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As a country celebrates his life, Jack Layton makes one last trip to the Hill

Jack Layton has begun his final journey back to his political home.

At 4 a.m. Wednesday, the casket containing Mr. Layton's remains is to be placed in a hearse at a Toronto funeral home to begin a four-day public tribute for a man who lived a very public life.

The hearse, with a police escort, will be driven along Highway 401 and then towards Ottawa, ending at the House of Commons, where his passion for debate and his political savvy were on display for so many years.

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Mr. Layton's widow, Olivia Chow, his two children, Sarah and Michael, and their partners, his beloved granddaughter, two-year-old Beatrice, and Mr. Layton's first wife, Sally Holford, will accompany the casket to Parliament Hill.

His loyal MPs will line the hallway as the flag-draped casket is brought into the limestone building. Many, like Niki Ashton, who cut short her honeymoon in Greece to be there, will have travelled a long way.

For two days, Mr. Layton will lie in state so Canadians will be able to pay their respects.

The journey between his two homes, political Ottawa and hometown Toronto, is the fulfilment of Mr. Layton's wish that his funeral be both public and a "celebration of life."

The events are to be "used as an opportunity to build the movement, inspire people to work for change and create a better Canada," senior aide Kathleen Monk said.

In his final days, Mr. Layton directed his aides about how he wanted to be remembered and crafted a two-page letter to Canadians.

"To my knowledge it has never been done before," his friend and political mentor Ed Broadbent said. "There he is dying, the last 48 hours, and he is trying to send a very specific political message and he was well aware of that and to do it publicly."

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Part of his vision, too, was the request for memorial donations to the new institute for social democrat thinking that bears Mr. Broadbent's name.

Mr. Layton's casket will be taken from Parliament Hill on Thursday to the sound of a 15-gun salute and O Canada playing from the Peace Tower.

Ms. Chow wants as much space as possible reserved for the public at Saturday's state funeral at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall.

Honouring a respected public servant

What is a state funeral?

In Canada, state funerals typically commemorate current or former governors-general and prime ministers, and cabinet members who die in office. At the government's discretion, however, other eminent Canadians may be accorded the honour. Provinces may hold state funerals, as Quebec did for Maurice Richard in 2000.

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Who attends a state funeral?

In addition to the public, invitations are issued in a formal order of precedence: the Queen; the Governor-General; members of the Royal Family in Canada; the chief justice; former governors-general; surviving spouses of deceased governors-general; former prime ministers; former chief justices; the Speaker of the Senate; the Speaker of the House of Commons; and representatives of foreign governments, beginning with ambassadors and high commissioners. Then, ministers of the Crown, the Leader of the Opposition (NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel), lieutenant-governors of the provinces, and all other members of the Queen's Privy Council.

What does a state funeral involve?

Generally, state funerals include a lying-in-state, procession, funeral service, and committal, which may have all or some components of military honours, and a post-committal reception. During the lying-in-state period, four guards of honour will maintain rotational vigil. The Canadian flag will fly at half-mast on Parliament Hill and at other federal installations across the country.

What is an honour guard?

Canadian honour guards may be selected from branches of the Canadian Forces, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. During the lying-in-state, guards stand at each corner of the coffin – heads bowed, weapons inverted, and backs to the casket.

Who was the first person to receive a state funeral in Canada?

Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a father of Confederation, was assassinated by an Irish nationalist Fenian in April, 1868. Except for Mr. McGee, Mr. Layton, and a few others, all other recipients of state funerals have been prime ministers, governor-generals or cabinet ministers.

Are state funerals mandatory?

No. State funerals are not required by law, and families of the deceased may decide not to hold one. In 2009, The family of John Babcock, the last known Canadian veteran of the First World War, declined Ottawa's offer of a state funeral.

Michael Posner

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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