A Father’s Public Grief

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Photo by André Pichette of La Presse

Last month, while wandering around, I kept passing a peculiar sign. Actually, it wasn’t just one sign, but many: dozens of them affixed to lampposts throughout the east end of downtown Montreal. Their message was cryptic, with a photo of a smiling young boy and the declaration, “Mettez vos culottes — n’attendez pas d’être victime d’erreur gouvernementale” (“Put on your underwear — don’t wait to become a victim of governmental error”). The boy, according to an inscription below his portrait, is named Alexandre. The posters did not seem to serve any obvious purpose. No phone number, no internet address, nothing to explain what they were for.

Today, an article in La Presse sheds light on their origins. The boy in question is Alexandre Livernoche, a thirteen year old who was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death six years ago by a man released from jail due to an administrative error. Since last spring, Alexandre’s father, André, has travelled Quebec in a van bearing his son’s image, tying two thousand posters to lampposts in every part of the province. His objective, according to La Presse, is to “denounce the error that cost his son his life and the ‘insufficient’ financial compensation offered by the government.” But, as the article goes on to point out, the posters, with their obscure message and lack of contact information, are not particularly effective as a rallying cry.

The question, then, is: why? Why dedicate your life to a quixotic trip around Quebec to cover the province in posters that leave the people who see them nonplussed?

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I’m reminded of a poster I saw in Vancouver two years ago. Pasted onto the Burrard Street bridge, illuminated by the last orange ray of a summer day’s light, it was a sharp riposte to the tranquil sunset and calm Pacific waters: “MURDERED,” it noted, in austere red letters. Below was a photo of a smiling young man, accompanied by a few terse words that described his death: “Edgar Leonardo was murdered on Saturday, August 19, 2003. He died in his apartment.” Edgar’s murder was unsolved, but the poster was as much a statement of grief as a plea for information.

In most of North America, private tragedies are marked by private grief. There is no public wailing, no collective mourning, no New Orleans procession with brass moans and black umbrellas. But André Livernoche’s eccentric poster campaign speaks to a entrenched desire to make that grief public: he is a sad, angry father and he wants us all to know.

In theory, Livernoche’s posters are illegal. He could face fines between $200 and $2000 for putting them up. But he does not have the intention of taking them down and the city does not seem particularly eager to do so, either. Who are we, after all, to deny a man his catharsis?

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Friday December 08 2006at 01:12 pm , filed under Art and Design, Society and Culture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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