Heavy security at civic funeral for man killed at PQ election party
Published Monday, September 10, 2012 8:04AM EDT
MONTREAL -- A humble lighting technician was honoured in a civic funeral attended by people with fame and power, as churchgoers mourned his death in a shooting with political overtones.
The funeral of Denis Blanchette offered striking contrasts Monday.
On one side of the Montreal church sat premier-designate Pauline Marois and a number of notable politicians. On the other, weeping relatives and friends -- some of them wearing casual work clothes, with one of the pallbearers wearing a backwards ballcap and sunglasses perched on top.
Blanchette, 48, was killed last week in an incident that made international news: a shooting at the Parti Quebecois' election-night party that police say might have been targeting Marois.
Two people were struck by a single bullet. Blanchette, a $15-an-hour technician who had filled in for a colleague's shift earlier in the day, was killed instantly.
In his eulogy a close friend suggested Blanchette's courage might have prevented a bigger bloodbath. Blanchette, a father of a young girl, was standing at the back of the nightclub when the gunman tried to enter the building.
Some witnesses have said Blanchette might have obstructed him.
"You left through the big door, buddy -- true to yourself," his friend, Denis Bourgault, told the packed St-Donat church in the city's east end.
"You thought about others, not yourself... Au revoir, my brother. I love you."
After that eulogy, a note to Blanchette was tearfully read from the altar. It was from his step-grandson. It called Blanchette an exceptional grandfather and said that, even if he hadn't been gone long, he was already missed.
Hundreds more paid their respects to Blanchette, including several dozen provincial, federal and municipal politicians who filled pews near the front of the church. Former PQ premier Bernard Landry was among them.
Police officers in dark suits took positions throughout the building and a couple stood against the church's interior red-bricked wall, where they kept an eye on Marois. Police are investigating whether the suspect might have been trying to kill the premier-designate.
Outside the church, the heavy security was even more apparent as officers surveyed a large mass of people that had gathered on the street behind police tape.
In a gesture that seemed designed to send a political message, Marois strayed away from the church onto the edge of the crowd to shake hands with onlookers and pose for photos. Some people chanted nationalist slogans and waved flags.
"Vive le Quebec libre!" one man shouted as the pro-independence leader greeted people. Police, meanwhile, seemed on edge as they kept careful watch over her.
Marois, for her part, has downplayed any political significance to last week's shooting.
After Monday's funeral, she called on Quebecers to take note of Blanchette's sacrifice.
"I believe that we owe a lot to Denis Blanchette's family because we know that he probably saved us from a tragedy bigger than it was," Marois told reporters outside the church.
One man in the crowd, who was inside the nightclub for the PQ rally the night of the shooting, said he rushed to the church Monday when he heard about Blanchette's funeral.
"We had to be here today to thank this person who gave their life for everyone who was at the theatre," said Pierre Goulet, who waved a giant Quebec flag from a sidewalk outside the church.
Before and after the service, dozens of police officers were at the scene outside the church. A perimeter of nearly a full city block was erected outside the building.
Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor outgoing premier Jean Charest were in attendance, but were represented by cabinet ministers.
In his sermon, the priest presiding over the Roman-Catholic mass asked everyone to pray for the other shooting victim, Dave Courage, who is recovering in hospital. He also asked churchgoers to pray for everyone impacted by the event which, he said, came in "a context of violence, of folly."
The priest, Joseph Dube, also appeared to make reference to the suspect in Blanchette's death, Richard Henry Bain. The 62-year-old man faces 16 charges, including first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and arson.
"I invite you to bring into your heart someone for whom peace is necessary," Dube told the audience. "It could be somebody who is difficult for you to love, just as it could be somebody easy to love."
As guests entered the church, a violinist greeted them with sorrowful songs, including the Beatles' "Yesterday."
A framed photo of Blanchette was on a stand in front of the altar.
After the ceremony, red-eyed mourners followed the casket, which was still glistening with droplets of holy water, out of the church. Many of Blanchette's loved ones clutched single roses and wore a photo of him over their hearts.
Civic funerals are usually reserved for public figures as well as police officers slain in the line of duty.
The idea of honouring Blanchette came up last week when Marois and Charest met to discuss the transition of power.
The flag at the Quebec legislature was also flying at half-mast.
Bain next appears in court Oct. 11 to face the charges.