POLITICS

Attack in Ottawa stirs memories of gunman's rampage at Quebec legislature

10/22/2014 06:13 EDT | Updated 12/22/2014 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - The attack on Parliament that left a Canadian Forces reservist dead Wednesday chilled the longest-serving member of Quebec's legislature as he recalled a gunman's assault there 30 years ago.

"It affects us, it touches us," a visibly moved Francois Gendron said in Quebec City. "These are difficult memories."

Gendron, an ever-present member of the national assembly since 1976, was at the legislature when Cpl. Denis Lortie went on his rampage on May 8, 1984.

Evidence of the tragedy can still be seen, including a hole in a window shutter and a graze on a marble wall.

That very same legislature met Wednesday under the eyes of a half-dozen provincial police officers. A number of police vehicles, including a truck from the provincial force's emergency response team, were parked outside and public access to the building was also limited.

Back in 1984, the legislature was minutes away from convening when Lortie, a disgruntled army supply clerk, slipped into the historic building through a side door.

Lortie was dressed in fatigues and carrying two submachine-guns. He had already delivered an audio tape to a Quebec City radio station vowing to "destroy the Parti Quebecois," describing them as "worse than communists."

Georges Boyer, 59, and Camille Lepage, 54, both national assembly employees, were fatally shot as Lortie made his way to the legislative chamber.

Roger Lefrancois, 57, an employee of Quebec's chief electoral officer, was critically wounded as Lortie entered the ornate chamber and began spraying bullets. Lefrancois would later die in hospital.

A group of schoolchildren who were in an adjacent room were also pinned down until police could rescue them and their chaperone.

Lortie plopped down in the speaker's chair and fired wildly. At one point, he howled in rage and threw his dentures across the room.

As in Ottawa, the legislature's sergeant-at-arms played a key role in the crisis.

When a gun-wielding man sprinted through Parliament's corridors on Wednesday, he was intercepted by sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers and shot dead in the Hall of Honour, the main entrance to the Centre Block beneath the Peace Tower.

On that traumatic day in Quebec City, legislature sergeant-at-arms Rene Jalbert entered the chamber and tried to calm Lortie as some of the wounded moaned from among the bullet-splintered benches.

A retired major with the fabled Royal 22nd Regiment, the distinguished Jalbert spoke soldier-to-soldier to Lortie, offering him a cigarette and eventually getting him to release about a dozen people cowering in the chamber.

As one man limped past, Lortie said, "I'm sorry for wounding you but that's life."

Jalbert then took Lortie to his basement office where they continued talking. The sergeant-at-arms was concerned about police moving throughout the building. Once in the office, the two men discussed the military and Lortie surrendered peacefully.

Lortie was convicted of first-degree murder after his first trial in 1985 but a new trial was ordered due to errors by the judge. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to reduced charges of second-degree murder, allowing him to be eligible for parole in 10 years. He was paroled in 1996.

Premier Philippe Couillard told the legislature Wednesday that society cannot bow to indiscriminate violence and invoked the work of police and others in keeping citizens safe.

"Our society will use all available tools to fight this menace without endangering — and it's a delicate balance — the basic foundations of our democratic society, the rights, the freedoms and the rule of law."

— With files from Canadian Press reporters Alexandre Robillard and Martin Ouellet in Quebec City