On election night in Quebec, just as Parti Québécois Leader and Premier-designate Pauline Marois reached the midpoint of her victory speech, she was suddenly and dramatically swept off stage by her security detail.
Remarkably, her face showed no sign of fear. Only her voice betrayed a touch of surprise. "What's happening, what's happening?" she asked as she was pulled out of frame of the live broadcast.
Everyone was waiting for an answer to Marois' question. And in a larger sense, we're still grappling with it.
As we now know, what happened that night was that a man carrying firearms approached the Metropolis theatre, where the PQ victory party was being held, and attempted to enter. He didn't get in, but he did manage to wound two men, one fatally, before setting fire to the back door.
Police apprehended suspect Richard Henry Bain minutes later. As he was being escorted away, he said, "The English are waking up, the English are waking up," in French, before switching to English: "There's going to be f--king payback."
When hearing and reading his words the next day, many Quebecers were filled with dread, especially those in the English-speaking community.
The night before, the Parti Québécois won a minority government after a tough three-way race, pushing out Jean Charest's embattled Liberal Party by a narrow margin of four seats. François Legault's new party, Coalition Avenir Québec, came in third, capturing 19 seats. The remaining two went to the progressive sovereigntist party, Québec Solidaire.
With 75 per cent voter participation, Quebecers expressed a moderate but sure desire for change, but also confirmed the existence of a deeply divided electorate.
So far, police have stopped short of claiming Marois was the intended shooting target on Sept. 4. But the shooting was a tragic end to an otherwise respectful election day. It seemed like a non sequitur. It demanded explanation.
Pundits and politicians of all stripes immediately condemned the attack, offering condolences to the victims' families.
"An unjustified and inexplicable gesture that struck Quebec in the heart," said Jean Charest, adding that it "reminded us of the fragility of our lives."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper came out forcefully, stating "It is a tragic day where an exercise of democracy is met with an act of violence. This atrocious act will not be tolerated and such violence has no place in Canada."
The shooting was widely decried as the act of a lone gunman, a seemingly alienated and presumably unbalanced individual.
Marois herself emphasized this point in the brief press conference held the next day. "The man is sick, there can be no other explanation," she said, concluding that it was "un acte de folie" – an act of madness.
But amidst the soul searching, some couldn't help but wonder if hysterical political rhetoric had somehow inspired the shooting.
The Société Saint-Jean Baptiste, an organization dedicated to the protection of French, pointed the finger at English media outlets, calling on them to soften their tone. A post on the society's website claimed that English media had made accusations of xenophobia against sovereigntists throughout the campaign.
Old guard separatist Lise Payette took the same tack, but targeted the PQ's opponents. "Jean Charest and François Legault have brandished the spectre of the referendum as if it were the plague, almost threatening us with certain death should it come to pass. The tactic is well known. It's fear mongering to get votes," she wrote in Le Devoir.
On the flip side, former Liberal MNA Serge Simard insinuated it was the result of PQ policy during the student boycott last spring.
"These last months, a culture of violence has developed, and certain parties at the national assembly have favoured violence. It's unfortunate, because look at what it does. It leads individuals with mental health problems to carry out acts like the ones we've just witnessed," Simard said.
Such thinking is seriously flawed. Sure, the debates and discussions during the election campaign were spirited, at times aggressive, but they were never malevolent. And, yes, Quebec's language and identity politics continue to be sources of tension, but not violent ones.
On the other side are comments often heard on English radio talk shows or in letters to the editor which target the Parti Québécois and Marois, suggesting that their proposed policies on establishing a Quebec citizenship and a secular charter somehow caused the night's tragic events.
In trying to explain the mood in the province the day after the shooting, former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings said "a significant part of Mme. Marois' campaign and message was to appeal to xenophobes … That created a great deal of unease amongst many anglophones, allophones, but also francophone electors."
Any suggestion that the PQ, perhaps even Marois, brought this on themselves is offensive to most Quebecers who believe there's no benefit in trying to make political hay out of this incident, and any attempt to do so is misguided.
Richard Henry Bain has been charged with 16 offences, including first-degree murder. Unless we hear differently, he does not represent anyone but himself.