Breaking away from the routine

DISCLAIMER: This column was originally published in 2011. 

For many of us, work is one of the things that we take for granted. It’s one of the closest things to a constant, to a meaningful episode in a life spent, most of the time, vying for consistency and meaning where there is none. When we go to work each morning, we know more or less what to expect of our day. It is a guideline to our lives; work starts at first as a goal to reach but, perhaps if we’re lucky enough, quickly becomes a means to bigger goals. Going to work is one of the things that we can rely on and around which we build our days.

On the morning of June 7, 2011, Patrick Limoges was walking to work. (I say the morning, but 6:40 a.m. is really dawn. Shifts at St. Luc Hospital, where Limoges had worked for three years and a half, start quite early.) The usual. His routine, you might say. Yet on that morning, that routine was broken. On that Tuesday morning, Limoges walked to his death.

For those not familiar with the place, St. Luc Hospital is one of three hospitals, along with Notre Dame Hospital and Hôtel-Dieu, to be affiliated to theUniversité de Montréal. It is located on the southwest corner of St. Denis Street and René-Lévesque Boulevard (see map below), in what is still very much the heart of downtown Montréal. Each summer, the Jazz Festival, the Francofoliesand, especially, Just For Laughs are all held very nearby. St. Luc is just east of Montréal’s Chinatown and a little south of the Latin Quarter; yet on any given day or night, that neighbourhood is also home to many homeless men and women. At times, the atmosphere outside of the hospital can be gloomy. And don’t dare venture in the waiting room of the ER, where you see a little bit of everything: I was once told by an intoxicated grown man that I looked cute only in much more graphic terms. I know all of this because like Limoges, I have worked at St. Luc since June 17, 2005.

On that Tuesday morning, Limoges was hit by a ricocheting bullet that came from a policeman’s firearm. Authorities were allegedly trying to apprehend a suspect, one Mario Hamel, a homeless man who had menaced passersby with an army knife. The shooting occurred on the corner of St. Denis and Christin, a mere few metres away from St. Luc. Limoges was almost there, at work. His routine.

This area is one I walk by often, mostly during my lunch or dinner breaks when I decide to eat at some restaurant of the Latin Quarter.

Limoges was 36 years old when he died on Tuesday morning. He worked at St. Luc, like I do, but I can’t say that I knew much about the man; only that I recognized him when I would see him at work. All I know is that he was simply going to work that morning, like most of us do at some point and hat this could have happened to anybody.

All I know is that Limoges’s death is complicated. While it is technically the fault of some policeman’s bullet, it would be too easy to blame the man who pulled the trigger. Four policemen were on the scene that morning and nothing points to any of them being trigger happy. All I know is that according to La Presse’s Hugo Meunier, policemen of Quebec have fired their gun eight times so far in 2011, resulting in four casualties. The Globe and Mail’s Ingrid Peritz and Les Perreaux also show that in the past five years, 15 have been killed or injured by police gunfire in Montreal, compared with 25 in Toronto. For the four men to fire in this instance, they likely had their reasons. That being said, establishing exactly what unfolded on that Tuesday morning is far beyond this blogger’s expertise; plus, an investigation is already under way. More than a policeman’s, Limoges’s death is the fault of a society that does too little for too many, where men and women like Mario Hamel are let to roam the streets and act out Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Despite often battling mental illnesses and substance-abuse issues, they do whatever is needed to survive; the irony, of course, being that in this case Hamel did not survive.

Yet, all I know is that Limoges’s death is also very simple; no matter how you look at it, it is regrettably a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ that could have happened to just about anybody.

I also know this. I know that the next time I’m going to work, I will walk north from the Champ-de-Mars subway station rather than south from the Berri-UQAM station, near which Limoges died. Thunder never strikes twice in a row at the same place, but I like my chances.