Thursday, April 3, 2003

Thinking about the October Crisis

It really bothered me when I learned that none of my current students knew about the October Crisis of 1970. (It happened before I was born, but I was still taught about it.) Given present world politics, it seems to me all the more important to remember our histories, our conflicts and the perils of force.

I filtched this text from the National Film Board and added a bunch of links:

"Through the late 1960s and early 1970s, the federal government attempted to resolve some of the grievances of French-speaking Canadians in general, and Quebecers in particular. A Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, which began its work in 1963) had studied the relationship between French- and English-speaking Canadians, and the Official Languages Act was passed in 1969 — acknowledging French and English as Canada's two official languages.

For some in Quebec this was too little, too late. One group that held this opinion was the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), a terrorist organization dedicated to bringing about an independent, socialist Quebec. While the FLQ didn't become a household word for most Canadians until October of 1970, the group had been active for some time. Between 1963 and 1970, the FLQ had been responsible for over 200 bombings, hitting such targets as McGill University, the Montreal Stock Exchange and the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau.

The activities of the FLQ became front-page news across the country in October of 1970, when members of the group kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross and then Quebec's Liberal Labour and Immigration minister, Pierre Laporte.

The terrorists demanded publicity for their manifesto, the release of 23 of their comrades, $500,000 in gold bullion, and free passage to Cuba or Algeria. On the invitation of Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, the federal government intervened. Prime Minister Trudeau took the unprecedented step of invoking the War Measures Act during peacetime — an act that temporarily suspended the civil rights of all Canadians and allowed the police to arrest and detain 465 people. Most of these people had committed no greater crime than appearing to be sympathetic to Quebec independence movements.

The night after the War Measures Act was proclaimed, Laporte's body was found in the trunk of an abandoned car. Eventually, Cross was freed by his captors, who were given free passage to Cuba in exchange for his life."

There are powerful photos (Images from October) in the CBC archives, as well as video and audio.

And I highly recommend the NFB documentary, Action: The October Crisis of 1970, as well as Octobre, Pierre Falardeau's controversial film portrayal of the events from the perspective of the kidnappers.

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