Hundreds attend PQ rally shooting victim's funeral

Quebec premier-designate Pauline Marois and other dignitaries attended this afternoon's funeral for Denis Blanchette, the lighting technician who was shot dead in an election-night incident outside the Parti Québécois's victory rally.
Denis Blanchette's funeral cortege arrives at St. Donat Church for his state-sponsored funeral in Montreal on Monday afternoon. People of fame and power attended the ceremony for the lighting technician. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Quebec premier-designate Pauline Marois and other dignitaries were among hundreds who attended this afternoon's funeral for Denis Blanchette, the lighting technician who was shot dead in an election-night incident outside the Parti Québécois's victory rally last week.

Blanchette's funeral offered striking contrasts. On one side of east-end Montreal's St. Donat Church sat Marois and a number of notable politicians. On the other, weeping relatives and friends — some of them wearing casual work clothes, with one of the pallbearers wearing a backwards ballcap and sunglasses perched on top.

Outgoing Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand was there, as were the heads of Équipe Spectra, the production company that puts on the Montreal jazz festival and for which Blanchette worked.

Blanchette was working at the Metropolis concert hall in Montreal, where the PQ was holding its election-night victory rally, when he was shot. (Facebook)

Blanchette, 48, was killed last week in an incident that made international news: the shooting at the PQ's election-night party that police say might have been targeting Marois.

His funeral began with a procession of the casket into the church, with a choir and organ playing J.S. Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. 

Rev. Joseph Dubé, who officiated, said forgiveness is difficult at times like this, but ultimately part of God's path for mourners.

"Let us celebrate the life of our brother," Dubé said. "We often say the deceased are in our hearts. Yes. But not just any way.... Denis now lives in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is all of us.

"Notwithstanding all of life's obstacles that Denis was subject to, there's no more obstacles that keep him from knowing God."

Police guard premier

Police officers in dark suits took positions throughout the building and a couple stood against the church's interior red-brick wall, where they kept an eye on Marois. A perimeter of nearly a full city block was erected outside the building.

During the service, Blanchette's housemate and lifelong friend Denis Bourgault delivered sombre, measured remarks, calling the stage technician "my accomplice, my friend, my brother."

Roman Catholic priest Joseph Dubé, centre, presided over the funeral, saying 'Denis now lives in the kingdom of God.' (Radio-Canada)

"I don't really know what to say. Today's the last day we're seeing him with our eyes, but we're more used to seeing with our hearts than our eyes, the two of us."

Bourgault suggested Blanchette's courage might have prevented a bigger bloodbath. Blanchette, a father of a young girl, was standing at the back of the Metropolis concert hall, where he worked, when the gunman tried to enter the building in the middle of Marois's victory speech. Some witnesses have said Blanchette might have obstructed him.

"You left through the big door, buddy — true to yourself," Bourgault told the packed church.

Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor outgoing premier Jean Charest were in attendance, but both were represented by cabinet ministers. Former PQ premier Bernard Landry was there.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Marois signed the book of condolences, along with family and friends.

Province organized funeral

The funeral was organized by the provincial government's protocol office as a state-sponsored commemoration, at the request of Marois and with the agreement of Blanchette's family and exiting Premier Jean Charest.

Following the ceremony, Marois strayed away from the church onto the edge of the crowd to shake hands with onlookers and pose for photos. Some people chanted nationalist slogans and waved flags.

"Vive le Quebec libre!" one man shouted as the pro-independence leader greeted people. Police, meanwhile, seemed on edge as they kept careful watch over her.

Quebec premier-designate Pauline Marois, right, attended and consoled mourners, including Blanchette's lifelong friend Denis Bourgault (face hidden at centre). (Radio-Canada)

Marois, for her part, has downplayed any political significance to last week's shooting, in which she was whisked offstage in mid-speech to safety by a police bodyguard and one of her aides. After Monday's funeral, she called on Quebecers to take note of Blanchette's sacrifice.

"I believe that we owe a lot to Denis Blanchette's family because we know that he probably saved us from a tragedy bigger than it was," Marois told reporters outside the church.

The bullet that killed Blanchette passed through his body and struck one of his colleagues, Dave Courage, who was seriously wounded. Rev. Dubé called for mourners to also pray for him as he recovers in hospital.

The incident was a stunning turn of events on a night where the PQ was feting its election victory over the governing Liberals.

Richard Henry Bain of La Conception, Que., a town about 140 kilometres northwest of Montreal, is charged with 16 offences in relation to the shooting, including first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder.

With files from The Canadian Press