Dawson College, a year later

Officials and students at Dawson College insist that the one-year anniversary of the worst tragedy to ever hit their school be marked by a demonstration of strength and a determination to move forward.
“We are strong and we are ready to go on,” said spokesperson Donna Verrica.
On Thursday a commemoration will be held at Dawson College to remember the events of Sept.13, 2006. That was the day a 25-year-old assailant entered the school with a gun and two assault rifles, and opened fire in the school’s main cafeteria. Anastasia De Sousa was shot and killed and 19 other students were wounded.
The memorial service will be held in the upper atrium on the third floor of the college. The doors are scheduled to open at noon, but the president of the Dawson student union, Charles Brenchly, and the Director General, Richard Fullion, will not address the audience until 12:30 p.m. At 12:41 p.m., the exact time the shooting began, guests will pay their respects with a moment of silence.
“I think we need to cap this year of mourning with a strong message,” said Verrica. “Dawson was a peaceful place before Sept. 13, 2006, and [it] will continue to be a peaceful environment.”
To ensure the security of staff and students, the college has spent approximately $750,000 on non-intrusive communication and security upgrades. Deadbolts have been added to all the classroom doors, the public address system was expanded to broadcast over a more widespread area within the school, an enhanced cell phone network system was installed in the ceilings to ensure good reception, the landlines were upgraded so that they can be traced by security when the need arises, emergency phones have been updated with location censors, and an extra guard was added on the busiest shift, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“We knew from the first moment that there would be no barriers set up in the school. There would be no metal detectors as some people had suggested and there will be no security guards at the entrances of the school. We just wanted to improve our communications capabilities,” said Verrica.
Health Science student Carolyn Perkins, like many students that were in the school during last year’s shooting, appreciates the non-disruptive upgrades taken by the school.
“They can’t put guards on all the doors,” Perkins said. “If they did that it would almost be like the school was using violence against its students. It’s important that we don’t feel locked up.”
Perkins mentioned that the improved communication system in place today would have really helped during last year’s attack.
“About maybe 15 minutes after the attack I was walking to the lab with no idea that anything out of the ordinary was happening,” she said. “Then a woman told me that I must leave the school. I didn’t understand why. I thought there was a small fire somewhere, so I ignored her and went to the lab. It wasn’t until the woman came into the lab and shouted at us to ‘leave immediately’ that I started walking out of the school. It was only when I got to the Sherbrooke exit and a policeman by the door told me to ‘run for my life’ that I realised something terrible was going on,” Perkins said.
Security and communication upgrades are not the only changes that were brought about by the violence of Sept. 13, 2006. Soon after the attack, the Quebec government enacted Anastasia’s law.
Quebec’s Bill 9, informally called “Anastasia’s Law” in memory of the 18-year-old killed in the attack, has ushered in sweeping changes in the way the province deals with guns and gun owners. According to Verrica, “Anastasia’s Law obliges professionals, such as teachers and physicians to report suspicious behaviour even if it contradicts confidentiality codes; semi-automatic weapons are restricted to gun club members; gun club owners are obliged to report unusual behaviour; people applying for gun permits must pass an aptitude test; transportation of guns has been severely limited; and gun-free zones on public transit, day cares, schools and colleges have been created.
“We shouldn’t be arming ourselves against a potential threat,” said Verrica. “We should, instead, try to get to the root of the problem to try to understand how a person gets to this point and what we can do to help them.” According to Verrica, Dawson counsellors are always monitoring the situation.
“All my friends do feel better. I actually feel safe now because of the changes,” says Perkins. “I think we may be the safest school in the country.”
Dawson memorial service organizers are preparing to receive up to 5000 visitors. After the reception there will be an informal gathering in the main cafeteria and refreshments will be served. A tree will also be planted on the school premises at approximately 2:30 p.m. in honour of Anastasia De Sousa.


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