The Current

Death of Gilles Duceppe's mother is latest in series of preventable tragedies: reporter

Hélène Rowley Hotte, 93, died of hypothermia Sunday after getting locked out of the Lux Gouverneur seniors' complex when an alarm went off. We talk to The Globe and Mail's health columnist André Picard about how tragedies like this can be avoided.

Hélène Rowley Hotte, 93, froze to death after getting locked outside early Sunday

Hélène Rowley Hotte and son Gilles Duceppe in 2006. Rowley Hotte was identified as the woman found in the snow outside an east Montreal seniors' residence Sunday morning. (Radio-Canada)
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The death of a 93-year-old woman who got locked outside in freezing temperatures highlights a preventable tragedy that happens all too often, according to a health reporter.

"There's a dozen, two dozen, three dozen of these stories every single year that I read about," said André Picard, reporter and health columnist for The Globe and Mail.

Hélène Rowley Hotte walked out of the high-end Lux Gouverneur seniors' complex in Montreal early Sunday morning, when an alarm went off. The door locked behind her, and the 93-year-old was stranded outside in -19 C cold, which the wind chill made feel more like -32 C.

Rowley Hotte's body was found hours later, after she died of hypothermia. She was the mother of former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.

"It's such a preventable tragedy," Picard told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Just imagine, that could be my parent or your parent, that this happens so easily."

Just as an intense snowstorm swept into Montreal early Sunday morning, an alarm at Hélène Rowley Hotte's luxury seniors' residence sent her out into the bitter cold. Locked out, the 93-year-old mother of former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe was found dead seven hours later. Her death has prompted an outpouring of support for Duceppe from across the political spectrum and raised questions about safety protocols at seniors' homes. 2:18

Picard said that part of the cause is because "we've built cities to make people lonely, to be hidden away and isolated in apartment buildings."

"We don't have any idea if Madame Rowley Hotte's neighbours even knew who she was, that's sort of the norm in modern society," said Picard.

Picard remembered another case from 2011, where a woman with mild dementia left her home in Toronto and became disorientated.

The question is: What are we going to do with this information this time, are we actually going to act on it?- André Picard

"She banged on the doors of the neighbours, she screamed, she set off car alarms," he said.

"Nobody came out because no one wanted to have anything to do with — in the words of one neighbour — some crazy old lady, so they just left her there.

"She froze to death."

To stop tragedies like this, we should build communities that foster interaction, he said.

Rowley Hotte's status might draw attention to the issue, he said, but he fears the discussion may not find solutions.

"The question is: What are we going to do with this information this time, are we actually going to act on it?"

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Montreal network producer Susan McKenzie.

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