An upcoming one-man play by a Whitehorse playwright will examine how mental illness influenced a man who unsuccessfully attempted to blow up the House of Commons in the ‘60s.
The Last President of Canada is the latest work from Doug Rutherford, who wrote, and will be the sole performer in the one-act, roughly 50-minute play.
In it, Rutherford puts himself into the shoes of Paul Chartier, a Canadian trucker originally born in rural Alberta in 1921. As an adult, Chartier would run into both financial and personal troubles, and eventually ended up moving to Toronto to live in a rooming house.
Pinning the blame for his hardships on the federal government, Chartier hatched a plan, according to a CBC report from the time — in a 23-page letter he sent to the Edmonton Journal, Chartier said he would kill as many members of Parliament as possible before becoming the “president” of Canada.
Chartier bought dynamite, fuse and detonators from a company in Newmarket, Ont., before travelling to Ottawa on May 18, 1966.
His plan, however, would ultimately fail — according to the CBC, the clerk who had sold him the fuse had mistakenly told Chartier that it would burn longer than it actually did. Chartier ended up blowing himself up as he was leaving a washroom in the Centre Block with his lit bomb, presumably en route to the House of Commons gallery to chuck it down onto the politicians below.
No one else was injured.
In the aftermath, investigators found numerous letters, manifestos and speeches Chartier had written about his intentions, about the state of Canadian politics and affairs and why the federal government was to blame for his lot in life.
Rutherford was around 10 when Chartier made his unsuccessful attempt, and in an interview April 16, said he remembered it being front-page news. The story left an impression on him at the time, Rutherford said, but it wasn’t until the 9/11 attacks in New York City and the subsequent War on Terror that Chartier entered his mind again.
“I’ve been trying to kind of do something with him for years and never could quite figure out how to approach it until it came to me. He was fixated on his speech… In his speech, he actually says he figured there was definitely a possibility that he could die in the process and he also mailed a much longer version of his manifesto to the Edmonton Journal,” Rutherford said.
“So I kind of figured, maybe he wanted to address Parliament, I would give him his chance to do that.”
Rutherford takes on Chartier as a character in the play, quoting from portions of the speech while also applying some “artistic licence” so that Chartier can explain, both in monologue and “dialogue” with sound clips, what led him to the actions that would ultimately cost him his life.
In particular, Rutherford said, the play will be looking at mental illness head-on and the role and influence it had on Chartier.
“(Chartier) is tough to research because it many ways, a lot of the information about him is still under wraps … But one of the things you do notice is that he had obviously been mentally ill since since his teens, a long history of erratic and irrational decisions, and basically everything he did, he failed at,” Rutherford said.
“… He basically just sat down and said, ‘Well, it’s all the government’s fault and I’m going to get revenge.’”
(At an inquest held a few years after the bombing, the CBC reported, a doctor who treated Chartier said that he had a “mild mental disorder” but was not certifiably insane.)
While most of Chartier’s speech was “quite delusional,” Rutherford said there are still a few elements that might be recognizable to a modern audience — for example, his criticisms on allegiance to a political party, rather than individual representatives, government corruption and the lack of support for older people.
“In a sense, some of it is still mainstream today,” he said.
‘The Last President of Canada’ will run at Whitehorse’s Old Fire Hall from May 23 to 26 and Atlin’s Globe Theatre June 1 before appearing at the Ottawa Fringe Festival later that month.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org