A gunman who stormed an election-night victory party aiming to kill separatists, including Quebec's new premier-designate, will receive a life sentence after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder for the death of a stagehand in the attack.
Richard Henry Bain was targeting Pauline Marois and Parti Québécois members of the National Assembly when he rushed the back door of a Montreal concert hall on Sept. 4, 2012, and fired a shot that killed Denis Blanchette and seriously wounded fellow stagehand Dave Courage. The gun jammed after the first round was fired.
The jurors, who deliberated for 11 days, also convicted Mr. Bain of three counts of attempted murder.
The verdict brings a close to a case that chilled Quebeckers – both for the bloody result and the luck that a malfunction prevented a political massacre. The defence asked the jury to find Mr. Bain not criminally responsible because of psychiatric illness. As the jury was all anglophones, a verdict of not guilty might have sparked anger, especially among Quebec nationalists targeted in the attack.
The jury had to decide whether Mr. Bain had a mental illness and could not tell right from wrong during the attack. The defence pointed to some mental instability he demonstrated on the night of the attack and in the months surrounding it. Mr. Bain had a history of mild depression and mania along with a tendency to be obsessive.
"He [Bain] is very happy because, had he been convicted of first-degree murder at his age, it would have been a death sentence," Mr. Bain's lawyer, Alan Guttman, told reporters after speaking briefly to his client.
Mr. Guttman said he will consider an appeal. The defence lawyer said he believes a trial by judge alone might have resulted in a verdict of not criminally responsible.
During the trial, the Crown and its psychiatric expert argued that Mr. Bain, 65, had demonstrated no major mental illness during his life and had carefully stockpiled weapons in preparation for the attack. The Crown psychiatrist, Joel Watts, said Mr. Bain was politically motivated and showed remarkable clarity in the aftermath.
Mr. Bain was like any other individual "over-invested in extremist political views," Dr. Watts wrote in a report to the court. "He had no grandiose delusions, accelerated thinking, hallucinations, disorganized thinking or odd behaviour. Has not had any episodes of mania, depression or psychosis that meet the criteria for a mood or psychotic disorder. …
"It is more likely Mr. Bain was unhappy with the results of the provincial election."
For the defence side, psychiatrist Marie-Frédérique Allard pointed to Mr. Bain's repeated claim that God made him do it to suggest he had an undiagnosed mental illness and was delusional on election night.
Mr. Guttman said there was evidence that, throughout the previous decade, Mr. Bain was losing his grip. He began stockpiling food, weapons and military vehicles during the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009. He suddenly found an extreme faith in God, was on antidepressants and showed up for the attack dressed in a bathrobe.
"Me personally, I think the guy was nuts," Mr. Guttman said in an interview.
But Mr. Bain made statements Mr. Guttman admitted were damning after the attack. "The plan was to kill as many separatists as I could. The head, the new [MNAs], their backbone," Mr. Bain wrote to his psychiatrist. He also expressed hope that he "could be judged crazy" and go to a psychiatric hospital.
Just before midnight on Sept. 4, 2012, Ms. Marois was speaking to Parti Québécois activists in the packed Metropolis concert hall celebrating a narrow election victory over Jean Charest's Liberals. Out back, Mr. Blanchette and Mr. Courage were stepping outside so that Mr. Blanchette could have a smoke before they were to tear down the stage.
Mr. Bain emerged from his black GMC Yukon wearing a blue bathrobe and black ski mask in the parking lot behind the hall. He was armed with a CZ858 semi-automatic assault rifle – a derivative of the Russian AK-47. He carried a pistol and had several more weapons and other ammunition in the vehicle.
He also carried gasoline. He told Dr. Allard in 2012 that he had planned to set a fire to trap occupants, copying the 1972 arson at Montreal's Blue Bird Café that killed 37 people.
Mr. Bain approached the entrance and fired a shot that passed through Mr. Blanchette's lungs and heart before striking Mr. Courage in the hip and tailbone. His weapon then jammed as two rounds got stuck together entering the firing chamber. A police officer spotted Mr. Bain and ordered him to freeze. Mr. Bain tried to ignite a canister of fuel and ran away, drawing a 9mm pistol. A second officer joined the chase and Mr. Bain was tackled a few metres away.
Inside, Ms. Marois was whisked from the stage. Three minutes later, she returned against the advice of her security team and asked for calm. She then finished her speech.
Outside, it was a different scene. "Les anglais se reveillent. It's going to be payback," Mr. Bain shouted as police led him away and a Radio-Canada camera rolled nearby. He was calling for anglophones to wake up.
Ms. Marois and the PQ have carefully avoided the controversy over the incident. Mr. Bain popped up in local media and on Facebook ranting about his plans to separate Montreal from Quebec and claiming that some of his closest friends were francophone Quebeckers. Few, if anyone, took this seriously.
With files from Joe Friesen and The Canadian Press