Flowers, well-wishers and a sizable contingent of police officers are expected Monday at a Little Italy church in Montreal for the funeral of Mob boss Vito Rizzuto, the third generation in the notorious crime clan to be mourned at the historic church in less than four years.
Mr. Rizzuto, who died at age 67 of natural causes this week, will be remembered at a mass at the Church of the Madonna della Difesa, a centrepiece of Montreal's Italian community for a century. Funerals for both Mr. Rizzuto's father and eldest son, both shot dead by assassins in separate incidents, were held at the same church.
Observers say funerals for Mafia figures aren't as lavish as they used to be – the one held for Montreal don Vic Cotroni in 1984 featured a 17-piece brass band and enough flowers to spill over 23 cars in the funeral cortege to the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery. Antonio Nicaso, a Toronto-based expert on the criminal underworld, said crime figures are all too aware that police keep a close eye on funerals for prominent Mob figures, and now there are less visible ways to pay one's respects.
Still, Mr. Nicaso said, Vito Rizzuto can be expected to receive a substantial sendoff, particularly since he died in hospital of lung ailments and avoided the violent end that took the lives of his father, son and numerous associates.
"A funeral is there to show power and importance. It offers visibility and is a way to legitimize a criminal family," Mr. Nicaso said on Thursday. "The flower arrangements, the cortege, the type of casket – they're all what you're looking for as signs of a person's importance."
The church, founded in 1918 in the heart of Little Italy, is famous for its elaborate ceiling fresco featuring Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce. Also known as the Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense, it is a federally designated national historic site.
Vito Rizzuto, who was born in Sicily but had Canadian citizenship, was unable to attend the funerals of either his father or his son because he was jailed in a Colorado prison for the slaying of three American mobsters in Brooklyn in 1981. He was released last year and returned to Canada, where observers say he began to exact revenge on his enemies and set about reconsolidating his grip on Montreal's criminal empire.
Visitation for Mr. Rizzuto is scheduled for Sunday at the Loreto Funeral Complex in northeast Montreal, which belongs to a member of the Rizzuto family.