Busting the common myths about the October Crisis
FLQ terrorists killed six and committed 200 bombings, robberies from 1963-70
WAR MEASURERS ACT - One of 6,000 soldiers sent into action to protect individuals, public buildings and key installations throughout Quebec on Oct. 15, 1970 stands guard at city hall after the kidnappings of British diplomat James Richard Cross and Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte.
Photograph by: George Cree, The Gazette
Forty years ago today, what is now remembered as the October Crisis started with the abduction of British diplomat James Richard Cross, by Front de liberation du Quebec terrorists purporting to act in the name of Quebec secession and socialist revolution. On Oct. 10, Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was also abducted while playing ball with his nephew on the front lawn of his home. He would be assassinated by his kidnappers on Oct. 17.
In Quebec as elsewhere, myths are persistent, especially when they are used to mask the weaknesses of nationalist ideology and the errors of judgment of the movement they support. The deformation of the memory of the October Crisis is one of the most obvious examples of such historical revisionism. Indeed, the assassins and supporters of violence have become victims, while the defendants of the rule of law have been renamed as oppressors.
As Talleyrand said: "In politics, what is believed becomes the truth." This interpretation dictated by a certain separatist leadership, through ignorance, carelessness, irresponsibility or for the benefit of their cause, in fact contributes to the trivialization of violence and its consequences in a democratic society.
In his October Crisis 1970: An Insider's View (McGill-Queen's University Press (2007), freshly published this week in French by Editions Heritage and re-edited by Mc-Gill-Queen's in paperback), William Tetley, law professor at McGill University, minister in the Bourassa cabinet during the crisis, has succeeded in brilliantly taming the most commonly held myths about the October Crisis.
It is high time that all Canadians be reminded that:
The FLQ terrorists, who from 1963 until the summer of 1970, killed six people while committing more than 200 bombings and thefts -including the 1969 bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange, which ripped through the facade of the building leaving 27 wounded -were not "political" prisoners.
Pierre Trudeau and Bourassa were right not to negotiate with criminals; history will recognize their courageous struggle against those who threatened the rule of law through violence and blackmail, thereby jeopardizing the democratic process.
The 16 "eminent personalities," including Rene Levesque, Jacques Parizeau, Claude Ryan, and union leaders, who signed the petition of Oct. 14, 1970, calling for negotiations with the terrorists and the release of "political prisoners," instead of a clear and unequivocal request for the unconditional and immediate release of the two hostages, provided valuable de-facto support for the terrorists, rather than siding with Bourassa's freshly elected government.
It was the Quebec government, not the federal government, that, with the unanimous support of the leaders of the three opposition parties in the National Assembly at the time -including Camille Laurin, parliamentary leader of the Parti Quebecois -called on Oct. 15 for reinforcements from the Val Cartier Vandoos regiment of the Canadian Army to help the Quebec police authorities track those who had defied democracy by their crimes and calls to violence. At all times, the Canadian soldiers took orders and reported to the chief of the Surete du Quebec.
It was at Levesque's insistence that Laurin was forced to renege on his clear support a few hours later. Levesque would further humiliate Laurin when on Oct. 30, he would finally publicly declare in his Journal de Montreal daily column, that calling in the army was the "right decision." Soon thereafter, as correctly noted by Daniel Poliquin in his recent book, Rene Levesque (Boreal, 2009), Levesque repositioned yet again, now "accusing Trudeau of exaggerating the scale of the threat, and exploiting the hostage crisis to Ottawa's advantage. A clever counter-attack aimed at demonizing the federal government and allowing the separatist movement to shed responsibility, while also launching October revisionism, a much profitable industry to this day."
The implementation of the War Measures Act on Oct. 16 was not an all-out assault on civil rights and political liberty, but rather prohibited support for the violent acts of the FLQ. Freedom of expression, even to denounce the act, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly were at all times preserved. For instance, student assemblies, including those that warmly applauded the announcement of Pierre Laporte's assassination, were not prohibited. Union and PQ leaders continued to meet and make public declarations throughout the period. The media were never impeded in their duties, quite the contrary, they sometimes exacerbated the crisis.
It is from these moments onward that the terrorists were subdued, the escalation of violence halted, and democracy restored.
As early as March 1971, all people unjustly incarcerated during the October Crisis (103 individuals of the total 497 apprehended) were afforded a right to an entirely independent process before the Quebec ombudsman, and received compensation up to $30,000 in 1971 dollars from the Quebec government.
Canadians -and foremost among them the citizens of the province of Quebec -overwhelmingly approved these actions at the time, without reserve, deeming them necessary to counter the insurgents and restore order.
Bernard Amyot is a lawyer with Heenan Blaikie in Montreal and past president of the Canadian Bar Association.