After his untimely death on the streets of Montreal nearly two weeks ago, Raphael “Napa” Andre was finally laid to rest at home in the northern Quebec community of Matimekush-Lac John earlier this week.
Andre, 51, was found dead in a portable toilet in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood the morning of January 17th, a stone’s throw from the shelter he normally frequented.
His death is now subject of an ongoing coroner’s investigation.
Thousands of kilometres northeast of Montreal, Daniel Andre erected a traditional Innu tent outside of his home to memorialize his lost son.
For generations, the Innu have used the tents – with their canvas walls and cedar-lined floors – to escape the brutal northern cold.
Speaking at Napa’s funeral on Wednesday, Matimekush-Lac John Chief Real McKenzie explained the structure holds additional symbolism considering the way Napa likely spent his last hours alive.
“I’ve never heard in my life stories of our families dying in the cold – I’ve never heard that,” McKenzie said Wednesday in a video livestreamed to Facebook.
“We’ve known winters in the North. Our elders always had their tents, their wood poles, their hunting equipment, and their snowshoes. They say, in my mind, ‘if this son had at least a tent with him, could it have saved his life?’”
By Friday, a group of Montrealers huddled on the Milton-Parc corner where Napa was found, hoping to pay their respects as well.
They smudged, lit and placed candles, and put down tobacco as part of the ceremony.
Organizer Jessica Glazer also distributed scarves that were hand-knit by Napa’s mother, in hopes of protecting others from an incoming cold flash.
People across the city who attended the memorial virtually were also urged to light candles and hold a moment of silence in Napa’s honour.
“To die in a porta potty, there’s no more disrespectful, inhumane way to die, in my opinion,” Glazer explained.
“It’s so unjust, when we live in such a city where every resource is possible,” she added. “I just can’t let it go unnoticed.”
A laminated photo – and an ever-growing display of flowers – is now affixed near the site where Napa died.
But also left in Napa’s wake is a wave of changes meant to improve pandemic life for others in a similar predicament.
The Open Door Shelter – forced to close after public health issued a series of unclear guidelines – is now running 24/7 once again, thanks in part to additional support from the city.
The Quebec government also says it will not challenge a temporary court order granted Tuesday that exempts the homeless from a province-wide curfew imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse ruled that although the curfew was introduced in the public interest, its current application imperils the lives, safety and health of the homeless.
The judge noted that the Crown did not challenge evidence presented to court showing tickets, which carry fines from $1,000 to $6,000, have already been given to homeless people for breaking the curfew.
Premier Francois Legault assured reporters that all curfew-related tickets issued to the homeless will be nullified.
“We’ll take care to make sure that we cancel those tickets,” Legault said during a press conference held Thursday.
Legault also announced that March 11 will become an official day of commemoration for those who succumbed to COVID-19.
Though Napa did not die as a direct result of the virus, those who gathered throughout the course of the week to pay their respects insist his death – and what it represents – won’t soon be forgotten.
“They tried to get [Napa] to go home, but he wouldn’t go. He felt this city was his home – and this is how he died,” Glazer explained.
“As a citizen here, I just felt it’s our duty to give our respects. That we say goodbye for his family,” she added.
With files from Shushan Bacon and The Canadian Press