The Guardian

Quebec separatists’ election victory overshadowed by fatal shooting

Attack, which comes at the end of a bitterly divisive election campaign fought on cultural and language issues, stuns Canada

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois

Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois was minutes into her victory speech when the gunman opened fire, killing one and injuring another. Photograph: Paul Chiasson/AP

Police in Quebec were on Wednesday investigating the motives behind a gun attack on the victory party of Quebec’s first female premier, which left one man dead and another critically wounded hours after voters in the Canadian province elected a minority separatist government.

Canadian politicians condemned the attack, which stunned the province and came at the end of a bitterly divisive election campaign.

Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Quebecois, was minutes in to her victory speech at a party in Montreal on Tuesday night when the gunman opened fire, killing a 45-year-old-man. Two bodyguards bundled Marois off stage when gunfire rattled out.

The man, who was wearing a blue bathrobe and a balaclava, was tackled to the ground by police outside the concert hall after he had started a small fire. As he was being arrested, the man allegedly shouted out, repeating twice in French: “The anglophones are waking up.”

Montreal police identified the gunman as Richard Henry Bain, 62, from Mont Tremblant, a small town in the Laurentian mountains about 80 miles north-west of Montreal. It was not clear whether the suspect was an English or a French speaker – an important detail after a bitter election campaign fought on cultural and language issues.

Marois came back on stage to give a final thank-you to her jubilant supporters before urging them to calmly evacuate the concert hall.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Marois said her thoughts were with the family of the victim and that an investigation is under way. Marois said: “Quebec is a non-violent society. A single act of madness cannot erase this fact.”

Quebec police sergeant Bruno Beaulieu told the Guardian the suspect is in custody and will appear in court on Thursday morning to hear the charges against him.

Lieutenant Guy Lapointe told AP that the suspect was taken to a hospital on Wednesday, but that his life was not in danger. “We can’t establish at this point what the motive or intent was. Was he targeting Madame Marois? I’ll tell you: a lot of things were said by this individual after they arrested him, in French and English,” Lapointe said.

Before the dramatic interruption to her speech, Marois reaffirmed her party’s commitment an independent Quebec. Speaking in French, she said: “As a nation we want to take decisions that concern us on our own,” she said. “The future of Quebec is to become a sovereign country.”

She highlighted the French language as essential to the future of the province, then addressed the anglophone people of Quebec in English, promising to protect them and to forge a shared future together.

The PQ is likely to form a minority government after winning fewer seats than required to take power outright, and on a slightly reduced share of the popular vote, just 32%. Preliminary results showed the PQ won 56 of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature, ending nine years of rule by the Liberals.

The result leaves questions over whether the PQ will be able to hold its promised referendum on splitting from Canada. It will need the support of another party to form an administration, which is likely to be one of the weakest in the country.

The issue of Quebec’s sovereignty is contentious in the French-speaking province and the election of the PQ only to minority government may indicate Quebecoise are not ready to face a third referendum. Two previous votes, in 1980 and 1995, were defeated.

But Marois may try to press ahead with other proposals, such as expanding Quebec’s language Law 101 to prevent francophones and immigrants from attending English-speaking junior colleges. Marois has proposed legislation that would prevent non-French speakers from running for office, and has suggested a secularism charter banning public service employees from wearing overtly religious symbols, like the Jewish yarmulke and the Muslim hijab.

The snap election was called after a student strike over raising tuition fees and the Liberal government’s crackdown on student protesters caused unrest across the province.

Former student strike leader Leo Bureau-Blouin, 20, was elected in his district of Laval for the PQ, making him the youngest elected to the national assembly.

Jean Charest, the leader of the federalist Liberal party, which has governed Quebec for the past nine years, was unseated in his own district of Sherbrook, while his party came in second behind the Parti Quebecois.

Support for the party leader has waned due to his handling of the student strike, allegations of corruption in the construction industry and passage of Bill 78 – a widely condemned anti-protest law that brought hundreds of thousands of Quebecois on to the streets during the spring.

Marois has promised a tuition freeze until a summit on higher education financing is held, has pledged to repeal Bill 78, and would like to pass a third referendum on Quebec sovereignty. She said on Wednesday: “I will adopt what it is possible for me to adopt.”

Charest, the ousted Liberal premier, told supporters he accepted responsibility for the defeat. In a riposte to separatism he declared: “The future of Quebec is in Canada.”

Marois issued a statement Wednesday expressing her sadness at the death of the man shot and saying that her thoughts were with the victim’s family.

“Following this tragedy all Quebecois are mourning today after such a gratuitous act of violence,” she said. “Never will a society such as ours let violence dictate its collective choices. It is with democracy that we must express ourselves, like people of Quebec were able to do yesterday.”

The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, who spoke on the phone with Marois in what was described as a “cordial first contact”, said he was “angered and saddened” by the shooting. “It is a tragic day where an exercise of democracy is met with an act of violence,” Harper said. “This atrocious act will not be tolerated and such violence has no place in Canada. Canadians can rest assured that the perpetrator of last night’s events will face the full force of the law,” said Harper.”

The Montreal French-language TV station TVA reported that a man alerted police about possibility of an attack but claimed not to have been taken seriously. Stephen Guy Sévigny said he was invited to the victory speech on Facebook by a man whose page was covered with photos of guns and slanderous comments about Marois. He immediately told police “but they did not take me seriously” said Sévigny.

Sévigny said he was too afraid to attend the victory speech, certain there would be an attack. “I spent the night crying and vomiting,” he told TVA.

Police said there was no evidence yet to show that the threats were linked to the attack.