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|Part of the Quebec sovereignty movement|
Troop movements during the surrender of the Chenier Cell
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|1 British diplomat kidnapped (later released) & Deputy Premier kidnapped and murdered||~30 arrested|
The October Crisis (French: La crise d'Octobre) occurred in October 1970 in the province of Quebec in Canada, mainly in the Montreal metropolitan area. Members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped the provincial Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte and the British diplomat James Cross. In response, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the only peacetime use of the Canada War Measures Act. The kidnappers murdered Laporte, and negotiations led to Cross's release and the kidnappers' exile to Cuba.
The Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, supported Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act, which limited civil liberties. The police were enabled with far-reaching powers, and they arrested and detained, without bail, 497 individuals, all but 62 of whom were later released without charges. The Quebec government also requested military aid to the civil power, and Canadian Forces deployed throughout Quebec; they acted in a support role to the civil authorities of Quebec.
At the time, opinion polls throughout Canada, including in Quebec, showed widespread support for the use of the War Measures Act. The response, however, was criticized at the time by prominent politicians such as René Lévesque and Tommy Douglas.
The events of October 1970 galvanized support against the use of violence in efforts to gain Quebec sovereignty and accelerated the movement towards electoral means of attaining greater autonomy and independence, including support for the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, which formed the provincial government in 1976.
From 1963 to 1970 the Quebec nationalist group Front de libération du Québec detonated over 95 bombs. While mailboxes—particularly in the affluent and predominantly Anglophone city of Westmount—were common targets, the largest single bombing was of the Montreal Stock Exchange on February 13, 1969, which caused extensive damage and injured 27 people. Other targets included Montreal City Hall, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, armed forces recruiting offices, railway tracks, and army installations. FLQ members, in a strategic move, had stolen several tons of dynamite from military and industrial sites, and, financed by bank robberies, they threatened through their official communication organ, known as La Cognée, that more attacks were to come.
By 1970, 23 members of the FLQ were in prison, including four convicted of murder. On February 26, 1970, two men in a panel truck – including Jacques Lanctôt – were arrested in Montreal when they were discovered with a sawed-off shotgun and a communique announcing the kidnapping of the Israeli consul. In June, police raided a home in the small community of Prévost, north of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains, and found firearms, ammunition, 300 pounds (140 kg) of dynamite, detonators, and the draft of a ransom note to be used in the kidnapping of the United States consul.
When CBC reporter Tim Ralfe asked how far he was willing to go to stop the FLQ, Trudeau replied: "Just watch me." Three days later, on October 16, the Cabinet under his chairmanship advised the Governor General to invoke the War Measures Act at the request of the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau. The War Measures Act gave sweeping powers of arrest and internment to the police. The provisions took effect at 4 a.m., and, shortly thereafter, hundreds of suspected FLQ members and sympathizers were rounded-up. In total 497 people were arrested, including singer Pauline Julien and her partner, future Quebec Minister Gérald Godin, poet Gaston Miron, union activist Michel Chartrand and journalist Nick Auf der Maur.
This act was imposed only after the negotiations with the FLQ had broken off and the Premier of Quebec was facing the next stage in the FLQ's agenda.
At the time, opinion polls in Quebec and the rest of Canada showed overwhelming support for the War Measures Act; in a December 1970 Gallup Poll, it was noted that 89% of English-speaking Canadians supported the introduction of the War Measures Act, and 86% of French-speaking Canadians supported its introduction. They respectively had 6% and 9% disapproving, the difference being undecided. Since then, however, the government's use of the War Measures Act in peacetime has been a subject of debate in Canada as it gave police sweeping powers of arrest and detention.
Simultaneously, under provisions quite separate from the War Measures Act and much more commonly used, the Solicitor-General of Quebec requisitioned the deployment of the military from the Chief of the Defence Staff in accordance with the National Defence Act. Troops from Quebec bases and elsewhere in the country were dispatched, under the direction of the Sûreté du Québec (Quebec's provincial police force), to guard vulnerable points as well as prominent individuals at risk. This freed the police to pursue more proactive tasks in dealing with the crisis. The two named Canadian Forces operations were Operation Ginger to mount guards on government of Canada buildings and important residences outside of Quebec, and Operation Essay to provide aid to the civil power in Quebec. The Royal 22e Régiment, more commonly known as the "Van Doos", the most famous French-Canadian regiment in the Canadian Army, was deployed to Montreal to guard buildings; it was understood that deploying troops from English-speaking regiments in Quebec as an aid to civil power would be politically problematic, and throughout the operation, the Army made a point of deploying as much as possible French-Canadian soldiers to guard buildings in Quebec. The Royal 22e Régiment was based in Quebec City, but it felt that having the "Van Doos" perform guard duty in Montreal, the largest city in Quebec, would be less likely to offend public opinion. The Canadian Army saw no action during its deployment which lasted until 12 November and only one soldier was killed, when he tripped over his loaded rifle on guard duty and inadvertently killed himself with his own gun.
Outside Quebec, mainly in the Ottawa area, the federal government deployed troops under its own authority to guard federal offices and employees. The combination of the increased powers of arrest granted by the War Measures Act, and the military deployment requisitioned and controlled by the government of Quebec, gave every appearance that martial law had been imposed. A significant difference, however, is that the military remained in a support role to the civil authorities (in this case, Quebec authorities) and never had a judicial role. It still allowed for the criticism of the government and the Parti Québécois was able to go about its everyday business free of any restrictions, including the criticism of the government and the War Measures Act. Nevertheless, the sight of tanks on the lawns of the federal parliament was disconcerting to many Canadians. Moreover, police officials sometimes abused their powers and detained without cause prominent artists and intellectuals associated with the sovereignty movement.
The October Crisis was the only occasion in which the War Measures Act was invoked in peacetime. The FLQ was declared an unlawful association; this meant that under the War Measures Act the police had full power to arrest, interrogate and hold anyone they believed was associated with the FLQ. This meant that "A person who was a member to this group, acted or supported it in some fashion became liable to a jail term not to exceed five years. A person arrested for such a purpose could be held without bail for up to ninety days". It is estimated that within the first 24 hours of the War Measures Act being put in place, police mobilized to arrest suspects of the unlawful organization. The police conducted 3000 searches and 497 people were detained.
Along with this, the War Measures Act violated and limited many human rights of people being incarcerated; for example "Everyone arrested under the War Measures Act was denied due process. Habeas corpus (an individual's right to have a judge confirm that they have been lawfully detained) was suspended. The Crown could detain a suspect for seven days before charging him or her with a crime. In addition, the attorney general could order, before the seven days expired, that the accused be held for up to 21 days. The prisoners were not permitted to consult legal counsel, and many were held incommunicado."
There were cases, however few, of people having cause to be upset by the method of their interrogation; however, the majority of those interviewed after had little cause to complain and several even commented on the courteous nature of the interrogations and searches. In addition, the Quebec Ombudsman, Louis Marceau, was instructed to hear complaints of detainees, and the Quebec government agreed to pay damages to any person unjustly arrested. On February 3, 1971, John Turner, Minister of Justice of Canada, reported that 497 persons had been arrested under the War Measures Act, of whom 435 had already been released. The other 62 were charged, of which 32 were accused of crimes of such seriousness that a Quebec Superior Court judge refused them bail. About Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act, the Canadian historian Desmond Morton wrote: "It was unprecedented. On the basis of facts then and revealed later, it was unjustified. It was also a brilliant success. Shock was the best safeguard against bloodshed. Trudeau's target was not two frightened little bands of terrorists, one of which soon strangled its helpless victim: it was the affluent dilettantes of revolutionary violence, cheering on the anonymous heroes of the FLQ. The proclamation of the War Measures Act and the thousands of grim troops pouring into Montreal froze the cheers, dispersed the coffee-table revolutionaries, and left them frightened and isolated while the police rounded up suspects whose offense, if any, was dreaming of blood in the streets".
Pierre Laporte was eventually found to have been killed by his captors while James Cross was freed after 59 days as a result of negotiations with the kidnappers who requested exile to Cuba rather than facing trial in Quebec. The cell members responsible for Laporte's death were arrested and charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder after they returned.
The response by the federal and provincial governments to the incident still sparks controversy. This is the only time that the War Measures Act had been put in place during peacetime in Canada. A few critics (most notably Tommy Douglas and some members of the New Democratic Party) believed that Trudeau was being excessive in advising the use of the War Measures Act to suspend civil liberties and that the precedent set by this incident was dangerous. Federal Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield initially supported Trudeau's actions, but later regretted doing so. In 1972, Michael Forrestall, the defence critic in the Conservative shadow cabinet, warned when Trudeau again stated he would use the War Measures Act again that: "the deliberate use of the military to enforce the will of one group of Canadians over the will of another group of Canadians is detrimental to the credibility of the armed forces". The size of the FLQ organization and the number of sympathizers in the public was not known. However, in its Manifesto, the FLQ stated: "In the coming year (Quebec Premier Robert) Bourassa will have to face reality; 100,000 revolutionary workers, armed and organized." Given that declaration, along with seven years of bombings and the wording of their communiques throughout that time that strove to present an image of a powerful organization spread secretly throughout all sectors of society, the authorities took significant action.
The events of October 1970 marked a significant loss of support for the violent wing of the Quebec sovereigntist movement that had gained support over nearly ten years, and increased support for political means of attaining independence, including support for the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, which went on to take power at the provincial level in 1976. After the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, which sought to amend the Constitution of Canada to resolve the passage by a previous government of the Constitution Act 1982 without Quebec's ratification, a pro-independence political party, the Bloc Québécois, was also created at the federal level.
The deployment of the military as an aid to civil power was very unpopular with the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces. In the 1950s, the primary purpose of the Canadian Army was to fight against the Red Army in Central Europe should World War Three break out. During the Pearson years, and even more so under Trudeau, there was a tendency on the part of the government to cut military spending and to shift the role of the Canadian Forces over to more as an internal security force. In 1968-69, Trudeau had seriously considered pulling out of NATO, and only stayed in order not to damage relations with the United States and the western European states. On 3 April 1969, Trudeau announced that Canada would stay in NATO after all, but he drastically cut military spending and pulled out half of the 10,000 Canadian soldiers and airmen stationed in West Germany. In the same speech, Trudeau stated that safeguarding Canada against external and internal threats would be the number one mission of the Canadian Forces, guarding North America in co-operation with the United States would be the number two mission, and NATO commitments would be the number three mission. In early 1970, the government introduced a white paper Defence in the Seventies, which stated the "Priority One" of the Canadian Forces would be upholding internal security rather than preparing for World War III, which of course meant a sharp cut in military spending since the future enemy was now envisioned to be the FLQ rather than the Red Army. The October Crisis, much to the dismay of the generals, was used by Trudeau as an argument for transforming the Canadian Forces into a force whose "Priority One" was internal security. Many officers knew very well that the "Priority One" of internal security was "...a greater threat than any other potential role". By the end of the 1970s, the Canadian Forces had been transformed by Trudeau into an internal security force that was not capable of fighting a major conventional war.
Seven people had died and dozens had been injured. In retrospect, it seems impossible, but one bomb was planted somewhere in Quebec every 10 days.
There was widespread editorial approval of the action taken by the federal government; only Claude Ryan, in Le Devoir, condemned it as did René Lévesque, leader of the Parti Québécois. Polls taken shortly afterwards, showed that there was as much as 92% approval for the action taken by the Federal government.
In a series of polls conducted over the next few weeks, public support for the course of action undertaken by the Government of Canada continued to be overwhelming (72 to 84% approval rate). In a poll conducted on December 19 by the Canadian Institute of Public Opinion, Canadians indicated that their opinion of Trudeau, Bourassa, Caouette and Robarts, who had all expressed strong support for the War Measures Act, was more favourable than before, while their view of Stanfield and Douglas, who had expressed reservations for the Act, was less favourable than previously.
Public opinion polls showed that nearly nine in 10 citizens – both Anglo and French-speaking – supported Trudeau's hardline tactics against the FLQ.
The decision to vote against the motion (which passed with a majority vote) was not viewed favourably; the NDP's approval rating dropped to seven per cent in public opinion polls. Still, Douglas maintained that Trudeau was going too far: "The government, I submit, is using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut."
That particular backing [of the War Measures Act] was Stanfield’s only regret in a long political life. He later admitted that he wished he had joined his lone dissenting colleague, David MacDonald, who voted against the Public Order Temporary Measures Act when it came before the House that November.