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October Crisis

The October Crisis was a terrorist kidnapping event that occurred in the Province of Quebec, Canada, during the month of October, 1970.

As a prelude to the dramatic events, since 1963 terrorists calling themselves the Front de Libération du Quebec (FLQ) had committed over 200 violent crimes, including numerous bombings that killed several people, one of which was a major blast at the Montreal Stock Exchange on February 13, 1969 that injured 27 people. Too, they robbed military and industrial sites, accumulating several tons of dynamite. After many of these deeds, they made their warnings to the public of more murders and bombings to come through an offical communication organ known as La Cognée. These terrorists funded their activities with armed bank hold-ups.

By 1970, twenty-three members of the "FLQ" were in jail, including four convicted murderers. On February 26, 1970 two men in a panel truck were arrested in Montreal when they were discovered to have a sawed-off shotgun and a communiqué announcing the kidnapping of the Israeli consul. One of them was a man named Jacques Lanctôt. In June, police raided a home north of Montreal in the small community of Prévost[?] in the Laurentian Mountains[?] and found firearms, 300 pounds of dynamite, ammunition, detonators and the draft of a ransom note to be used in the kidnapping of the United States consul.

Seminal events of the 1970 October Crisis:

  • October 5 - Montreal, Quebec: British Trade Commissioner James Cross is kidnapped by members of the "Liberation cell" of the Front de Libération du Quebec (FLQ) terrorist group. This was followed by a communiqué to the authorities that contained the kidnappers' demands that included the release of a number of convicted or detained terrorists and the broadcasting of the "FLQ Manifesto". The terms of the ransom note were the same as those found in June for the planned kidnapping of the U.S. consul. At the time, the police did not connect the two.

  • October 15 - Quebec City - The Government of Quebec calls in the services of the Canadian Army, as is its right alone under the National Defence Act. All three opposition parties, including the Parti Quebecois rise in the National Assembly and agree with the decision.

  • October 16 - The Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourasa[?], formally requests the Federal Government in Ottawa to impose the War Measures Act. (The City of Montreal had already made such a request, the day before.) The Act came into effect at 4:00 a.m.

  • October 17 - Montreal, Quebec: The "Chenier cell" of the FLQ terrorist group announce that hostage Pierre Laporte has been executed. He is strangled to death and his body is dumped in the trunk of a car and abandoned in the bush near St. Hubert Airport, a few miles from Montreal. A communiqué to police advising that Pierre Laporte had been executed referred to him derisively as the "Minister of unemployment and assimilation." In a communiqué issued by the "Liberation cell" holding James Cross, his kidnappers declared that they were suspending indefinitely the death sentence against James Cross, that they would not release him until their demands were met and that he would be executed if the "fascist police" discovered them and tried to intervene.

  • November 6 - Police raid the hiding place of the FLQ's Chenier cell. Although three members escaped the raid, Bernard Lortie was arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte.

  • December 3 - Montreal, Quebec: After being held hostage for 60 days, kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross is released by the FLQ Liberation cell terrorists after negotions with police. Simultaneously, the five known terrorist members of the cell are granted their request for safe passage to Cuba by the Government of Canada after approval by Fidel Castro. They are flown to Cuba by a Canadian Armed Forces aircraft. One of them is the same Jacques Lanctôt who earlier that year had been arrested and then given bail for the attempted kidnapping of the Israeli consul.

A great many Canadians were very scared; it was the kind of thing that was supposed to happen in some far off dictator-run "Banana republic," not in modern, democratic Canada. In the middle of the crisis, adding to the fear were the comments of the powerful and radical labour leader, and vociferous FLQ supporter, Michel Chartrand[?] who said: "we are going to win because there are more boys ready to shoot members of Parliament than there are policemen."

The invocation of the War Measures Act has long been a subject of debate in Canada, and the events of September 11, 2001 revived the issue. In 1970, due to the known existence of several terrorist cells, and previous terrorist bombings by the FLQ, the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau requested the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau invoke the War Measures Act which would put the country under de facto martial law in order to deal with the situation. Prime Minister Trudeau agreed and the act was invoked for the first time in peacetime and the military was called out to increase security of essential locations and personnel.

Under the War Measures Act, 118 citizens of Quebec, who were known communist supporters or sympathizers of the FLQ terrorist group, plus those suspected of being part of it, were subsequently arrested and held according to the law for questioning, without charge or trial for several days. Pierre Laporte was eventually found murdered by his captors while James Cross was freed after 60 days as a result of negotiations with the kidnappers who requested exile to Cuba rather than face trial in Quebec. The cell members responsible for Laporte were arrested and charged with kidnapping and murder.

This incident proved to the most serious terrorist attack in Canada's history and the response by the government, still sparks controversy. However, at the time, opinion polls showed overwhelming support in Quebec for the War Measures Act. A few critics believed that Prime Minister Trudeau was being excessive in using the War Measures Act to suspend civil liberties and the precedent set by this incident was dangerous. The size of the FLQ organization, and the number of sympathizers in the public was not known. As such, the authorities had no real idea of the scale of terrorist events that could happen. Too, for years, the wording of the FLQ communiqués strove to present an image of a powerful organization spread secretly throughout all milieus of society. Supporters of the government's strong measuires also point out that there have been no equivalent terrorist incidents since 1970 and it might well be because the vigorous response by the government has been a deterrent.

Regardless, the events of October, 1970 galvanized a loss of support for violent means for Quebec secession that had gone on for nearly 10 years, and increased support for the secessionist political party, the Parti Québécois, which took power in 1976.

For details and photographs of the people involved, see: Front de Libération du Quebec.

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