Montreal shooting overshadows Parti Quebecois election victory

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  By a Newsnet reporter

A suspect has been detained by Canadian police in Montreal in the early hours of Wednesday after one person was killed and another wounded during a shooting incident at the victory rally of the Parti Quebecois at a theatre in the city.  According to reports, as he was arrested the suspect was heard to shout “The English are waking up.”

The shooting occurred as Pauline Marois, newly elected as the first female premier of Quebec, was addressing the rally at Montreal’s Metropolis theatre.  

The Parti Quebecois campaigns for independence for the French speaking province of Quebec.  As Ms Marois told the crowd that the province would one day be independent, there were confused scenes as gunshots were heard and her bodyguards rushed her from the stage.  She later returned to finish her speech.

The shooting overshadowed the result of Tuesday’s election in Quebec, when the Parti Quebecois ousted the ruling Liberals by a small margin.  The Parti Quebecois will now form a minority administration.

The election took place against a backdrop of allegations of corruption directed at the Liberal Party, and student protests against increases in tuition fees.  The Parti Quebecois supported the protests, which developed into a “Occupy” movement involving environmentalist, anti-capitalist, and independence campaigners.  As a result of the protests the ruling Liberal Party introduced legislation which heavily restricted public demonstrations in Quebec, and led to the arrests of over 2,500 people.

The shooting incident has shocked Canada, where political violence is rare and where gun crime is far less common than in the neighbouring USA.  According to a spokesperson from Montreal Police a man entered the back of the city’s Metropolis Theater with a rifle and a handgun and shot two people.

Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafreniere said the gunman opened fire in the back of the hall while Ms Marois was giving her victory speech to hundreds of supporters at the Metropolis auditorium. She had just declared her conviction that Quebec needs to be a sovereign country, before she was pulled off the stage.  The gunman then fled outside where he set a small fire before he was captured.

As police officers dragged the suspect to a police car, he was heard shouting in heavily accented French, “The English are waking up!”

Montreal Police later said in a statement that a 62 year old man was being questioned in connection with the incident, and in a further statement named the suspect as Richard Henry Bain from Mont Tremblant, a ski resort 130 km north west of the city.  Mr Bain ran a hunting lodge near to the town, a popular tourist resort.  It is unclear whether Ms Marois was the gunman’s target.  Police were keen to stress that the motive behind the latest incident remained unclear.

The shooting will cause fears that tensions may rise between Canada’s French speaking minority and the English speaking majority.  In 1970, Quebec’s labour minister Pierre Laporte was kidnapped by members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a radical group seeking independence for the province.  He was held hostage as the group demanded the release of “political prisoners”.  

One week after he went missing, Mr Laporte’s body was recovered from a car.  Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked Canada’s War Measures Act, which allowed mass raids and arrests to take place in order to find Laporte’s kidnappers.  A number of FLQ members were convicted of his murder.  

In 2010, a report on the French language service of the Canadian National Broadcasting Corportation alleged that Mr Laporte’s death was accidental.  

Quebec is the only Canadian province with a French speaking majority, and is the sole Canadian province whose only official language at provincial level is French.  On October 30, 2003, the National Assembly of Quebec voted unanimously to affirm “that the people of Québec form a nation.”

According to Canada’s most recent census, just over 80% of the province’s population are native French speakers.  Just 8% are native English speakers.  The remainder consists of immigrant communities and native communities with a variety of mother tongues.  

There are also substantial Francophone communities elsewhere in the country, particularly in the province of New Brunswick where French speakers constitute around 40% of the population.  

Until the 1960s Canadian French speakers complained that they were discriminated against by Anglophones, and growing resentment fuelled the growth of parties and movements seeking independence for Quebec, and led to the election victory of the Parti Quebecois in 1976.  

An independence referendum was held in 1980, but independence was rejected by some 60% of the electorate.  A second independence referendum was held in 1995, and independence was again rejected, but this time by a margin of less than 1%.  

During previous terms in office, the Parti Quebecois has introduced a number of measures to protect and promote the use of the French language in Quebec.  The increased profile of French has caused tension between French speakers and the province’s Anglophone minority, concentrated in the city of Montreal and certain districts close to the border with the USA.    

The party’s current leader was criticised by Anglophone groups during the election campaign after proposing to strengthen the province’s Charter of the French Language.  Under Ms Marois’s proposals, immigrants who run for public office in Quebec must be proficient in French, and those who settle in the province would be obliged to send their children to French language schools.