A coroner's report into the death of a 93-year-old woman in January said there was no reason for her to die.

Helene Rowley Hotte, mother of former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, died on Jan. 20, 2019 when she was locked outside of the Lux Gouverneur Residence.

It was snowing heavily and felt like -35 C that night when the first alarm went off in one of the residential towers at 4:12 a.m.

Firefighters arrived to verify the carbon monoxide alarm, and were on the premises when a fire alarm went off at 4:55 a.m.

That's when Rowley Hotte woke up and went outside.

Moments later firefighters got on the public address system to tell residents to remain indoors, but Rowley Hotte had already gone through an emergency door and was stuck on a pathway that had not been shovelled.

"She tried to climb a snow bank to try and escape but it did not work," said Coroner Gehane Kamel. "To be clear, she was outside for six hours and nobody came to find her."

Security cameras trained on the door clearly showed Rowley Hotte as she struggled to make her way to safety, trying to climb over the bank, knocking on the door as the snow kept falling, but nobody was looking at the cameras.

The door was not equipped with an intercom or a doorbell.

The recordings show that Rowley Hotte stopped moving at 11:02 a.m.

Staff found her at 11:40 a.m., but at that point she had died and could not be resuscitated.

Kamel said the death was accidental, but could easily have been prevented.

"Nobody thought to check to see if the door was sounding an alarm. Did someone pass through it?" said the coroner.

She noted that from 2010 to 2016 there were 121 deaths from exposure across Quebec, and that 31 of the deceased were people over the age of 75.

Rowley Hotte had lived in the Lux Gouverneur for about a year. She was mentally fit and had no health problems except for some hearing loss.

Her family is now considering legal action against the residence.

"There was a series of errors that is close to being criminal negligence," said lawyer Marc-Antoine Cloutier.

"When you're in front of a camera and don't look at it, when you check a door and don't look behind it, it's a serious problem."

The Duceppe family would also like an apology.

"There has been no communication between the family and the residence," said Cloutier.


Coroner's recommendations

The coroner has made a series of recommendations for the Lux Gouverneur as a result of Rowley Hotte's death.

They include:

  • having an intercom outside every emergency door
  • visually inspecting each stairwell and the exterior of each door following an alarm
  • designating one person to watch security cameras
  • creating an evacuation and assembly plan for residents in the case of an alarm

The Minister for Seniors is considering the advice.

"Even if the coroner's report does not have any recommendations for the ministry, we support the recommendations for residences to avoid another tragedy like this from happening again," said Marguerite Blais.


Kelly Greig contributed to this report