Montreal, Sept. 5 (Reuters): A masked gunman shot dead one person inside a Montreal theatre where the leader of Quebec’s separatist Parti Quebecois was celebrating a narrow election win in the Canadian province.
The incident was shocking for Canada, where murder levels are around a third of those in the US and political violence is extremely rare.
The shooting eclipsed news that the Parti Quebecois had pipped the ruling Liberals in Tuesday’s election and would have to be content with a minority government, effectively ruling out another referendum on breaking away from Canada.
Pauline Marois, newly elected as the first female premier of Quebec, had told a rally of supporters the province would one day be independent when her bodyguards rushed her from the stage. She later returned to finish her speech.
Montreal police said a man around 50 years old had entered the back of the Metropolis theatre just before midnight with a rifle and a handgun and shot two people. Police said a man in his forties died on the spot, another was taken to hospital in a critical condition.
RDI television showed pictures of police subduing a large man with a rifle who was dressed in a black cape and a black facemask.
He appeared to shout in French the phrase “The English are waking up”. Marois had promised to strengthen laws designed to ensure the dominance of the French language, which has worried some in the minority English-speaking community.
“We are appalled by this violence,” said Carl Vallee, a spokesman for federal Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
La Presse newspaper cited security sources as saying Montreal police had cordoned off a truck they suspected contained weapons. Other Canadian media outlets said the dead man was a technician at the theatre and the badly wounded man was a driver of the PQ campaign bus.
The last political killing in Canada occurred in October 1970, when a radical Quebec nationalist group kidnapped provincial Labour Minister Pierre Laporte and a British diplomat. Laporte was later found strangled.
Almost lost in the aftermath of the Montreal shooting was the fact that the PQ won 54 of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature, ending nine years of rule by the Liberals. Previous PQ governments held independence referendums in 1980 and 1995, but both failed.
Although Marois is promising another vote when the time is right, that could be years away. A recent poll showed only 28 percent of Quebecers back separation from the rest of Canada.
Marois had promised to concentrate first on the economy, in particular tackling the province’s large debt, imposing higher tax and royalty rates on mining firms and making foreign takeovers of Quebec companies more difficult.