Civic funeral for Quebec shooting victim
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MONTREAL - A rare civic funeral is being prepared for the stage technician whose shooting death at an election-night party in Quebec has struck a deep emotional chord in the province.
The tribute is planned for Denis Blanchette, a stagehand who was killed as a gunman tried to blast his way into a Parti Quebecois victory celebration this week as premier-elect Pauline Marois was speaking.
The idea of the rite was raised during a meeting Thursday between Marois and Premier Jean Charest where they discussed the transition of power.
Charest's office would not confirm the specifics of their discussion but said it would act on whatever decision Marois made. Marois' office could not be reached for comment late Thursday, however several media reports said she had agreed to hold a civic funeral.
The honour is usually accorded to public figures as well as police officers slain in the line of duty. Blanchette was a freelance stagehand who made $15 an hour and generously filled in for colleagues, as he had on the day of the shooting.
The funeral news came after an emotional candlelit vigil on Wednesday night in which people urged against making political hay out of the tragedy.
The victim's friends and others stressed that he should be remembered above all else for who he was and not defined by the political overtones of his death.
Marie-Jo remembered Blanchette on Wednesday as someone who filled in for her on the day of the shooting, even though he had already been awake for 24 hours. The father of a young daughter himself, he sympathized because she had to pick up her child at school.
The woman, who didn't give her last name, said she went to vote in the election which would be forever marked by her colleague's death.
She bristled at suggestions that the slaying of the man she called her best friend had any political overtones when he was fatally shot by a gunman trying to crash Marois' victory party.
"Stop with the politics, OK?" shouted Marie-Jo at one point to the candlelight vigil Wednesday evening outside the club where Blanchette was killed. "There was nothing political about this. A damned mental case killed my friend."
The politics came to the fore Thursday. The nationalist Societe St-Jean Baptiste's Montreal chapter put out a statement blaming anglophone media for creating a climate of hatred against the PQ. Conversely, some anti-PQ commentators blamed the party for fomenting that hatred with its platform policies.
But such comments were roundly criticized on social media. Also, no less than three columns in Thursday's Montreal La Presse blasted the idea of linking the shooting to political discourse.
To his friends, Blanchette wasn't a symbol of political violence or tensions between English and French in Quebec.
He was a dedicated father, a rock-steady colleague and a good buddy.
And Wednesday evening those friends — and hundreds who didn't even know the 48-year-old lighting technician — packed a downtown Montreal street to remember him in an act of togetherness that sought to sweep aside the political overtones that tainted the last moments of his life.
Finger-pointing had followed the killing, which also saw another man wounded and an attempt to burn the back of the building where thousands had gathered to celebrate the Parti Quebecois' return to power.
Some people blamed the incident on tensions in the wake of Marois' vows to toughen language laws when a suspect arrested by police proclaimed anglophones were rising up. Others blamed unrest from student protests.
Marie-Jo would have nothing of it.
"He gave his life for $15 an hour." She said he was a hard worker and proud of it.
Marie-Jo, who worked with Blanchette at Productions du Grand Bambou, described how technicians there are a close-knit group, sometimes spending 80 to 90 hours a week with each other.
"We're a family. Today, we've lost a member of our family," she said.
Blanchette was the father of a young girl who lives in Rouyn-Noranda.
"She lost her father today," Marie-Jo thundered, in a voice that was half-angry and half-mournful.
Another friend, who gave no name and pulled a baseball cap low over his face, cracked a beer and took a sip in a toast to his friend before placing it in a sidewalk shrine outside the club where people had laid flowers and other tributes, including technicians' cables.
Despite the feelings of brotherhood, a few people groaned when one of the organizers said he wanted to address them in English near the start of the gathering. But that was not a prevalent feeling.
"We are here today, united as a family, crying for what we love — Quebec," said George Stamatis, one of the organizers of the vigil. "Yesterday was a sad night for Quebec.
"We are crying here today because this act does not represent any of our values .... This act does not represent democracy, this act does not represent who we are as Quebecois."
Stamatis, who didn't know Blanchette, helped organize the event via social media. Besides the testimonials, people also observed a moment of silence.
Stamatis, who said he helped organize response teams in the aftermath of a gunman's rampage at Montreal's Dawson College in 2006, said afterward he was stunned when he learned what had happened at the PQ celebration.
"I almost fell off my chair," said Stamatis, who was watching election coverage with a friend. "I couldn't believe it.... I can barely stand thinking about it."