The FLQ is best known for the 1970 October Crisis. The Crisis was the first occasion in the history of Canada that its citizens were deprived of their rights and freedoms during peace time. Yet several researchers, including Frédéric Goily and Donald Ipperciel, have highlighted the ultimate failure of the group, despite the attention that it received: apart from some radicals inspired by the example of former colonies that liberated themselves through armed struggle, the FLQ never succeeded in taking hold within the union movement or gained the popular support they had anticipated. Over the years, the organization recruited at most a hundred or so agitators.
Precursors of the FLQ
Several revolutionary independence movements preceded the formation of the FLQ. Of these, the Réseau de résistance (RR) advocated vandalism as a means of protest. Another group, the Comité de libération nationale, created in 1962, preached violence as a way to achieve political ends. This group started to form cells within the Rassemblement pour l’Indépendance Nationale (RIN), a precursor of the Parti Québécois, and within the Action socialiste pour l’indépendance du Québec (ASIQ), a sovereignty movement founded in 1960 by a Communist Party militant. The FLQ was formed by the more radical elements of the Comité de libération nationale and the RR.
A Belgian working for Québec independence
The movement was founded in March 1963 by two Québécois, Raymond Villeneuve and Gabriel Hudon, and a Belgian, Georges Schoeters, who was an admirer of the Algerian revolutionaries and of Che Guevara in Cuba. Québec was undergoing a period of profound change (industrial expansion, modernization of the state) at the time, but the creation of the FLQ was also stimulated by international factors such as the decolonization of Algeria, and the organization forged links with other groups around the world. Two members travelled to the north of Jordan to train alongside Palestinian guerrillas. Pierre Vallières, the author of the book Nègres blancs d'Amérique, joined the FLQ in 1965 and is generally considered the "philosopher" behind the organization. The symbols that the group adopted demonstrated its members’ belief that they were the heirs of the Patriotes, the country’s first francophone rebels: a green, white and red flag with the figure of a habitant armed for the revolution.
The Beginnings of Violence
In 1963, underground FLQ activists (some of whom were arrested) placed bombs in mailboxes in three federal armories and in Westmount, a wealthy upper-middle-class anglophone area of Montréal. Their objective was the complete destruction of the influence and symbols of English colonialism. Sergeant-Major Walter Leja, of the Canadian Armed Forces, was seriously injured when he tried to neutralize one of the bombs.
Within the FLQ, two wings emerged to supply the group with weapons and money. Gabriel Hudon’s younger brother, Robert, established the Armée de libération du Québec (ALQ) and François Schirm, a Hungarian and former member of the French ForeignLegion, founded the Armée révolutionnaire du Québec (ARQ).
In 1964, Schirm and four other members of the ARQ stole approximately $50,000 in cash and military equipment and committed an armed robbery at International Firearms. During the robbery, a member of the ARQ killed the company vice-president and another employee was killed by the police, who mistook him for one of the thieves. The five ARQ members were arrested and convicted. Schirm and Edmond Guénette, the shooter, received the death penalty; two were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the other ARQ member was sentenced to 20 years in prison. These sentences provoked outrage within the FLQ.
Political Attacks Intensify
From 1965 to 1967, the FLQ associated itself with the activities of striking workers, without, however, succeeding in infiltrating the unions. It was involved in over 200 bombings between 1963 and 1970, and in 1968 it began using larger and more powerful bombs, setting them off at a federal government bookstore, at McGill University, at the residence of Jean Drapeau and the provincial Department of Labour, and, in February 1969, at the Montreal Stock Exchange, where 27 people were injured. In the fall of 1969, the movement split into two distinct cells: the South Shore gang, which became the Chenier cell, led by Paul Rose, and the Liberation cell, under Jacques Lanctôt. Montréal-based, both cells boasted about 12 members. As of 1970, more than 20 FLQ members were in prison.
The October Crisis
In the fall of 1970 (see October Crisis), the FLQ took British trade commissioner James Cross hostage. The FLQ demanded the release of 23 prisoners whom it called “political prisoners” as well as the publication of their manifesto, a plane to take them to Cuba or Algeria, and half a million dollars. They gave the government 24 hours to comply with their demands. The government rejected the ultimatum but indicated that it was ready to negotiate.
Five days after the first hostage-taking, the Chenier cell kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the Minister of Immigration, Manpower and Labour. Under the War Measures Act, more than 450 people were arrested, including 150 “suspected” FLQ members.
The following day, and one week after Pierre Laporte was taken hostage, his body was found in the trunk of a car. Paul Rose and Francis Simard were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Laporte. Bernard Lortie was convicted of kidnapping Laporte, and Jacques Rose was convicted as an accessory.
Of the Cross kidnappers, five fled to Cuba and then to France, and they eventually returned to Canada. One remained in Montréal but was arrested in 1980 and sentenced in 1981. Cut off from the political, military and popular support that had enabled it to survive, the movement ceased activities in 1971.
Paul Rose was paroled in 1982. He died on 14 March 2013 at 69 years of age, after working as a journalist and trade unionist.