noise (e.g. cell phone).
  • Lie on the ground or hide behind a piece of furniture.
  • Remain quiet.
  • Wait for instructions from the police before leaving your hiding place.

Follow the instructions provided by emergency services. To avoid being mistaken for the assailant:

  • Remain calm.
  • Keep your hands free and clearly visible.
  • Avoid any movements that could lead to confusion.
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Know what to do with a suspicious package

A suspicious package (PDF, 138 kB) often has characteristics that help to identify it, particularly the following:

  • It was abandoned or unclaimed.
  • It is irregularly shaped or excessively heavy.
  • It has a lot of staples, adhesive tape or string on it.
  • It gives off a strange odour.
  • It has grease stains or the packaging is discoloured.
  • It has abnormalities (powder escaping, small holes in the packaging, wires protruding from the packaging, etc.).

A suspicious package sent in the mail or by courier service often has the following characteristics:

  • It is not expected by the addressee.
  • It has excessive postage.
  • It has restrictive markings regarding delivery (e.g. “urgent delivery” or “do not delay delivery of this package”).
  • It does not have a return address.
  • The destination address is illegible, unusual or incorrectly written.
  • The title indicated does not correspond to that of the addressee, or the package is addressed to a title and not a person.
  • Characteristics of the package indicate that it is from another country.

If you are in the presence of a suspicious package:

  • Leave it where it is and avoid touching it, shaking it or smelling it.
  • Evacuate the premises and close the doors behind you.
  • Immediately alert security services, the police or the Sûreté du Québec.
  • Wait in a safe place for the police to arrive.

If you open a package (for example, to look for a reference address) and the content is suspicious, follow the same instructions. In addition:

  • Remove any items of clothing that could contain traces of powder or liquid, put these in a bag and close the bag.
  • Wash your hands with soap.
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Ask for psychological support

Appropriate psychological support can assist victims or witnesses of violent acts. To receive psychological assistance, contact the health and social services centre in your area.

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