Charges after car slams into office helping flood victims in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac

A dike where waters of the Lake of Two Mountains broke through is seen in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., on April 30, 2019. Police say a man who allegedly drove his vehicle into an office that was helping flood victims will face charges of dangerous driving and assault with a weapon. No one was injured when the vehicle slammed into the office late Wednesday in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, northwest of Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL - A Quebec man has been charged after a vehicle slammed into an office Wednesday where government employees and volunteers were trying to help flood victims in hard-hit Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que.

A cabinet minister said Thursday she realizes there's a lot of stress among residents of the flood-stricken town northwest of Montreal who don't yet know if they'll be able to rebuild homes or be compensated if they decide to leave.

But Quebec Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault denounced the alleged actions of the resident.

Police say a man caused considerable property damage but no injuries when he drove his car into the building housing the local flood relief office not long after being ejected by police.

Jean-Francois Chenier, 38, was arraigned on three charges at the courthouse in St-Jerome — dangerous driving, mischief and assault with a weapon. He consented to an evaluation for criminal responsibility sought by the Crown and remains detained.

His case will return to court July 15 according to a court clerk.

Guilbault called the incident "unacceptable," noting there were staff inside the building as well as families who had come to seek aid.

The accused is allegedly a victim of spring floods who had been thrown out after Red Cross employees called police to report aggressive behaviour, Deux-Montagnes police spokesman Christopher Harding said Wednesday. Officers were still present when the vehicle entered the space inside the local community centre.

"We understand the despair of the people in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac," Guilbault said. "People are expecting answers to some questions and, about that, we'll make an important announcement in the next few days."

Residents of the town have been under heavy stress since a dike breach forced 6,000 from their homes in late April.

For Myriam Sabourin, the wait for a government response has been long and painful, forcing residents to put their own lives on hold for weeks.

Sabourin was part of a group of six families who travelled the Quebec City this month to lobby the government for enhanced aid on the grounds that the damage they suffered was the result of a dike failure not natural flooding.

Residents who bought homes at full price in a zone that was not considered to be at risk of flooding for 40 years saw their homes washed away when a dike that was the responsibility of the municipality and the province broke.

The government says the failed dike will be rebuilt, but Sabourin has little confidence in a structure that failed to protect the town this spring. "So it's difficult for me to consider returning to this place," she said.

The city put up barriers in front of the office on Thursday to prevent a future attack. The offices, shared by the Red Cross and Quebec public security officials, closed Thursday but were expected to reopen Friday.

Premier Francois Legault said it's understandable that people who've lost their homes are experiencing a certain level of distress.

"It's sad what happened," he said. "We are offering psychological help, and it's important to get the office or a new one up and running."

Liberal member Andre Fortin, who represents a western Quebec riding hard-hit by flooding, said he understands the duress people are under.

"It takes a massive toll on mental health. It takes a massive toll on just your day-to-day ability to put one foot in front of the other," Fortin told reporters, saying the emphasis should be on providing resources to those who need it.

"I encourage everyone to just keep an eye out for their friends and family members," he said.

Sabourin said there has been no shortage of psychological support. "But they must also solve the heart of the problem, and that's giving clear answers and concrete aid so people can get out of this," she said.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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