Montreal - A gunman shot dead one person inside the Montreal theatre where the leader of Quebec's separatist Parti Quebecois was addressing supporters in the wake of a narrow election win in the Canadian province, police said on Wednesday.
The incident was shocking for Canada, where crime rates are relatively low and political violence is unheard of.
The shooting eclipsed the news that the Parti Quebecois had only just defeated the ruling Liberals and would have to be content with a minority government, effectively ruling out another referendum on breaking away from Canada.
Pauline Marois, the first female premier of Quebec, had just told her supporters the province would one day be independent when her bodyguards rushed her from the stage. She later returned to finish her speech.
Montreal police spokesman Danny Richer said a man around 50 years old had entered the back of the Metropolis theatre at around midnight and shot two people, badly injuring both. The suspect also set fire to the back of the building.
RDI television showed pictures of police subduing a large man with a rifle who was dressed in a black cape.
He appeared to shout in French the phrase “The English are waking up.” Marois had promised to strengthen laws designed to ensure the dominance of the French language, which has worried some in the minority English-speaking community.
“We are appalled by this violence,” said Carl Vallee, a spokesman for federal Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The last political killing in Canada occurred in October 1970, when a radical Quebec nationalist group kidnapped provincial Labour Minister Pierre Laporte and a British diplomat. Laporte was later found strangled.
The PQ won 54 of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature, ending nine years of rule by the Liberals.
Previous PQ governments held independence referendums in 1980 and 1995, but both failed.
Although Marois is promising another vote when the time is right, that could be years away. The most recent poll shows only 28 percent of Quebecers back separation from the rest of Canada.
Marois had promised to concentrate first on the economy, in particular tackling the province's large debt, imposing higher tax and royalty rates on mining firms and making foreign takeovers of Quebec companies more difficult.
The results showed the Liberals had won 50 seats, down 14 from the 64 they held at dissolution. Premier Jean Charest, who lost his seat, emphasized that the PQ had only won a minority.
“The result of this election campaign speaks to the fact that the future of Quebec lies within Canada,” he said.
Initial results showed the PQ won 32 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for the Liberals. - Reuters