December 12th 2008
Canada has always been known as a peaceful country. Among other parts of the world consumed by riots, lawlessness and violence, Canada is seen as an oasis of democracy, freedom, and responsible government. However during October of 1970, it was made very clear that the potential for civil strife, terrorism, and even revolution exists in the true north strong and free. During this terrifying month, a terrorist group calling themselves the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and provincial minister Pierre Laporte, and threatened to kill them unless a series of demands was met by the federal government. Then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau refused to give in to the demands of terrorists, and responded by sending the armed forces to assist the Quebec police, and on October 16th, 1970, Pierre Trudeau addresses the nation, explained his position, and informed Canada that he had invoked the War Measures Act. This move suspended the civil liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights and gave the police and army extraordinary power to pursue leads and arrest suspects. A day after Trudeau made this announcement; Pierre Laporte was murdered by his captors. Hundreds of arrests were subsequently made, aimed at crippling the FLQ. The Crisis ended when James Cross was released on December 3rd in return for safe passage to Cuba for the kidnappers.[i] Although the majority supported his actions at the time, Trudeau’s decision to use the WMA has come under considerable scrutiny, with some wondering whether it was overkill. Yet the fact remains that after the WMA was put into effect, there were no further FLQ bombings. In invoking the WMA, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau took what was a necessary action to neutralize the incredible threat posed by the murderous and ruthless Front de Liberation du Quebec. Canadians often refer to the month of October of 1970 as “Black October”. This foreboding title gives an indication of just how terrible and uncertain the FLQ crisis was. It started on October 5th, 1970, when armed FLQ members of the Liberation Cell kidnapped James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner, from his home. This kidnapping represented a major step up from previous FLQ activity, which had consisted mostly of symbolic bombings, such as the bombing of the James Wolfe statue.[ii] Shortly after, the FLQ demanded the release of 23 “political prisoners”, that the FLQ Manifesto be broadcasted, that safe passage to Cuba be arranged for the kidnappers, as well as a ransom of $500 000. The FLQ stated that if these demands were not met, James Cross, an innocent civilian, would be executed. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa agreed that the response to these demands and the handling of the sitation would be negotiated by both the federal and provincial levels of government, in conjunction with one another. Five days later, the Chenier cell of the FLQ kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the Quebec Minister of Labour. This development was the more significant of the two kidnappings because it appeared to show that the FLQ was a very powerful organization with the infrastructure and ability to victimize anyone at any time. This led to a general state of panic in the minds of Canadians, which was confirmed by Trudeau in his October 16th address; “The kidnappers purposes would be served equally well by having in their grip you or me, or perhaps some child.”[iii] With this mindset that everyone was vulnerable in the forefront, the army was moved into Ottawa to protect various government officials. Soon after, the army was invited by Quebec police to assist them in keeping the populace safe.
On October 16th 1970, the October Crisis became arguably the most controversial event in Canada’s history when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. Never before...