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Chilling Death of Gilles Duceppe’s Mother

by Sarah Kassa

Hélène Rowley Hotte and son Gilles Duceppe at Jean-Duceppe Park’s inauguration in 2006 - Radio Canada

Hélène Rowley Hotte, the mother of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, died of hypothermia outside her seniors’ residence on Sunday January 20th. The 93-year-old woman was locked outside around 4:15 am after hearing a fire alarm and exiting the building through a back door. Her body was found lying in the snow at around 11 am.

Quebec’s Coroner’s office Spokesperson Joannie Lambert-Roy announced the next day that Coroner Géhane Kamel had been assigned to investigate the circumstances surrounding Rowley Hotte’s death. Montreal police spokesperson Caroline Chèvrefils said the victim had a hearing disability preventing her from understanding that her wing of the three-building complex did not have to be evacuated.

Currently on an official mission in France, Quebec Premier François Legault extended his condolences to the Duceppe family, calling her death a “tragedy” and an “immeasurable sorrow” and promising that his government will work on improving safety measures in seniors’ home. “We have to be very respectful because the family of Gilles Duceppe is living a very sad moment,” said Quebec’s minister of seniors Marguerite Blais at a press conference in Québec City, adding that she will never give up “when it comes to the security of the elderly.”

Lux Gouverneur Montréal issued a statement saying that “Hélène Rowley Hotte was wearing winter clothing when she left the residence” and that their security footage showed her struggling to go back inside for almost an hour and eventually fainting. Blais declared that their certification was renewed in April 2018 and that they met all required standards, including the number of staffers working at night. According to the province’s registry of seniors’ homes, Lux had six staff members on duty, including two nurses, on the night of Rowley Hotte’s death.

“We are always closing our eyes when it comes to the security of the elderly,” deplored Pierre Blain, President of the Regroupement provincial des comités des usagers, a Quebec patients’ rights group. “[The security cameras are] clearly insufficient. They’re used not for what is happening, but only for later when something has happened.”

On Monday afternoon, Gilles Duceppe wrote his first public statement on Twitter since his mother’s death to thank people for their messages of condolences and support, adding that he was unable to check his emails for the time being.

Hélène Rowley Hotte was married to and had seven children with Jean Duceppe, a well-known Quebec actor who passed away in 1990. Her father John James Rowley was a British Home Child, one of hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken children who were sent to British colonies like Canada to be adopted and sometimes even used as free labor. Gilles Duceppe once referred to his mother’s heritage by saying “I’m a bloke who turned Bloc.”


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