The Role of Journalism in the FLQ Crisis
Any discussion regarding the defining moments in Canada’s history must include the infamous October Crisis of 1970. Occurring throughout the province of Quebec, particularly in the metropolitan areas of Montreal, the socio-political implications of this affair were so significant that its effects can still be felt four decades later. However, many tend to overlook the substantial role that the media played in shaping the series of events that would eventually culminate in the first, and only, peacetime usage of the controversial War Measures Act and forever smear the relationship between Quebec and the Canadian government. Although many only see the major players as the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his federal government, the media played such a large role in sensationalizing the events and making tangible goods out of abstract concepts – such as civil liberties and public safety – that it should be considered its own entity in its entirety. Despite the clear antagonistic actions of the FLQ, the behaviour of the media only served to benefit the FLQ throughout the duration of the October Crisis – so much so that it prompted the federal government to explore possible methods of controlling the media. Given Canada’s historical inexperience with acts of terrorism and its relative freedom of press, the unforeseeable irresponsible and erroneous behaviour of the media in dealing with the October Crisis should effectively paint a picture of how the media should not handle similar situations. Thus, the role of the media during the FLQ crisis should be considered a defining moment within the history of Canadian journalism, albeit for the significant negative impact it had on society during the latter months of 1970. The October Crisis
However, first and foremost, the October Crisis, and its many underlying themes, must be fully explored before any conclusions can be drawn. On the eve of the affair, French Canadians constituted 80% of Quebec’s population and 28% of Canada’s. As such, the Québécois have exhibited more characteristics of a sovereign nation than that of a province; they possessed a common language, culture, history and even their own geographical entity (Young, 1971). Furthermore, Quebec possessed some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in Canada, with as many as 50% of the rural population out of work. The ownership of local corporations all fell under rich Anglophones, in part due to the primacy of the English language in Canada at the time. This nationalist sentiment, combined with what the Québécois felt were various acts of social and economic discrimination by the Anglo-Canadian population, ultimately formed the perfect environment for a protest movement (Young, 1971). Accordingly, the FLQ, and its militaristic separatist agenda, was born. Throughout the 1960s, the FLQ acted mainly through relatively petty criminal acts such hold-ups, robberies and small-time bombings; at this point, very little attention was given to such an insignificant criminal organization. However, things took a drastic turn on October 5th, 1970, when seven members of the FLQ – referring to themselves as the Liberation Cell – kidnapped British Consul James Cross. They then made a call to the Montreal-based radio station CKAC claiming credit for the abduction, as well as issuing several demands through a political manifesto. These demands included: the liberation of 23 ‘political’ prisoners and their transport to Cuba or Algeria; the reintegration of strikers into the ranks of the Canadian Postal Service; an income tax of $500,000 to be paid to the prisoners; the name and picture of the individual who had recently helped the police apprehend members of the FLQ; and lastly, the publication and broadcasting of the FLQ manifesto in Quebec newspapers and national radio and television. By...
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