The family of Gilles Duceppe, former leader of the Bloc Québécois, is launching a $1.25-million lawsuit against the seniors’ residence where his 93-year-old mother died after being trapped outside in the bitter cold exactly one year ago.
“We were sad and we are still very sad,” said Duceppe at a news conference on Monday. “It’s just unacceptable.”
Hélène Rowley Hotte Duceppe died of hypothermia while she was stuck in the courtyard of Résidences Lux Gouverneur, her seniors’ residence in Montreal, during a false fire alarm in the early morning.
She was locked out of the building for nearly six hours and tried to keep herself warm during a snowstorm as temperatures dipped to -35 C. In that time, she tried to get back inside the building to no avail, since her access card wouldn’t let her back inside and no one noticed her absence.
Last summer, a Quebec coroner ruled her death was an accident but avoidable. In his findings, Gehane Kamel outlined mistakes by staff leading up to Rowley Hotte Duceppe’s death and shortcomings in the technology designed to keep residents safe.
“Yes, it’s an accident,” said Marc-Antoine Cloutier, the lawyer representing the family. “But it’s something that was preventable.”
Cloutier said he filed a statement of claim for the lawsuit at the Montreal courthouse. He described it as an important step for the family in its journey to seek justice for Rowley Hotte Duceppe’s death.
The Duceppe family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Résidences Lux Gouverneur. They allege “grave negligence” on behalf of the staff and inadequate procedures from the residence led to Rowley Hotte Duceppe’s freezing death.
“Human beings are human beings,” said Duceppe. “It’s not a bank account. When you are paying a lot, you hope at least when they advertise, they render those services — and it’s not the case.
Rowley Hotte Duceppe had been living in the residence for about a year at the time of her death. Monique Duceppe said the family chose the residence for their mother because it was beautiful and boasted security.
“There isn’t anyone who thinks of ending their days like that, outside,” she said.
The family sent the Lux Gouverneur notice last July that they were seeking damages and were prepared to take legal action if the residence did not respond.
The management of Résidences Lux Gouverneur released a short statement following the announcement on Monday, saying the entire team at the organization remains “extremely shocked” by the death of Rowley Hotte Duceppe.
“The safety and well-being of residents is a top priority for management,” the organization said.
— With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and the Canadian Press