Hélène Rowley Hotte, the 93-year-old mother of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, froze to death Sunday outside her seniors’ residence, triggering a coroner’s investigation and questions about safety procedures in buildings for independent living.
Firefighters arrived at the Lux Gouverneur, a 440-unit apartment complex in Montreal’s east end, at about 4:15 a.m. on Sunday after a carbon monoxide detector went off. The alarm sounded in all three towers of the complex, but a verbal message told residents in Ms. Rowley Hotte’s building that they could stay in their apartments, according to police.
Ms. Rowley Hotte, who was partially deaf, went out an emergency exit into a yard. Montreal was in the midst of a serious winter storm that brought 23 centimetres of snow, high winds and a temperature of -21. Police said the door locked behind her. Her body was found in the yard almost 12 hours later.
Police have concluded that no crime was committed. Quebec’s coroner launched an investigation but refused to provide any new details Monday.
Marguerite Blais, the Quebec Minister Responsible for Seniors, said the province renewed the residence’s certification in April and confirmed that it was staffed overnight by six people – four more than the minimum required by law.
She said the coroner should ask about the residence’s evacuation procedures, as well as those of the Montreal fire department. “I don’t know if people were counted. I don’t know if … anyone made sure the people in all three buildings were back in their homes,” Ms. Blais said. “It’s too early to say what changes might have to take place. Our certification is very strict, but if it has to be stricter, it will be. This is shocking and sad.”
Les Résidences Lux, the company that owns and operates the complex, declined to comment on evacuation procedures. The company did issue a statement saying Ms. Rowley Hotte was wearing winter clothing when she was found. “Our security cameras show she lost consciousness some time after going outside. We are co-operating with investigators and will not comment further on this unfortunate event,” the statement said.
The statement did not say if staff monitor security cameras in real time, if emergency exits are alarmed, if there are doorbells for people who might be locked out or if special procedures are in place for deaf people.
Mr. Duceppe’s former political colleagues and leaders from across the country, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, expressed their condolences.
The Lux Gouverneur is located near Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and opened in 2009. It says it provides a “healthy and active” lifestyle that can include a range of extra services, including gourmet meals. Rents start at $1,275 for a studio apartment, according to a recent listing.
Ms. Blais said 660 people live in the complex, 69 of whom are under some form of seniors’ care from the provincial health agency for the area. She did not say if Ms. Rowley Hotte was among those receiving care.
Bloc MP Louis Plamondon said Ms. Rowley Hotte was still in great shape. “She had all her faculties about her. This is hard to believe,” he said.
Her family had dined with her the night before she died and became concerned when she didn’t answer their calls Sunday morning.
Ms. Rowley Hotte, a mother of seven, was married to well-known Quebec actor Jean Duceppe, who died in 1990. Her father – John James Rowley – was British by birth, leading Gilles Duceppe to frequently quip that he was a “bloke who turned Bloc.”
With a report from The Canadian Press