• U.S.

Canada: Mr. D., A Gunman in Quebec

3 minute read
TIME

A gunman in Quebec

A bearded man wearing camouflage army gear and a beret and with a knife strapped to his leg walked into the studios of CJRP, a Quebec City radio station, one morning last week. He handed a cassette tape to a reporter and told her, “To you, my name is Mr. D.” A short time later, a man fitting Mr. D.’s description burst into the Quebec provincial legislature, called the National Assembly, firing a submachine gun as he went and shouting, “Où sont les députés? Jevais les tuer!” (Where are the legislators? I am going to kill them!) By the time he reached the second floor and entered the Salon Bleu, the legislative chamber, three people were dead: an Assembly page, a messenger and an aide to the director of elections. Thirteen other Assembly employees were wounded, one seriously.*

Police later arrested Corporal Denis Lortie, 25, a supply technician attached to a Canadian Armed Forces installation near Ottawa. Canadian authorities have not speculated on Lortie’s motives. But the tape left by the man at CJRP threatened to “destroy” the provincial government, which has espoused separation from the rest of Canada. The recording railed against the ruling Parti Québécois ‘s pro-French language policies, declaring: “I [have] waited for just the right moment. It’s at hand now. The government will be destroyed.”

The gunman’s timing, however, was fortunately poor. Quebec Premier René Lévesque and his Cabinet were not due in the Salon Bleu until that afternoon. Some ministers were having a late breakfast, though, and they quickly barricaded themselves in the legislature’s restaurant. But Assembly employees had no protection. “I’m sorry for wounding you,” the assailant reportedly told a worker shot in the arm during the fracas, “but that’s life.”

The hero of the day was the Assembly’s sergeant at arms, René Jalbert, 63, a retired army major who helped convince Lortie that he should give himself up. Approaching the man as he sat in the Speaker’s throne, Jalbert offered him coffee and a cigarette and coolly remarked: “I see you’re an army man. I’m an army man myself.” Jalbert took him to his downstairs office, where, four hours later, a Quebec police negotiator persuaded Lortie by telephone to surrender. (He later pleaded not guilty to three charges of first-degree murder.) Declared Jalbert modestly: “Every sergeant at arms across Canada would have done the same thing.”

* In a later, apparently unrelated incident, another Quebec City man allegedly fired shots at passersby. Jean-Claude Nadeau, 39, was arrested and charged with three counts of attempted murder.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com