The problem with the declaration of an insurrection, real or apprehended under the War Measures Act, was not primarily the actions of the federal government of Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau.

I remember leaving Ottawa the night before the troops arrived, returning to school at the University of Toronto. In the neighbourhood where my family lived, lived also several Trudeau cabinet ministers, including the current prime minister, Jean Chretien.

The troops were stationed in these ministers', and senior government employees' garages, with their weapons at the ready. The risk of an accidental shooting of children, or others, was always present. Stories were later told of near accidents, though to my knowledge no tragedy ever occurred.

In theory, police powers were expanded all over Canada, but no actions, though technically legal, were taken west of Ottawa.

The real problems happened in Quebec and Montreal. Under the color of the authority of the War Measures Act, the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau were unrestrained in their use of police powers.

Pierre Trudeau, and the federal policing ministers--the Minister of National Defense, who nominally controlled the Army, and the Solicitor-General, who was nominally in charge of the RCMP--later claimed they had no control over the use of the Quebec Provincial Police and the Montreal Urban Community Police acting under the expanded powers the War Measures Act gave them.

And if my memory serves, even the Army, under its expanded powers, was not under full federal control.

Over 400 people were arrested, all the usual suspects: artists, intellectuals, musicians, university professors, actors, a huge chunk of the Quebec intelligensia. And in the end, few were actually even charged--just 'rounded up.'

The measure of a country, as of a person, is taken not during ordinary times, but extrarodinary. Under this test, my country did not pass with flying colors.

There is a fine documentary about this period by Michel Brault called Les Ordres--Orders--as in I am only following orders.

One thing that must be kept in mind while reading about the October Crisis is that this was not a couple of isolated incidents.

Between 1963 and 1970, the Front de Libération du Québec, henceforth referred to as the FLQ, had been quite active in Quebec, mainly by putting a number of bombs in the mailboxes of rich and or Anglophone neighbourhoods, mostly around Montreal.

During those 7 years, they had killed 7 people, and blown up over 200 mailboxes. Trudeau and Bourassa were not merely responding to a couple of kidnappings. They were responding to a group of murderous terrorists who had stepped up their operations.

October 5, 1970

Members of the Liberation Cell1 of the FLQ break into the Montreal home of James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner, and kidnap him.

October 6

The FLQ releases its list of demands, and its Manifesto, parts of which are published in a number of newspapers across the country.

The demands, which the FLQ claimed need to be followed in order to save the life of Cross, include some of the more notable:

  • That "repressive police forces" shall not conduct "searches, investigations, raids, or arrests."
  • The release of 22 "political prisoners," who were to be flown to Algeria or Cuba, along with at least two reporters from different major daily newspapers in Quebec.
  • The rehiring of the "Lapalme boys," a bunch of postal truck drivers who had recently been fired.
  • $500,000 worth of Gold.
  • Publishing of the name and picture of an informant who led police to a FLQ cell.

All of these demands are supposed to have been met within 48 hours of the release of the statement.

Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau releases a statement to the effect that any action taken on this matter will be a joint effort with the Federal Government, and the Province of Quebec.

October 7

Well, it looks like police are ignoring at least some of the demands of the FLQ, since they arrest about 30 people in raids.

October 8

Fulfilling one of the demands, the FLQ Manifesto is read out on CBC Radio and CBC Television.

Of course, people were pretty much shocked at hearing the statements from this group of radicals, saying that the election that put the Liberal Government, and Premier Robert Bourassa, in charge, was nothing more than a "victory of the election riggers."

Calling Democracy in Quebec "nothing but democracy of the rich," and saying that the only way to fix things is by a violent revolution is much more likely to just scare people.

The next event didn't help matters.

October 10

The Chénier cell2 of the FLQ kidnaps Pierre Laporte, the Quebec Minister of Immigration and Labour from the lawn of his home in St. Lambert, a suburb of Montreal.

This wasn't an isolated incident anymore. The police were flooded with requests for protection from various politicians in the Quebec area.

The kidnapping also triggered a phone call from Bourassa to the Prime Minister, asking him to prepare the Canadian Forces and declare an emergency under the War Measures Act, and to deploy troops in Quebec.

October 11

The next day, the Premier received a letter from Laporte, pleading with him to comply with the FLQ's demands, and thus save his life.

Bourassa's Cabinet initially agrees to talk with the FLQ, but communication quickly stalls, and the talks are abandoned as futile two days later.

October 12

Trudeau issues the order deploying Army troops to protect key targets in Ottawa.

October 13

In one of the most memorable interviews in Canadian history, Trudeau is being interviewed by a pair of reporters regarding the soldiers who appeared on the corners. This is the infamous Just Watch Me! interview.

I'll give you the gist of it. Reporters didn't like the idea of soldiers on the streets doing the job of police. One of them put it as choosing "a society that is free and democratic, which means that you don't have people with guns running around in it."

P.E.T., however, is a bit more concerned with keeping order.

Trudeau: 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 ...

Tim Ralfe: At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?

Trudeau: Well, just watch me!

Yeah, I think that pretty much sums up P.E.T.'s stance on this issue.

October 15

Premier Bourassa's Government asks the Canadian Armed Forces to station troops in Montreal and Quebec City. He also gets the support of the Opposition Parties in this, including the Parti Québécois, whose ultimate goal is the separation of Quebec from Canada.

In all, about 7,500 soldiers were deployed during the October Crisis

October 16

After a long cabinet meeting, in the early hours of the morning, Trudeau announced that the War Measures Act would be invoked for the 3rd, and last time in Canadian History.

The act gave the government power to strip people of rights normally granted to them under the Bill of Rights.

If you wish, the full text of the speech that Trudeau gave is located here. The gist is him going over why the FLQ is bad, and stating that using the powers granted by the act is something that the government was reluctant to do, but that the situation was serious enough to warrant such actions.

Any member of the FLQ could be rounded up and arrested. Any member of any group thought to be affiliated with the FLQ could be arrested. Any friend of a member of someone in the FLQ could be arrested. They didn't need evidence. They didn't need to be charged with anything.

Within 48 Hours of the enactment of the War Measures Act, over 250 people had been arrested.

Within 12 hours, Laporte had been killed.

The Government says it was in response to the War Measures Act being passed. The FLQ says it was because he was trying to escape. I'm not sure which would be more likely to lie to me.

Laporte was choked to death with a chain.

October 17

Laporte's body is found in the trunk of a green Chevy at St. Hubert Airport, Montreal.

The police in Quebec really cracked down, using their new found powers under the War Measures Act. They arrested almost 500 people in the dead of the night, holding them without access to a lawyer, or their family.

In the end only 62 of them were ever actually charged with anything. As themusic says above, a lot of them were the usual suspects. Union leaders, University Professors, Entertainers, Writers. Basically anyone who might be sympathetic to the FLQ's cause.

And according to the Quebec Civil Liberties Union, a lot of the methods that they used in questioning were "absolutely unacceptable."

November 6

Police raid the hiding spot of the Chénier FLQ cell, and capture one of the members, Bernard Lortie. The other three get away initially, but are captured later in St. Luc, in late December.

All four of them get charged with Kidnapping and Murder. Paul Rose and Francis Simard get sentenced to life for Murder. Lortie gets sentenced to 20 years for Kidnapping.

Jacques Rose is acquitted of the Murder and Kidnapping charges, but it later convicted of being an accessory after the fact, and spends 8 years in jail, being released in 1978. He wasn't there when Laporte was killed.

The 5 members of the Liberation cell, which kidnapped Cross are given safe passage to Cuba, after which Cross is released safe and sound. He's living in Britain now.

The kidnappers were naturally exiled from Canada. Turns out they spent some time living in Paris, France. Eventually every single one of them returned to Canada to face prosecution. They're convicted, and given a range of terms from 2 to 20 years for kidnapping.

In 1980, the police had dug up enough information to convict a 6th person in connection with the kidnapping, one who didn't get on the plane to Cuba. Nigel Barry Hamer spends one year in jail for his actions.

After this point, separatists really hated Pierre Trudeau for invoking the War Measures Act. Of course, some of his actions later on with the whole Constitution thing really didn't help his reputation amongst them.

As for the rest of the country, some people also thought that he went overboard, and others saw it as a regrettable but necessary course of action.

These events damaged the separatist cause for a fair while in Quebec. The whole guilt by association thing. In the end, the FLQ's failure to meet any of their goals, combined with René Lévesque's refusal to tolerate their actions, despite the fact that they were both working towards the same goal, basically killed any idea of separation through any means other than democratic.

There isn't going to be a bloody revolution in Quebec, at least not in the foreseeable future. There isn't going to be a civil war.

I'd say that would be because Trudeau proved that the Federal Government is willing to do what it takes to secure its interests, even if it may be against the way things are usually done.

If you want to know more about this, Senso suggests Pierre Falardeau's film "Octobre".


1: Liberation Cell:

  • Jacques Cossette-Trudel
  • Louise Lanctôt
  • Jacques Lanctôt
  • Marc Carbonneau
  • Yves Langlois (aka Pierre Seguin)
  • Nigel Barry Hamer

2: Chénier cell:

  • Jacques Rose
  • Paul Rose
  • Francis Simard
  • Bernard Lortie


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