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Coroner probes death of Gilles Duceppe's mother

Last Updated Jan 21, 2019 at 5:28 pm CDT

A Quebec coroner will investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Gilles Duceppe’s mother after the 93-year-old woman was found Sunday in the snow outside a luxury Montreal seniors’ residence where she lived.

The coroner’s office said Monday it will try to determine how Helene Rowley Hotte, mother of the former Bloc Quebecois leader, perished after leaving her building when a fire alarm sounded in the early hours of Sunday.

Police said she ended up locked out in the middle of a frigid snowstorm, and her body was discovered more than seven hours later.

Montreal police said the victim had hearing problems and likely didn’t understand the announcement that her part of the building – one of three wings in the complex – was not part of the 4:15 a.m. evacuation order.

The door locked behind her as she went into a backyard. Montreal’s fire department responded to a call at the complex that night, but the all-clear was given around 6:20 a.m.

Const. Caroline Chevrefils said police received a call about 11:45 a.m. Sunday about a woman found dead in the snow, likely from hypothermia. They transferred the investigation to the coroner’s office after determining there was no criminal element to the death.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault extended condolences to Duceppe and his family Monday.

“Isabelle and I are shattered by the death of Mrs. Rowley, Gilles Duceppe’s mother,” Legault wrote on Twitter from France, where he is on an official visit. “I offer all my sympathy to Gilles, his brothers and sisters, and to the whole family in this moment of great sadness.”

Meanwhile, Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors, said she has asked health officials for a full briefing.

“My sincerest condolences to the family of Mr. Gilles Duceppe on the death of his mother during this tragic event,” Blais wrote. “We will shed light on this very sad story.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet also offered condolences to Duceppe.

Rowley Hotte, a mother of seven, was married to well-known Quebec actor Jean Duceppe, who died in 1990. Her father – John James Rowley – was British by birth, leading Duceppe to frequently quip that he was a “bloke who turned Bloc.”

A longtime friend of Duceppe, who asked not to be identified, said Rowley Hotte was in excellent physical and mental health and had dined with family members the previous evening. Family checked in with her every morning, and they became worried when there was no answer to their calls Sunday. They arrived to find her unit empty, the friend said.

Duceppe declined to comment when reached by The Canadian Press.

According to the province’s registry of seniors’ homes, the Lux, located near the Olympic Stadium, has 440 units and opened in 2009. Of the 660 residents, some 493 are 75 and older. Six employees, including two nurses, would have been working on a weekend evening, according to the registry.

Representatives of the residence declined to comment on Monday.

Joannie Lambert-Roy, a spokeswoman for Quebec’s coroner’s office, said coroner Gehane Kamel has been assigned to investigate Rowley Hotte’s death. According to statistics compiled by the coroner’s office, there was 121 accidental deaths in Quebec from exposure to excessive cold between 2000 and 2016 – 31 of which involved victims aged 75 or older.