MONTREAL (Reuters) - The gunman accused of opening fire outside a crowded political rally in Montreal this week was viewed as a kilt-wearing eccentric in his rural Quebec home, and was frustrated in his plans to expand his fishing lodge business, according to people who know him.
But local residents, in interviews with Reuters and other media, said they saw few clues of anything seriously amiss with Richard Henry Bain, 61, who appeared in a Montreal courtroom on Thursday to face 16 charges, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and arson.
“Certainly when you see someone in a kilt in this region, it’s not like New York. It stands out a bit more,” said Marie-France Brisson, the municipal director general in La Conception, Quebec, who handled Bain’s frequent requests for permits to expand his fishing and horseback riding operation.
“He seemed like a very normal person. A little marginal, maybe, a little eccentric because of the kilt. But he was a business man and he had clients and business contacts. He spoke French very well, he seemed well settled here in the region.”
The shooting came as an election victory for the separatist Parti Quebecois in the French-speaking Canadian province highlighted tensions between Quebec’s English-speaking minority and the PQ, which ultimately wants to break away from the rest of Canada but for now will try to toughen laws to ensure French remains Quebec’s dominant language.
But it appears to be an isolated incident and was condemned by all sides.
Bain’s brief court appearance was his first in public since television footage that showed police bundling him into a police car after two people were shot outside the rally after Tuesday’s election.
He is accused of shooting one man dead and injuring another outside the theater where the PQ victory rally took place.
Bald, unshaven and wearing a white short-sleeved shirt, Bain sat expressionless during his court appearance. His lawyer said Bain had been taken to the hospital and had been feeling unwell.
Television images have showed police removing an assault rifle from the suspect’s hands on the night of the attack. Prosecutor Eliane Perreault said he was carrying two weapons, had five more in his car and more than 20 firearms in total. All but one were registered, she said.
Canada’s gun laws are tougher than those in the United States, and Quebec gun owners must acquire permits and register their weapons with authorities.
Perreault would not comment on the motive for the attack and said Bain appeared to be mentally fit.
“The gentleman can continue to come to court to make the necessary decisions ... His lawyer hasn’t asked for (psychiatric evaluation) for the moment so we’ll see,” she said.
Brisson said people in La Conception, located just outside the tourist center of Mont Tremblant, had no inkling that Bain had strong political convictions or violent tendencies, nor that he might be mentally ill, as some media have reported.
She and others were shocked when they saw him on the television news, looking crazed and shouting “The English are waking up” as police whisked him away from the crime scene.
Brisson and others said the only irritant they were aware of in Bain’s life was his frequent run-ins with government bureaucracy over his development plans.
Bain bought land in La Conception in 1989 and started a fishing and horseback riding outfitter called “Rick Activities”.
His Facebook page description offers: “Private lake with VIP experience! Fishing, horse back riding, come by helicopter, picnic, M35 tours & much more!” and features pictures of a rustic lodge and smiling customers fishing from a dock.
Brisson said Bain wanted permits for winter fishing and for a plot of land to be set aside exclusively for hunting. His requests were often incomplete and vague, resulting in copious amounts of extra paperwork going back and forth, said Brisson.
He spent the better part of a year filling out forms and doing studies for the winter fishing permit, and on September 4 - the day of the shooting - was told he needed to do a better environmental study.
“There may have been some impatience on his part in that sense. But otherwise he was a calm man, courteous with the city employees,” Brisson said.
Writing and additional reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Vicki Allen