The October Crisis began 5 October 1970 with the kidnapping of James CROSS, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ).
The October Crisis began 5 October 1970 with the kidnapping of James CROSS, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). It rapidly devolved into the most serious terrorist act carried out on Canadian soil after another official, Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, was kidnapped and killed. The crisis shook the career of recently elected Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa, who solicited federal help along with Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau. This help would lead to the only invocation of the War Measures Act during peacetime in Canadian history.
Origins of the Crisis
Fed by nationalist discontent and rising unemployment, and by the example of colonial states rising against foreign imperialism, the FLQ emerged in 1963 to further the creation of an independent Québécois state. It vowed to use any means necessary, including violence, and carried out almost 200 crimes, including robberies and bombings, from its inception to its last days.
Armed members of FLQ cell Libération kidnapped James Cross at his home, while members of the Chénier cell took Laporte as he played with his nephew on his front lawn. The kidnappers' demands, communicated in a series of public messages, included the freeing of a number of convicted or detained FLQ members, a half-million dollar ransom and the broadcast of the FLQ manifesto. The manifesto, a diatribe against established authority, was read on Radio-Canada, and on 10 October the Québec minister of justice offered safe passage abroad to the kidnappers in return for the release of Cross. On the same day a second FLQ cell, Chénier, acting independently, kidnapped Pierre Laporte.
Invocation of the War Measures Act
The kidnapping raised a swift response from the federal government under Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau. As CBC reporter Tim Ralfe questioned the Prime Minister concerning the armed soldiers on Parliament Hill, Trudeau responded with a now-famous diatribe: "Well, there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed. But it's more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of..." Ralfe interrupted: "At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?" Trudeau replied with a sentence that became a catchphrase of North American politics: "Well, just watch me."
On 15 October the Québec government formally requested assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces to supplement the local police, and on 16 October the federal government proclaimed the existence of a state of "apprehended insurrection" under the War Measures Act. Under the emergency regulations, the FLQ was outlawed as membership became a criminal act, normal liberties were suspended, and arrests and detentions were authorized without charge. Over 450 persons were detained in Québec, most of whom were eventually released without the laying or hearing of charges.
Laporte Found Dead
On 17 October, the body of Pierre Laporte was found in the trunk of a car left near Saint-Hubert airport. In early December 1970, police discovered the cell holding James Cross. The force negotiated his release in return for safe conduct to Cuba for the kidnappers , the best known of whom were Marc Carbonneau and Jacques Lanctôt, and some of their family members. Almost four weeks later, the Chénier cell was located and its members arrested, subsequently to be tried and convicted for kidnapping and murder. Of these, Paul Rose and Francis Simard received the heaviest sentences: life in prison for the death of Laporte. Emergency regulations under the War Measures Act were replaced in November 1970 by similar regulations under the Public Order Temporary Measures Act, which lapsed on 30 April 1971.
War Measures Raise Ire of Civil Rights Activists
The federal response to the kidnapping was intensely controversial. According to opinion polls, an overwhelming majority of Canadians supported the Cabinet's action, but it was criticized as excessive by Québec nationalists and by civil libertarians throughout the country. Supporters of the response claim that the disappearance of terrorism in Québec is evidence of its success, but this disappearance might equally be attributed to public distaste for political terror and to the steady growth of the democratic separatist movement in the 1970s, which led to the election of a Parti Québécois government (1976).
After the crisis, the federal Cabinet gave ambiguous instructions to the RCMP Security Service permitting dubious acts such as break-ins, thefts and electronic surveillance, all without warrants. All were later condemned as illegal by the federal Inquiry Into Certain Activities of the RCMP and the Keable Commission in Québec (Enquête sur des opérations policières en territoire Québécois). The federal minister of justice in 1970, John Turner, justified the use of War Measures as a means of reversing an "erosion of the public will" in Québec. According to some, Premier Robert Bourassa similarly conceded that the use of the War Measures Act was intended to rally popular support to the authorities rather than to confront an "apprehended insurrection."
THE OCTOBER CRISIS
The story of the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) and the October Crisis has taught us not to take the first signs of terrorism lightly. The federal government and the government of Quebec acted appropriately given the situation presented by the FLQ's actions. This essay will focus on three areas of importance in protecting our country's safety during the October Crisis of 1970: the protection of high profile politicians that were in danger from the FLQ, the placement of military officers in Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa; and the federal government's implementation of the War Measures Act.
The first important action by the government was the protection of high profile politicians, who had a direct and indirect involvement with the FLQ's actions. The FLQ had kidnapped two politicians, British diplomat, James Cross, and Quebec Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte before any action was taken.1 These kidnappings forced the government into action. The action was to bring the Canadian Military into Quebec, and to put Canada under the War Measures Act, which suspended the civil liberties of all Canadians. These criteria will be outlined in the following paragraphs. These two decisions were very important in the protection of politicians as well as civilian Canadians. The government was not acting out of fear. It was acting to prevent fear from spreading. It was acting to maintain the rule of law because without it freedom is impossible. It was acting to protect Canada. But the protection was not perfect. The War Measures Act, brought in to protect Canadians, was, according to the FLQ the reason they murdered Pierre Laporte. The murder however, increased the level of protection given to politicians. The first example of this increased protection was at Laporte's funeral. All traffic had been sealed off for four-blocks around the church where the funeral was to take place. When Robert Bourassa, the Premier of Quebec arrived, guards escorted him in, with their guns drawn; Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was escorted in a similar way, however no guns were visible. Sharp Shooters from the Canadian Armed Forces in position on top of all tall office buildings within a five-block radius of the Notre Dame Church in Montreal. Police carrying rifles with bayonets patrolled the area around the church. Soldiers with machine guns were at every window of the church, and at the church's main towers. A country where the Prime Minister could normally walk unprotected as he pleased, had been changed by terrorists into a place where the Prime Minister was being guarded at all times. Another time of great security was when James Cross was to finally be released, on December 2, 1970, 59 days after he was captured. Nearing his release, police had moved into all houses surrounding the triplex were Cross was being held. They could hear everything that was going on inside. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were so secretive about its actions that the Montreal Police did not even know what the RCMP was doing. In fact the cover was almost blown when a neighbour had reported strange things happening in a house, a house that the RCMP occupied. On the morning that James Cross was to be released, hundreds of police and soldiers had moved around the area. Full blocks had been sealed from traffic. Snipers and riflemen were everywhere; the FLQ could not escape if they had tried. Because of all this protection and precautions, James Cross was returned safely.2 In addition to these specific security measures during the October Crisis, there were general protection procedures. The RCMP secured federal government buildings in Ottawa, to provide armed escort to federal government officials, and to provide a quick reaction force. A special liaison staff was established at Canadian Forces Headquarters, including members of the RCMP and Ottawa police, to ensure coordination and application of resources. The protection provided to politicians was something unprecedented in Canada, but nonetheless there were no errors made in protecting these individuals.
The second important involvement by the government, was the placement of military officers to protect citizens in Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa. When the Quebec Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte was kidnapped, Quebec Premier, Robert Bourassa called Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau and asked him to send in the army, and to think about invoking the War Measures Act. At this time Trudeau agreed that the army should be sent in. The Quebec government made the announcement on October 13, 1970 that the Armed Forces would be brought in, the government indicated that soldiers from the Armed Forces would be summoned into Quebec City and Montreal, for protection. Within half an hour of Bourassa's announcement a convoy of 200 military vehicles was traveling towards Montreal. In addition to the vehicles, military air transport vehicles were in the air carrying more men, weapons, and supplies to Montreal.3 Not long after the military was brought in there was wide spread anger from many Canadians who were opposed to this kind of action, these people, in most part, were afraid of the Military presence on the streets of their town. In response to the public outcry, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made this statement during a televised interview:
"Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people
with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to
keep law and order in the society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who
don't like the looks of..." He further added: "I think the society must take every means
at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies
the elected power in this country and I think that this goes to any distance".. When
Trudeau was challenged to state just how far he would go, he defiantly stated: "Well,
just watch me".4
Prime Minister Trudeau and the government did not like the decision either, but the action was necessary to protect Canada's democracy. By the evening of October 13, more than 1000 Canadian military officers were stationed in Montreal. Along with the announcement that the military was to be brought in, the Quebec government invoked the Police Act. The Police Act, was an emergency law that placed all of Quebec's police and army personnel under the order of the director of the Quebec Provincial Police (QPP). This left the province of 13 000 men (12 000 police officers, and 1 000 military soldiers).5 In addition to the soldiers in Quebec City, and Montreal, military personnel had been deployed in Ottawa, to protect the nations capital, which many thought could be in danger of attacks by the FLQ. All of this armed presence left the cities with a different feeling, a feeling of war, within the country, something that had never been felt before. However, the presence was necessary, to protect many Canadians, from the actions of a few Canadians who thought they could take over the country. The military was there because the FLQ was becoming increasingly dangerous; with the kidnapping of British diplomat, James Cross, and the kidnapping of Quebec Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, the government felt that to no one could be safe without the protection of the military. The role of the military officers would increase substantially with the call from Prime Minister Trudeau that Canada would now be under control of the War Measures Act.6 The power that the officers received under the War Measures Act was immense. Anyone that was seen as a threat could be arrested and detained, without reason for a period of time. The military and police were putting many people in jail, to protect Canada. The soldiers would remain in Quebec until January 4, 1971 which was decided on December 23, 1970.7 Prime Minister Trudeau decided this, after assessing the situation at that time, it was deemed that the FLQ was no longer a threat.8 The decision to bring the military into Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa was one of the most important decisions made to protect Canadians during the October Crisis of 1970.
The third and final piece of information of importance was the federal Liberal government's implementation of martial law as the War Measures Act, during the October Crisis of 1970. The decision by Prime Minister to put martial law in place during this time was one of the most important decisions ever made to protect the people of Canada's safety. The War Measures Act, was created in 1914 and read as follows:
"In the event of war, invasion, or insurrection, real or apprehended, the Governor in
Council can deploy military forces, impose censorship, arrest and detain suspected
subversives and aliens, ban subversive organizations, expropriate property, and exert
government control over all aspects of transportation and trade."9
The wording of the War Measures Act was flexible enough to allow the Prime Minister to authorize such acts that were deemed necessary or advisable for the security, defence, peace, order, and welfare of Canada. On October 15, 1970 the War Measures Act was issued and the Front de Liberation du Quebec was declared an unlawful association.10 Any person who was a member of the FLQ, or who acted or supported the FLQ in some fashion became liable to a jail term that could not exceed five years. Any person arrested for such a purpose could be held without bail for up to ninety days. In the absence of evidence that they where not a member, proof that a person was a member of the FLQ was shown by attending a meeting of the FLQ, speaking publicly as an advocate of the FLQ, or to communicate statements on behalf of the FLQ. However the War Measures Act did have one serious backlash, on October 18, 1970,just three days after the announcement that the War Measures Act was in place, Pierre Laporte who had been kidnapped by the FLQ was murdered. The FLQ said he was killed due to the government's decision to invoke the War Measures Act. However, the murder was not something the government could have foreseen.11 The War Measures Act gave sweeping powers to the government. It also suspended the operation of the Canadian Bill of Rights. Prime Minister Trudeau assured the public that the government was very reluctant to seek such powers, and that it did so only when it became clear that the situation could not be controlled unless assistance was made available immediately. The War Measures Act was the extraordinary assistance necessary.12 The police and military were given certain powers necessary for the detection and elimination of conspiratorial FLQ members. The FLQ advocated the use of violence and so membership of the FLQ was declared illegal. The power that the officers were given included: the right to search and arrest without warrant, to detain suspected members without it being necessary to lay specific charges right away, and to detain these people without bail.13 They were strong powers and where distasteful, but nonetheless very necessary, to permit the police and soldiers to deal with people who advocated the FLQ overthrow of Canada's democratic system. Many Canadians, once again, did not support the government's actions that were so undemocratic.14 Many people did not know how critical the situation with the FLQ really was, the crisis was not being taken seriously enough by the public. The public did not know how much danger the FLQ had put them in. There were threats of bombing to large business buildings, and threats of more kidnappings, the War Measures Act, which today has evolved into the Emergencies Act, was necessary to protect the democracy in Canada, that the FLQ was trying to take away.
There were three very important actions performed by both the federal government and the government of Quebec during the October Crisis of 1970: the protection of high profile politicians involved with the FLQ's actions, the decision to bring the military into Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa, and the federal governments decision to put martial law into action by way of the War Measures Act. The story of the FLQ and the October Crisis of 1970 has taught us not to take the first signs of terrorism lightly, but to take them seriously, and act in a manor that will protect Canada's integrity, and discourage future acts of such senseless violence.