On Wednesday May 8, 1984, at 9:45 a.m. a
person dressed in army commando fatigues and armed with a submachine gun, burst
into the National Assembly building by the door situated on Grand-Allée
Boulevard. After shooting a messenger (who subsequently died) and seriously
wounding a receptionist the armed man ran down the hall leading to the
Speaker's Gallery. He proceeded to the first floor where he entered the main
chamber of the Legislature. A committee of the Assembly was preparing to hear
the Chief Electoral Officer's budgetary estimates for 1984-1985. He fired three
more rounds wounding several people, two mortally. One of the those killed and
several of the wounded worked for the Chief Electoral Officer. The other person
killed was a page who had worked for the National Assembly for several years.
While the gunman was still in the Assembly chamber the Sergeant-at-Arms, René
Jalbert, attempted to negotiate with him. The following account of the incident
was given by the Sergeant-at-Arms during a press conference held on May 9,
1984. A transcript of the interview was published in Actualité parlementaire,
vol. 3, no. 6. The English translation was prepared in Ottawa for the Canadian
Mr. Millette: How did you get into the
Mr. Jalbert: I arrived at 9:30 a.m. and
headed toward my office. I was told there was someone in the National Assembly
shooting a rifle. I got in the elevator and went up to the chamber. When I
stepped out of the elevator, I heard a burst of gunfire. I moved forward and
saw a man sitting in the Speaker's chair. As soon as he saw me, he fired
another round. That is how I got into the chamber!
Mr. Millette: What kind of conversation
did you have with him?
Mr. Jalbert: When I saw him he was dressed
in a military uniform, I tried to introduce myself to him. I told him I too was
a military man. I said that, if he let me, I would take out my Armed Forces
discharge card. He let me and I took out my identification card to show to him.
I introduced myself and asked him: "Seeing as I showed you my
identification card could you show me your identification card too, so that I
would know who I am talking to?" He said yes and he showed me his ID.
That's when I saw he was a Mr. Denis Lortie.
Mr. Rhéaume: You were in the presence of Mr.
Lortie for several hours; were you his hostage?
Mr. Jalbert: Not at all.
Mr. Rhéaume: You could have left him at any
Mr. Jalbert: No. It was not a matter of
being a hostage. I managed to convince him to follow me to my office. When he
got inside my office, I told him: I don't want you pointing those weapons at
me." He agreed to that. He said: "There are people in the National
Assembly." At the time, I did not know that he had already killed
somebody. I did not know that there was still somebody in the chamber. He was
the one that told me. I said to him: "Listen! I want to negotiate with
you, I really want to have a talk with you and help you, but we're going to do
it in my office.
In the meantime, before going, you must
promise me that the pages that are still in the chamber will be allowed to
go." He told me: "Yes." I said: "Do you promise?" He
did, then he raised his gun and I said to the pages: 'All those who are in the
chamber, leave right now!" Three pages left. When they had gone, the only
person left was a policeman in the gallery with a walkie talkie.
Mr. Rhéaume: During your conversations, did
the Canadian soldier mention any demands or objectives? Did he want something
and ask for it directly or in an incoherent manner?
Mr. Jalbert: I asked him: "Why are you
doing this?" He said: I want to make everyone aware. I want to make the
federal government, the provincial government, and everyone aware. That's
all." I said: "Listen! You want to make them aware, but why, what do
you want to tell them?" ', Oh!" he said, It's too long, too
difficult, we won't talk about it, talk to me about something else."
I changed the topic and went back to my
invitation to go to my office and talk because I wanted to help him since we
were both soldiers. I said: "Maybe we can find a solution to your
problem." That's when he decided to go with me.
Mr. Rhéame: Is it true that he wanted to
give himself up to the Military Police rather than to the Quebec Provincial
Mr. Jalbert: Yes. After having talked to him
for a long time, I made a suggestion. "Listen! If you want, I'll phone
Valcartier, the military authorities. I've got a friend there; maybe he can
find a solution to your problem. Will you let me phone?" When he said yes,
I phoned Base Valcartier and spoke to Colonel Armand Roy. I explained what was
happening and also explained that he agreed to give himself up to the Military
Police. I asked Col. Roy if he would send me two military policemen. He said:
"Yes, they will be there in half an hour or three quarters of an
hour." I said: "Listen, it's Colonel Armand Roy on the phone; do you
want to talk to him to make sure I'm really talking to a soldier at
Valcartier?' He then took the phone and spoke to Colonel Roy. I don't know what
the Colonel said to him, but he agreed with what the colonel was saying. He
turned around and his revolver still had the safety catch off. I said:
"Listen! You're making me nervous with that revolver. If you put it on the
table, I won't be as nervous and we can talk some more."
Mr. Rhéaume: The revolver or the submachine
Mr. Jalbert: At the time, it was the revolver,
because he had put the submachine gun down on my desk. When we walked out of
the Chamber he stayed very close to me with his submachine gun. I knew very
well that the Quebec Provincial Police would see us coming out, and I told them
we were coming. When we walked out, there was one policeman just to the right,
about two or three feet away – he took his hands and lifted them up like this.
That was enormously reassuring to Lortie and he calmed down a bit. Then I had
some trouble getting on the elevator because he had fired at it and the buttons
were smashed. I didn't know if the elevator was in working order. Luckily, it
was. While getting in I said to him: "There's nothing to get upset about
anymore, we're safe, we're alone, and we're in the elevator." Then he
calmed down and lowered his weapon.
Mrs. Lafontaine: Just a minute ago you said
you didn't consider yourself a hostage. Could you give us an idea of how you
felt about all of this. If you didn't feel like a hostage was it because you
felt safe? That seems impossible under the circumstances.
Mr. Jalbert: The reason I didn't feel like a
hostage was because, from the beginning to when we went into my office, we had
already been negotiating and talking for maybe 20 or 24 minutes. So, he had
already begun to accept me or to establish a type of relationship. It was maybe
not exactly friendly but he started to have more confidence in me. When we went
to my office to show him I was serious, that I didn't want to rush him or
anything, I introduced him to my secretary.
Mr. Lacombe: Your secretary was there? Your
secretary hadn't been evacuated by the police?
Mr. Jalbert: She was in my office, The
police didn't know I was going to my office at that time.
Mr. Lacombe: That's unbelievable. The police
hadn't evacuated the building.
Mr. Jalbert: Not at that time. This was at
the beginning; they hadn't had the time. Upon entering my office I introduced
him to her; he leaned down and kissed her cheek. I congratulated him; I told
him: "You are a gentleman, Corporal. You treated that woman very
nicely." And then we went into my office. When we got there, I asked him
to put his submachine gun on my desk, in front of him. A short time later, when
he spoke to Colonel Roy on the phone, he took a 9-mm revolver out of his pocket
that I didn't even know he had. Then he loaded it and he had it in his hand
like this and I said to myself that an accident could happen. That was the only
time I felt a bit uncomfortable.
Mr. Rivest: You seem to talk about this
young man with a lot of kindness. What do you feel for him?
Mr. Jalbert: Well, here is a young man of 25
who got himself into one hell of a mess. Evidently, there was something not
right. There was a problem and it bothered me to see a young man mess up his
life like that. I said that to him about ten times when he was in my office. I
tried to make him understand that the thing he was doing was stupid and that if
he did any more stupid things he would make matters worse. "There are two
things you can do," I said, "You can give yourself up, not to the
police, but to the provosts," (that's what they call the Military Police).
I can even phone a padre, (that's what we call a priest, in the army). Colonel
Arseneault is the camp padre at Valcartier. "I'll call him. I'll get him
on the phone and you'll be able to talk to him on the phone. Maybe he'll help
you. Maybe with him, you and 1, we will find a way of working out your
Mr. McKenzie: Did he talk to any other
Mr. Jalbert: Yes. I don't remember what time
it was – I received a phone call from another military friend who is at the
base they call the "mobile base" in Montreal. It was Colonel
Painchaud who is a close friend and with whom I served in the army. He phoned
me to find out how I was. I said: "Listen, Jacques, everything's fine. I
have Corporal Lortie here in front of me. He's fine." Jacques said: If you
need anything, I'll jump in a helicopter and I'll come to help you. If you need
anything at all." I said: "There's no problem. If you want, you can
talk to Corporal Lortie. There will be no problem." I asked Corporal
Lortie if he would like to speak to Colonel Painchaud? He said he would, so I
said: "Listen, Jacques the corporal is going to talk to you and you will
see that he's a regular guy." I handed him the telephone and he spoke to
him for about four minutes.
That talk reassured him, I think. He was a
lot less nervous. The more he talked to people the less nervous he got.
Mrs. Tellier: During your long conversation,
did he talk to you about what had happened at the Citadel and did he explain
why he had fired shots at the Citadel before coming to the Assembly?
Mr. Jalbert: He was the one who told me he
had gone to the Citadel. I asked him that question. He said: I went there and I
fired. I fired at the windows. Then I stopped and I came here." That's all
he told me. I asked him again, why, and he gave me the same answer. He often
said to me: "My 'esprit' did that, it's not me, it's my 'esprit'.
(Translator's note: This French word, which can be rendered variously in
English as 'esprit', 'mind', 'conscious thought', 'common sense', etc., is
impossible to translate in this context. Using the original French is
consistent with media coverage used at the time.) I said to him: "Why did
your 'esprit' tell you to do that?" He told me: I don't know, it's my
'esprit' that's making me do it. It's not me doing this, it's my
'esprit'." That's all he said.
Mr. Lacombe: Did he ask to talk to members
of his family in the course of the day?
Mr. Jalbert: During our numerous conversations
about this and that, I said to him: 'Are you married, Corporal?" He told
me: I don't want you to talk to me about my personal affairs, change the
topic." I said: "Listen! You must have a mother, you must have a wife
or children. I'm married, and what you're doing here, if it were me who was
doing it, would hurt my wife or my children." He said: I don't want you to
talk to me about my personal affairs." He wanted to change the topic.
Mr. DeBlois: Mr. Jalbert, I have been
listening to you and I am somewhat fascinated. I would like to ask you if you
were fully aware of what you were doing – you didn't have a bullet proof vest –
in the first seconds you confronted Mr. Lortie. In essence, you were ready to
give your life for the National Assembly. I would like to know what you felt at
the precise moment. What forced you to make that gesture which, at first
glance, was one of uncommon boldness.
Mr. Jalbert: I knew we had a committee that
was to meet at 10:00. That's why I came at 9:30, to go to the chamber and see
if everything in the room had been prepared by the pages. When I heard the
first burst of gunfire, I was too curious to go see what was happening to be
capable of passing judgement or making a decision and doing something. When I
saw a man sitting in the Speaker's chair dressed in an army uniform, my first
reaction was to think: If I can identify with him as a soldier, I'm sure I will
be able to talk to him and stop him from shooting. That's exactly what
happened. I didn't think then that I was in any danger. When he showed me his
identification card I started to have a bit more confidence in him and above
all in myself.
Mr. Tremblay: Did he fire in your direction
when you went into the National Assembly? You said he fired a round. Was it in
Mr. Jalbert: The first round he fired was at
the clock, I think. I don't remember any more. The second burst was from the
left to the right and it was directed towards the chairs on the right, about
the fifth or the sixth or the fourth. I don't remember any more. Wood and
cartridges were flying everywhere.
Mr. Girard: Mr. Jalbert, there was the
possibility that explosives could have been placed somewhere in the building
and a systematic search of the building was carried out. In the course of the talks
you had with Corporal Lortie, did he inform you of something along those lines,
and were explosives really found in the National Assembly building?
Mr. Jalbert: When he was in my office, I
asked him if he had any bombs or grenades with him. He told me he didn't. I
asked him to prove it to me? "Stand up, open your shirt and show me if you
have any grenades." He stood up and I said: "Will you let me search
you?" He came over to me he had his revolver in his hand and I searched
his legs starting at the bottom and moving up. I asked him to turn around,
because I didn't want to have the gun in my face. He turned around to the right
and I searched him from behind and checked his back.
He didn't have any grenades. I asked him:
"Do you have any bombs or explosives in your car?" He said: "No.
the only thing I've got in my car is my pack, my personal things."
Mr. Pelletier: You have said quite a bit
about this individual. You got to know him. Did you feel that he regretted his
Mr. Jalbert: He mentioned to me twice that
he regretted the madness he had just wreaked. He had tears in his eyes. I said:
"Listen, cry, that will make you feel better, don't hold it back, cry as
much as you want, the two of us are alone and I won't tell a soul then he cried
for maybe a minute or two. He pulled himself together. He was much calmer then.
Editor's note: At 2:15 p.m. the incident
ended with the peaceful surrender of the gunman to law enforcement agents from
the Quebec Provincial Police, the Quebec City Police Force and the security
service of the National Assembly.