As It Happens

'She didn't deserve it': Gilles Duceppe's family suing seniors' residence where mother died

Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe says he's forced to relive his mother's death every day because the luxury seniors' residence where she froze to death has not been held responsible.

Hélène Rowley Hotte Duceppe, mother of ex-Bloc Québécois leader, died of hypothermia in January 2019

Hélène Rowley Hotte Duceppe, pictured at the inauguration of Parc Jean-Duceppe in 2006 alongside her son, Gilles Duceppe, died outside a Montreal seniors' residence in 2019. (Radio-Canada)
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Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe says he's forced to relive his mother's death every day because the luxury seniors' residence where she froze to death last year has not been held responsible. 

"It is like it is yesterday," Duceppe told As It Happens host Carol Off. "They made a lot of mistakes, and we have to change the way of taking care of the old age people in the future." 

Duceppe and his siblings announced Monday that they are suing the Lux Gouverneur Montreal for gross negligence.

Hélène Rowley Hotte Duceppe died of hypothermia outside the Montreal residence on Jan. 20, 2019.

The 93-year-old was stuck in an outdoor courtyard for six hours after exiting through an emergency exit because of a false fire alarm. It felt like - 35 C outside, with strong winds and blowing snow. 

Death entirely preventable

A coroner's report that was released last summer said there was video surveillance, which showed her desperately trying to get back into the building in the early hours of the morning, before collapsing at 11:02 a.m. 

Staff didn't find her until 11:40, but by that time she was already dead. The report found that while her death was accidental, it was entirely preventable. 

"She didn't deserve it," Duceppe said. 

Duceppe said his mother had a "great fear" of fires, which came from growing up with stories about the tragic 1927 Laurier Palace Theatre fire in Montreal that killed 85 children — many who were crushed to death as they tried to escape. 

When she heard the fire alarm in her residence, she was just following the rules, he said. 

"They didn't look at the cameras, said Duceppe, referring to employees at the residence. "They told the firemen that they checked if everyone was back in the room, which was not true, and they waited five months before apologizing to the family."

Duceppe and his siblings are seeking $1.25 million for both the suffering experienced by their mother and the pain her death has caused her seven children. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Her access card would not allow her back inside through the emergency exit, and no one at the residence noticed that she was missing. The coroner said an alarm was triggered when she exited, but an employee turned it off 20 minutes later without checking outside.

Duceppe said this is unacceptable. 

"Instead of just changing the alarm, you look on the other side of the door," he said. "She was there trying to get back inside." 

None of the claims has been proven in court. The family is seeking $1.25 million for both the suffering experienced by Rowley Hotte Duceppe and the pain her death has caused her seven children.

The management of the residence said in a statement Monday that staff remain "extremely shaken by the death of Mrs. Rowley-Hotte.''

"The safety and well-being of residents is a top priority for management. Due to the ongoing legal procedures, we will not be granting interviews,'' the statement read.

Planned to knit for the homeless

Duceppe said the day before his mother died she told her daughter that she was worried about the people who were living on the streets because it was so cold.

She said that she was going to spend the next day knitting warm clothes to give to people in need. 

"And she's the one who died because of the cold," Duceppe said. 

His mother was in "great shape" for her age, he said. Just a month before she died, her doctor told her that she had the "heart of a young girl."  

She loved to read the newspaper, and she read one book a week, Duceppe said. 

Siblings Monique Duceppe, left, Yves Duceppe, centre left, and Gilles Duceppe, centre right, with their lawyer, Marc-Antoine Cloutier. (Pierre Saint-Arnaud/The Canadian Press)

His mother didn't want to leave eastern Montreal, where she was born and raised, but the family convinced her to move to an apartment at the Lux Gouverneur Montreal because it was advertised as being secure. Duceppe said they were paying $3,700 a month in rent, not including food, for the apartment. 

"But, the thing is, even if you have the cameras, if you don't use them, it serves nobody," Duceppe said.  

Duceppe said he wants the government and residence to take action and implement the recommendations made by the coroner in the death of his mother and others.

Some of those recommendations include installing an intercom and doorbells outside each emergency exit, and to check stairwells and exits after an alarm is triggered. 

"At least that would prevent … tragedies like that. And I think … we should protect better the old age people," Duceppe said.  


Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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