Just Watch Me: How Trudeau’s bold imposition of the WMA helped preserve peace in Canada

On the tangent of forced-upon scholastic endeavours, our Writer’s Craft also required us to compose an academic research essay. The October Crisis had always been a topic I knew of only on a topical level; indeed, I didn’t know enough on the subject to form a concrete opinion.

However, I must confess that even after this research project, I am still unsure on my stance when it comes to this debate. I acknowledge both arguments, and more so, respect what both intellectual parties have to say. 

The topic is controversial even to this day, and will sure be in the future. Please feel free to comment or give me any of your feedback; it is always, always appreciated (especially when it comes down to stuff like this). Thanks!

***

 

The kidnappings of James Cross, British Trade Commissioner, and Pierre Laporte, Quebec Minister of Labour, were the culmination of all terrorist activity led by the Front de Liberation duQuebec, a radical separatist group vying forQuebec’s independence. These events were indeed of unprecedented amplitude in Canadian history, a country known for priding itself on its democratic and humanitarian values.

Pierre-Elliott Trudeau’s imposition of the War Measures Act on October 16, 1970, was a necessary political response to the October Crisis, and ultimately played a vital role in the restoration of national peace. In view of the fact that the Front de Libération du Québec posed the most dangerous terrorist threat in Canadian history, that the War Measures Act was a response to public and governmental demands in Quebec, and that Trudeau’s decision set a precedent of his bold federalist policies, the promulgation of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis of 1970.

Firstly, Trudeau’s imposition of the War Measures Act was essential considering the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) presented the most serious threat of domestic terrorism in Canada’s history. Other terrorist groups include the Freedomites and Direct Action, though the two groups were unconnected to any human casualties.[1] In fact, the FLQ was responsible for half of domestic terrorism in Canada between 1960 and 1985[2]. Founded in February 1963, it claimed “independence or death”[3], suggesting their radical stance. On April 21, 1963, the FLQ claimed its first victim after the bombing of a military office in Montreal.[4] This would be its first of over 200 bombings between 1963 and 1970, and the first of seven FLQ-associated deaths.[5] Hereafter, more substantial buildings were targeted[6], such as the Montreal Stock Exchange and the home Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau.[7] This thus allowed the group to cement itself as a legitimate terrorist threat. However, the FLQ was not a cohesive organization but a collection of associated cells across Quebec[8], an approach which baffled the police who “were not prepared for an urban guerrilla movement”.[9] Conversely, the Front was associated to terror plots in the United States.[10] In February 1965, FLQ member Michèle Duclos “[was] arrested in a plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty”.[11] Moreover, in 1970, FLQ members “were training with Palestinian commandos [intending] to return to Canada to practise selective assassination”.[12] The FLQ suggested that “the people who are responsible will pay”.[13] In effect, this statement surmises that FLQ would begin targeting essential political figures associated against the movement, rather than simply targeting innocent civilians. Undeniably, these circumstances indicate the extent to which the organization had grown, and the means of terror it was capable of instilling in Canada. The FLQ’s actions culminated with the kidnappings of James Cross, British Trades Commissioner, on October 5 1970, and Pierre Laporte, Quebec Minister of Labour, on October 10 1970, who was ultimately assassinated.[14] This demonstrates the Front’s ascension into a terrorist threat that the government would be unable to contain, unless given supplementary powers, thus forcing the federal government to impose the War Measures Act. Accordingly, the FLQ was a dangerous opposition whose violent acts set a precedent in Canadian history. It was therefore politically necessary to take a firm stance, and avoid the potential escalation of the October Crisis.

Admittedly, many believe that the promulgation of the War Measures Act was an abuse on human rights. In fact, the Act was to be specifically employed in the event of an apprehended war, invasion or insurrection[15], none of which were in effect during the Crisis. Though the government claimed there were 3,000 terrorists in Quebec[16], many believe “Trudeau fabricated [rumours] to help justify the use of emergency powers”.[17] Also, the imposition following the capture of two political figures requires one to question why no state of insurrection was proclaimed during previous FLQ plots which endangered many more lives.[18] Additionally, civil rights were unquestionably disregarded. Over 500 people were detained – a vast majority of which were activists, professors, students, artists, and media members with leftist leanings[19] – without bail or warrants; whilst the freedom of speech was ignored.[20] Henceforth, considering the extent to which Trudeau’s decision was based on speculation, one might wonder if the War Measures Act was promulgated to “crush separatism”[21], as Claude Ryan, editor of Montreal’s Le Devoir, postulated, rather than to protect national security during the October Crisis. Nevertheless, the level of organization of the FLQ was not known at the time. In the heat of the Crisis, the general public did not know “to what extent the FLQ was organized, how powerful they were, where they were going to strike next”[22], thus creating a state of “hysteria” and “panic”.[23] It was therefore a necessary decision on Trudeau’s behalf given how little was known regarding the Front.

Secondly, the imposition was justifiable, for it met the demands of various levels of government and municipal institution, in addition to the general public, of Quebec. Effectively, on October 15 and 16, 1970, Pierre-Elliott Trudeau received demands from provincial and municipal authorities in Montrealrequesting the implementation of the War Measures Act.[24] Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa requested “that emergency powers be provided”[25], for the reason that “the law [was] inadequate”.[26] Moreover, in a joint address, Jean Drapeau, Mayor of Montreal, and Lucien Saulnier, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Montreal, appealed for “every measure of assistance [from] the federal government to [protect] the lives of citizens”.[27] Montreal’s director of police requested “all the means to protect society from insurrectional manoeuvres”, considering “how extremely urgent it [was] to unmask the ramifications of this movement”.[28] The Cabinet also unanimously backed emergency legislation.[29] Supreme Court Judges, every major English language newspaper, and even prominent civil rights lawyers backed the decision.[30] In addition, the imposition of the War Measures Act was demanded by the general public, who put “tremendous pressure on the authorities to do something”.[31] In fact, a Gallup poll conducted in December 1970 indicates that 88 percent of Canadians and 86 percent of Quebecers approved the implementation.[32] This provides further evidence that the decision was supported, and not solely a brash Trudeau conclusion. Therefore, the imposition was necessary in order to meet pressing demands across the country, and avoid further backlash from the public.

Lastly, Trudeau’s imposition of the War Measures Act set the tone for his bold leadership and subsequent political achievements. Through his decisions in October 1970, the Prime Minister helped cement his federalist policies, considering that, like any other, the provinceof Quebecshould be governed by the federal administration.[33] The promulgation of the War Measures Act strengthened the relationship between the provincial and federal governments; in effect, consequently to the Act, “the Bourassa government placed itself under the tutelage of the Trudeau government”[34] thus showing Trudeau’s willingness to meet the demands of Quebec, all whilst keeping true to his federal policies. Moreover, considering that Trudeau “believed very strongly in human rights”[35], his later political achievements demonstrate his reputation as a civil libertarian.[36] His greatest political feat is indubitably the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which made the use of French and English official, and  ultimately seeking “Canada [to be]the homeland of French Canadians and not only Quebec”.[37]Moreover, the Charter also established the lawful protection of human rights.[38] Therefore, Trudeau’s firm stance in 1970 helped set a precedent for his future federalist policies. The imposition of the War Measures Act thus demonstrated the boldness of Trudeau’s politics, and was necessary in setting the tone of his federalist mandate.

Considering that the FLQ had the means to endanger the greater population; that the general population, alongside various levels of Canadian government requested the War Measures Act; and that the decision allowed Trudeau to fashion his federalist mandate, the imposition of the War Measures act was a necessary political response to prevent further escalation of the October Crisis and maintain national security, at a time of unprecedented political and social upheaval in Canadian history Many believe it was simply implemented to slow down the separatist movement in Quebec, and that since the Parti Quebecois was elected in 1976, it was a failed operation. However, though the War Measures Act did not impede the sovereign movement inQuebec, it certainly changed its nature. After the FLQ’s dissipation in 1971, the separatist movement had strengthened democratic values and less radical ones, which could be deemed a victory in its own.


[1] Azzi, Stephen. “Terrorism.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Web. 01 Feb. 2012.

[2] Ross, Jeffrey Ian, and Ted Robert Gurr. “Why Terrorism Subsides: A Comparative Study of Canada and the United States.” Comparative Politics 21.4 (1989): 405-26. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/422005.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;.

[3]  Tetley, William. “Appendix C: The Events Preliminary to the Crisis.”, referred to in The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider’s View, McGill-Queen’s University Press,Montreal, 2006.

[4] Wilson, Frank L. “French-Canadian Separatism.” The Western Political Quarterly 20.1 (1967): 116-31. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/444805.pdf&gt;.

[5] Tetley, William. “Appendix C: The Events Preliminary to the Crisis.”, referred to in The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider’s View, McGill-Queen’s University Press,Montreal, 2006.

[6] Ross, Jeffrey Ian, and Ted Robert Gurr. “Why Terrorism Subsides: A Comparative Study of Canada and the United States.” Comparative Politics 21.4 (1989): 405-26. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/422005.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;.

[7] LaPierre, Laurier. “Quebec: October 1970.” The North American Review 256.3 (1971): 23-33. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/25117224.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;

[8] Clément, Dominique. “The October Crisis of 1970: Human Rights Abuses Under the War Measures Act.” Journal of Canadian Studies 42.2 (2008): 160-86. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.historyofrights.com/PDF/article_JCS.pdf&gt;.

[9] LaPierre, Laurier. “Quebec: October 1970.” The North American Review 256.3 (1971): 23-33. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/25117224.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;

[10] Tetley, William. “Appendix C: The Events Preliminary to the Crisis.”, referred to in The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider’s View, McGill-Queen’s University Press,Montreal, 2006.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Op. Cit. Tetley.

[13] Op. Cit. Tetley.

[14] Ross, Jeffrey Ian, and Ted Robert Gurr. “Why Terrorism Subsides: A Comparative Study of Canada and the United States.” Comparative Politics 21.4 (1989): 405-26. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/422005.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;.

[15] LaPierre, Laurier. “Quebec: October 1970.” The North American Review 256.3 (1971): 23-33. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/25117224.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;

[16] Bélanger, Claude. “October Crisis – Readings – Quebec History.” Faculty.marianopolis.edu.MarianopolisCollege, 23 Aug. 2000. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/october.htm&gt;.

[17] Clément, Dominique. “The October Crisis of 1970: Human Rights Abuses Under the War Measures Act.” Journal of Canadian Studies 42.2 (2008): 160-86. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.historyofrights.com/PDF/article_JCS.pdf&gt;.

[18] LaPierre, Laurier. “Quebec: October 1970.” The North American Review 256.3 (1971): 23-33. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/25117224.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;

[19] Tetley, William. “Appendix D: The Crisis per se.” referred to in The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider’s View, McGill-Queen’s University Press,Montreal, 2006.

[20] Clément, Dominique. “The October Crisis of 1970: Human Rights Abuses Under the War Measures Act.” Journal of Canadian Studies 42.2 (2008): 160-86. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.historyofrights.com/PDF/article_JCS.pdf&gt;.

[21] Bélanger, Claude. “October Crisis – Readings – Quebec History.” Faculty.marianopolis.edu.MarianopolisCollege, 23 Aug. 2000. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/october.htm&gt;.

[22] Grace, Kevin Michael. “Just a few young toughs’.” Alberta Report 5 Feb. 2001: 15. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Feb. 2012

[23] Ibid.

[24] Bélanger, Claude. “Letters from theQuebec Authorities Requesting the Implementation of the War Measures Act (October 15-16, 1971) -Quebec History.”MarianpolisCollege, 23 Aug. 2000. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/docs/october/letters.htm&gt;.

[25] Op. Cit. Bélanger.

[26] Op. Cit. Bélanger.

[27] Bélanger, Claude. “Letters from theQuebec Authorities Requesting the Implementation of the War Measures Act (October 15-16, 1971) -Quebec History.”MarianpolisCollege, 23 Aug. 2000. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/docs/october/letters.htm&gt;.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Clément, Dominique. “The October Crisis of 1970: Human Rights Abuses Under the War Measures Act.” Journal of Canadian Studies 42.2 (2008): 160-86. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.historyofrights.com/PDF/article_JCS.pdf&gt;.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Grace, Kevin Michael. “Just a few young toughs’.” Alberta Report 5 Feb. 2001: 15. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Feb. 2012

[32] Ibid.

[33] Güntzel, Ralph P. “”Rapprocher Les Lieux Du Pouvoir”: The Québec Labour Movement and Québec Sovereigntism.” Labour / Le Travail 46 (2000): 369-95. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/25149104.pdf&gt;.

[34] Bélanger, Claude. “October Crisis – Readings – Quebec History.” Faculty.marianopolis.edu.MarianopolisCollege, 23 Aug. 2000. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/october.htm&gt;.

[35] Grace, Kevin Michael. “Just a few young toughs’.” Alberta Report 5 Feb. 2001: 15. Academic OneFile. Web. 7 Feb. 2012

[36] Clément, Dominique. “The October Crisis of 1970: Human Rights Abuses Under the War Measures Act.” Journal of Canadian Studies 42.2 (2008): 160-86. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.historyofrights.com/PDF/article_JCS.pdf&gt;.

[37] Bélanger, Claude. “October Crisis – Readings – Quebec History.” Faculty.marianopolis.edu.MarianopolisCollege, 23 Aug. 2000. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/october.htm&gt;.

[38] Gibbins, Roger, Rainer Knopff, and F.L Morton. “Canadian Federalism, the Charter of Rights, and the 1984 Election.” Publius 15.3 (1984): 155-69. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.torontopubliclibrary.ca/stable/pdfplus/3329984.pdf?acceptTC=true&gt;.

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