MONTREAL—On the first day of summer, 1995, Susan Bibeau and her husband, Bulgasem Zehaf, walked into a Laval, Que., courthouse determined to right a wrong in the name of their 12-year-old son.
Joseph Paul Michael Bibeau came into the world in October 1982 but the couple, who had met less than a year before, split up before the birth. Bibeau, a bureaucrat, had withheld Zehaf’s name from their son’s birth certificate, according to a legal application to change his name. A short while later, they resolved their differences, then married.
On that day in 1995, the couple decided to give back to their young boy one half of his heritage.
The boy’s decidedly Christian name was legally changed to Joseph Paul Michael Abdallah Bulgasem Zehaf-Bibeau with the following statement:
“The applicants, one as much as the other, watch over the security and education of the young child.”
Complete coverage of the shooting on Parliament Hill
On Thursday, more than 14 years later, Bibeau issued a different sort of statement after her son, identified by the RCMP as a 32-year-old man who had been “radicalized” and was seeking a passport to travel to Syria, died in a hail of bullets after killing a Canadian soldier and storming Parliament Hill.
“We . . . wish to apologize for all the pain, fright and chaos he created. We have no explanation to offer. I am mad at our son, I don’t understand and part of me wants to hate him at this time,” she wrote in a brief message released to The Associated Press.
As the country grapples with the second attack on soldiers on Canadian soil in a week — both carried out by young men raised in this country — RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson gave some indication of the path that led Zehaf-Bibeau to the seat of Canadian democracy with a rifle and the blood of Hamilton’s Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on his hands.
That appears to have started with petty crime and drugs in the Montreal suburb of Laval between 2001 and 2006.
But the next time Zehaf-Bibeau resurfaced on police radar was in 2011 in Vancouver’s skid row, where he is arrested for robbery and uttering threats. The address Zehaf-Bibeau gives is a world away from the suburban comfort in which he was raised: a Salvation Army emergency shelter, a magnet for transients, drug and alcohol abusers and the homeless.
On its website, the Salvation Army calls itself “an international Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible; its ministry is motivated by love for God and the needs of humanity.”
A spokesman, Lauren Chan, said the shelter “is not at liberty to disclose” what services Zehaf-Bibeau accessed while staying there.
Dave Bathurst, a friend of the gunman while he was living in B.C., said he never saw signs of an Islamic fundamentalist, but rather possible mental illness, according to reports. He spoke about being haunted by the devil. Last seen in a Burnaby, B.C., mosque in September, Zehaf-Bibeau spoke of wanting to travel to the Middle East for language and religious studies, Bathurst told The Globe and Mail.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Muslim Association said it had been contacted by the RCMP and CSIS shortly after Wednesday’s attack.
Aasim Rashid, a spokesman for the association, said the investigators told him Zehaf-Bibeau had substance abuse problems, moved around a lot and belonged to “online extremist forums.”
By the summer of 2013, Zehaf-Bibeau had moved again.
Back then, Montreal resident Bari Malki peaked out of his suburban home across the road from the one that he says Zehaf-Bibeau’s parents, although legally divorced in 1999, still share.
Parked on the street was a dark-coloured Hummer. Scurrying around the luxury vehicle was a man with long dark hair, a white skullcap and wearing what he described as a typical Arab wardrobe.
Malki learned the man’s identity only when he turned on the news Wednesday and saw the photograph of a gun-toting Zehaf-Bibeau. He recalled the booming voice of the shooter’s father, Bulgasem Zehaf, urging his son to stop cleaning the vehicle because it wasn’t even dirty.
Calgary Police Chief Rick Hansen said his force is investigating after a driving violation this summer was issued to the owner of the car Zehaf-Bibeau used to storm Parliament Hill. The beige Toyota was registered to a local Islamic centre. The ticket was issued long before Wednesday’s shooting.
In the RCMP’s accounting of the man’s movements since he arrived in Ottawa on Oct. 2, it appears Zehaf-Bibeau had fallen on hard times once again.
Rather than stay with his mother, Susan Bibeau, in the Ottawa area where she works as the head of the immigration section for the Immigration Refugee Board, he checked into another shelter, this time on Waller Avenue, a short walk from Parliament Hill.
Residents said he had been staying there for about two weeks prior to Wednesday’s shooting.
His behaviour at the shelter was bizarre. He often bragged about having used crack cocaine and heroin, but was overtly religious.
“He’d be kneeling on a towel in the stairway and you’d have to step around him,” said one man who would identify himself only as Dave.
“There’s a lot of people around here with issues that seem creepy sometimes, so he kind of blended in,” Dave said.
In fact, the RCMP say the dual Libyan-Canadian citizen was actually in town looking for a Canadian passport. His application had been flagged because of his long criminal record, and national security investigators were conducting a background check.
There was little to suggest he was an imminent terror threat. Authorities did not even know that he was in the nation’s capital, and he was not placed on the list of the 93 so-called “high-risk travellers” that the RCMP and CSIS have under investigation.
The RCMP commissioner said, however, that there was evidence that “he was an individual who may have had extremist beliefs.”
Paulson said Zehaf-Bibeau wanted to travel to Syria, where the terrorist group Islamic State, or ISIS, has declared an Islamic Caliphate across a wide swath of the Middle East, and committed atrocities that have provoked the international community’s armed retaliation.
His difficulty obtaining that travel document was likely “central to his motives,” Paulson said.
“I think it was central to what was driving him. Clearly it’s linked to his radicalization.”
A more difficult question to answer is where this embrace of extremism came from, or why two parents who wished a bright future for their son now hear him spoken of in the darkest of terms.
Suspect. Shooter. Terrorist.
“I, his mother, spoke with him last week over lunch. I had not seen him for over five years before that, so I have very little insight to offer.”
With files from Paul Watson in Vancouver, Tim Alamenciak in Ottawa and Katrina Clarke in Toronto