Some are saying a sad chapter in Quebec history came to an end today with the second-degree murder conviction by a jury of Richard Henry Bain.
I can’t agree with them. For the family of Denis Blanchette, the man killed by Bain, and many, many other Quebecers — including Pauline Marois, the first female to become premier of Quebec — the sadness of that chapter will linger for decades.
Madame Marois was one of Bain’s intended victims that night in September 2012. Her party, the Parti Québécois, had just won the provincial election that day and she was giving her election night victory speech in a Montreal nightclub when the unthinkable happened: “a lunatic in a bathrobe” — his lawyer’s words — showed up outside the venue and started shooting at people standing outside.
With one bullet, Richard Henry Bain killed lighting technician Denis Blanchette and seriously injured his colleague, David Courage, both of whom had been working on the stage setting inside and had gone outside to have a smoke.
Bain’s gun jammed before he could kill anyone else, so he doused the back stairs of the venue with fuel and tried to set it alight with a flare before the police got to him and subdued him.
Bain later admitted that he would have killed Madame Marois if he had the opportunity, and that he wanted to kill as many PQ supporters as he could. It seemed at the time that he hated the PQ because of their separatist ideals, and he had arrived at the nightclub with several guns in his car.
So what should have been a night of celebration for Quebecers — whether you were a PQ supporter or not — if only because a woman had finally been elected premier of Quebec, became one of the darkest times in our history.
There was so much sadness in the days that followed. Denis Blanchette was the single parent of a young girl . . . And many Quebec musicians — including Céline Dion, if memory serves me right — planned a fundraising concert for her.
All journalists will tell you there are particular stories that touch their souls and stick with them for years after they have handled them. The funeral of Denis Blanchette is one such story for me. I was working on the online desk that evening, and handled and posted all of our paper’s stories and photos about that sad event. I was especially moved by a couple of photos of Premier Marois — of whom I was so proud of her tremendous political accomplishment — comforting the mother of Denis Blanchette at his funeral . . . holding her in her arms, the mother weeping while resting her head on Premier Marois’s chest.
So, why did it take almost four years to bring this guy to justice, you might be wondering.
Well, Bain’s various antics — I don’t want to elaborate — led to delays, but he finally managed to get a good lawyer and proceed with presenting a defence. And I gotta say that his lawyer did an admirable job. I have great respect for defence lawyers — I wanted to be one before I got sucked into the vortex that is journalism (a post for another day).
Bain’s lawyer, Alan Guttman, “focused on the notion that Bain was suffering from an undiagnosed mental disorder at the time, most probably bipolar disorder, and that he was in a psychotic and delusional state the night of the killing,” reports Catherine Solyom of the Montreal Gazette (the paper I work for).
His argument was pretty convincing, and as I read reports from the trial over the past month or so, I thought there was a real possibility Bain would be found not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder, one of four options the judge presented to the jury. After all, the guy had shown up at the nightclub in a bathrobe . . .
The four verdicts the jury had to consider were: guilty of first-degree murder, guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of manslaughter or not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder.
They deliberated for 11 days, one of the longest periods in Canadian judicial history. I’m sure they wrestled with the mental disorder possibility, because it surely seems Bain was out of his mind. But there was certainly some planning behind the attack on the nightclub: Bain drove hundreds of kilometres, and had several firearms in his vehicle. He was intent on killing people.
I bet some members of the jury wanted to nail him with first-degree murder, while others felt he was not criminally responsible. So, second-degree murder, along with three convictions for attempted murder, seems to be a compromise. Technically speaking, he didn’t set out to specifically kill Denis Blanchette that night.
A second-degree murder conviction means Bain could get parole after 10 years. He has already served four years, for which he will be credited for six years because he had not been convicted yet (time served before conviction counts for time and a half). So, he could be released in four years — if a judge allows parole after 10 years and if the parole board sees fit to release him. Had he been convicted of first-degree murder, he may not have received a chance for parole for 25 years. Considering that he is 65 now, he would have surely died in prison.
So, Guttman did a good job as a defence lawyer and got a decision that few other people, besides Bain, will find satisfactory.
A sentencing hearing will be held Sept. 6, at which time family and others affected by the death of Denis Blanchette and the wounding of David Courage can make victim impact statements.
I’m thinking a lot of Quebecers will be making statements in the next little while, even if they are not allowed to appear on Sept. 6.
While Guttman said his client “could walk out of this (prison) alive,” I bet many people hope Bain never gets out, and that he rots in hell . . . because Denis Blanchette is gone from this world, and his daughter will never have her father.
Today, I handled and posted the verdict story for our website (the story linked to above), as well as others about the trial. In the verdict story, I made sure to post that photo of Madame Marois and Denis Blanchette’s mom. I made sure to post a picture of Denis himself . . . I won’t forget Denis Blanchette, despite what the prosecutor said today:
“I hope the victims will be satisfied with the jury’s verdicts, and that this will allow them to turn the page on these tragic events four years later,” said Crown prosecutor Dennis Galiatsatos. “Mr. Bain attacked stage technicians, working men and women, citizens, he attacked police officers. But he also attacked democracy and the very values our constitution stands for … I also hope the verdicts help the country and the province turn the page on this very sad chapter in our history.”
No, there is no turning the page on these tragic events. The wounds will stay with us for as long as we live.
Rest in peace, Denis . . . I cry for you again tonight.