October Crisis Essay

1 January 2017

Significance of the October Crisis From the overthrowing of the Russian Tsar to the exile of the Nationalists, the world has been in a state where radical movements have been the main focus of citizens, even in democratic societies. The October Crisis was one of these extraordinary events that had occurred. It was a period of international and national revolutionary movements that used violent acts against constitutional measures.

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The 1970 October Crisis was a pivotal moment that had an undeniable and lasting impact on Canadians as it revealed the wisdom of Trudeau’s decision to enact the War Measures Act, demonstrated that the FLQ (a left-winged terrorist organization) was not a good representative of the French-Canadians, and it provided evidence that this event, focused on Quebec, is a “Canadian” issue. One propitious moment that made the October Crisis unforgettable was Trudeau’s wise decision to enable the War Measures Act which showed that Canada does not tolerate terrorism.

The October Crisis was triggered by the abduction of government officials in Quebec, by FLQ members in October 1970. The War Measures Act (WMA) was a law that allowed the government to assume emergency powers in the event of “war, invasion or insurrection, real or apprehended” (Tetley, 2007). Since none of the requirements were present, it had given a stifling argument for all the negative responses that occurred. However, the counterpart of the decision was yet to be told. Canada had previously experienced many terrorist acts by the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ).

The group believed the rights and justice of the French-Canadians would only be recognized if Quebec formally separated politically from Canada. Generally, governments cede to the terrorists, exchanging hostages for “prisoners of words”. If a similar act had commenced in a democratic country, such as Canada, “giving in to the terrorist(s) would not be an option” (Tetley, 2001). If the Canadian government complied with the kidnappings, the kidnappers would realize that they had a potent weapon to defeat the democratic process.

Not only that, but the government would have failed “to preserve the democratic system” (Tetley, 2007). A democratically elected government is trusted with the task of preserving the rights and freedoms of the society that elected it, which means it does not have permission to abandon its authority and responsibilities to terrorists. Prime Minister Trudeau decided to take drastic measures in ending this atrocity. When the FLQ supporters and political critics called his bluff, Trudeau acted upon his word and revealed his winning hand.

The War Measures Act was later approved, which many considered to be the turning point of the crisis. This statute gave limited powers to the government in certain situations, allowing the citizens to realize that their rights were not stripped, and lessened the tension between the Franco- and Anglo-Canadians that prevented public retaliation (Tetley, 2007). The power allowed police squads to arrest and search without warrants, to interrogate detained suspects, and then it continued to build pressure on the FLQ.

The Act continued its effect by temporarily ending the Quebec separation hype and gave neutral civilians protection from the armed forces, which strengthened Trudeau’s image as Canada’s saviour (Dann, 2010). While the overall decision for enabling the WMA was the debate of the past, the controversy of today has been the enlightening to the true “colours” of the FLQ. The October Crisis became a significant event because the whole country was later to become aware of how the FLQ was not a good representative for the Quebecois.

The people in the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) are neither Messiahs nor modern-day Robin Hoods. They are a group who have decided to do everything they can to assure that the Quebecois take their destiny in their own hands, once and for all” (Rioux, 1970), which is what residents of Quebec thought at the time. They agreed with the idea of French-Canadians gaining more control of their lives and becoming their own nation, as they decided to fight for it every day.

For some time, many Quebecois had faith in the FLQ, believing the group would speed the process of separation from Canada; however the FLQ’s loyalty to these beliefs is questionable. Ultimately, it was perceived that the FLQ’s only goal was to give Quebec its justice; they wanted to see them united in a free society. On the other hand, during the October Crisis, they had not been able to prove that. When the FLQ kidnapped British diplomat James Cross, it publicized 7 demands, of which only one concerned French-Canadians, pertaining to fairer working conditions which was later dropped (Tetley, 2007).

The rest concerned the FLQ themselves: publication of the Manifesto (a public declaration of policy and aims), the name of an informer, $500,000 in gold, the release of 23 jailed terrorists, and to transport them to either Algeria or Cuba (Knowlton, 1990). A goal of Quebec’s at the time, the protection of the French language, was a cause that preoccupied much of the nation, but was not a particular concern for the FLQ. In fact, the 1970 Manifesto was written in and proclaimed in informal French and “Fringlish” (Knowlton, 1990). The FLQ’s dedication to their cause is doubtful.

FLQ believed that they weren’t going to get caught, hence their slogan “Independence or death” (Brown, 2011). However, when justice prevailed, the members chose exile rather than martyrdom. This made it clear that the FLQ’s dedication did not go as far as risking their lives; instead, they were tried under the Canadian system of justice, which they denigrated but later took advantage of. In addition, none of the FLQ terrorists had lived in Quebec! They were citizens of English descent, who decided to defy the federal government by turning the Quebecois against it (Tetley, 2007).

In addition to uncovering the truth regarding the FLQ misleading the Quebecois, the 1970 October Crisis also helped make it clear that the Crisis needed the attention of the federal government. It was opportune that the government revealed its strength during the October Crisis when it intervened in a situation that was not only an issue of concern to Quebec. Opponents of the Federal and Quebec governments had agreed that it was the Quebecois’ entitlement to provide an approach for putting an end to this crisis (Dann, 2010).

One reason for this belief was because one of the hostages was a Quebec politician, Pierre Laporte, which reminded Canadians that the FLQ belonged for Quebec, to Quebec and in Quebec. Indeed it was the federal government who, by virtue of its constitutional power over criminal law, adopted the WMA, but in retrospect the provinces also have the authority to request the adoption of the WMA, for the same reasons (Tetley, 2007). The rights, responsibilities, and authority under the Constitution were sometimes divided between the federal and provincial governments and at other times there was joint power and obligation (Dann, 2010).

Many people did not believe that the crisis fell under both federal and provincial command. In fact, as the situation got worse for the Quebec government to handle, it was the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, who sent a letter to Ottawa which privately requested and approved federal help by invoking the WMA (Tetley, 2007). Consequently, many separatists hated this choice, accusing the other provincial governments and federal government for interfering, in which they believed would demonstrate that Quebec and its government was weak and helpless (Knowlton, 1990).

Canadians should not forget that the separators were trying to prove a point by demonstrating to the rest of the country that they could overcome obstacles and they deserve their chance to become their own nation. However, the Quebecois agreed that it was typical for the federal authorities to take charge (Brown, 2011). The reason was the security of foreign diplomats (British diplomat James Richard Cross was one of the hostages) in Canada was essentially a federal responsibility. The safety of English residents in Quebec was also a huge factor as they were the targets of many bombings and harassment.

Another plausible reason, given by Bourassa, was the ethical reasoning of the government’s decisions (Tetley, 2007). If the federal government did not intervene with this crisis, it would lead victims of this event to question the federal support they were promised and spread the news that the government had done nothing to stop the state of affairs (Knowlton, 1990). Therefore with the federal aide, the Crisis gave the nation’s outsiders a confident feeling that the government know what it was doing, even in a time of distress.

The interference of the federal government may have been disliked by both sides, but in the end had proven itself justified and necessary. Trudeau’s decision to enable the War Measures Act, the FLQ having been proven to be not a good choice for representing Quebec, and the necessity of federal intervention are some of the major events that made the October Crisis a crucial moment in Canadian history. In some ways, this event was a true test of how Canadians would react to a national crisis, such as handling a terrorist organization, with only the clear option of force on their minds.

In the end, Canada was free of separatist terrorism for many years; the most dedicated advocates of violent revolution in Quebec decided the risks were too great and turned to peaceful methods for advancing their cause. By acknowledging Canada’s example on how to deal with terrorism, many international countries now follow in Canada’s footsteps, recognizing that what once was no more than a colony, an independent and respectable nation after their time of triumph.

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