March 22, 2009

"Just Watch Me": Pierre Trudeau and the October Crisis of 1970.

I know I haven't posted in a while. I've been really busy finishing up one essay (on the US Embargo of Cuba...which I will post about shortly) and starting on one about Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act in October 1970. I'll be busy for a while longer but I thought I'd let you know what I've been working on.

For those who don't know what the October Crisis's a backgrounder:

The October Crisis denotes the kidnapping on 5 October 1970 of James Cross, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the FRONT DE LIBÉRATION DU QUÉBEC. The kidnappers' demands, communicated in a series of public messages, included the freeing of a number of convicted or detained FLQ members and the broadcasting of the FLQ manifesto. The manifesto, a diatribe against established authority, was read on Radio-Canada, and on October 10 the Québec minister of justice offered safe passage abroad to the kidnappers in return for the liberation of their hostage; but on the same day a second FLQ cell kidnapped the Québec minister of labour and immigration, Pierre LAPORTE.
On October 15 the Québec government requested the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces to supplement the local police, and on October 16 the federal government proclaimed the existence of a state of "apprehended insurrection" under the WAR MEASURES ACT. Under the emergency regulations, the FLQ was banned, normal liberties were suspended, and arrests and detentions were authorized without charge. Over 450 persons were detained in Québec, most of whom were eventually released without the laying or hearing of charges.

On October 17 the body of Pierre Laporte was found in a car trunk near St Hubert airport. In early December 1970, the cell holding James Cross was discovered by police, and his release was negotiated in return for the provision of safe conduct to Cuba for the kidnappers and some family members. Four weeks later the second group was located and arrested, subsequently to be tried and convicted for kidnapping and murder. Emergency regulations under War Measures were replaced in December 1970 by similar regulations under the Public Order (Temporary Measures) Act which lapsed on 30 April 1971. The federal response to the kidnapping was intensely controversial. According to opinion polls, an overwhelming majority of Canadians supported the Cabinet's action, but it was criticized as excessive by Québec nationalists and by civil libertarians throughout the country. Supporters of the response claim that the disappearance of terrorism in Québec is evidence of its success, but this disappearance might equally be attributed to public distaste for political terror and to the steady growth of the democratic separatist movement in the 1970s, which led to the election of a PARTI QUÉBÉCOIS government (1976).

After the crisis the federal Cabinet gave ambiguous instructions to the RCMP Security Service, permitting dubious acts which were later condemned as illegal by the federal INQUIRY INTO CERTAIN ACTIVITIES OF THE RCMP and the Keable Commission (D'enquête sur des opérations policières en territoire Québecois) in Québec. The federal minister of justice in 1970, John TURNER, justified the use of War Measures as a means of reversing an "erosion of public will" in Québec, and Premier Robert BOURASSA similarly conceded that it was intended to rally popular support to the authorities rather than to confront an "apprehended insurrection."


And here's quite possibly the most notable interview of the time in public memory. When asked how far he would go to ensure law and order, he Trudeau responded "just watch me". A few days later he invoked the War Measures Act which suspended civil liberties in Canada and ended in the arrest without charge of hundreds of Canadians.

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