The October Crisis happened in the fall of 1970. It was sparked by the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ). The FLQ used terrorist tactics to try and make Quebec independent from Canada. On 5 October, the FLQ kidnapped James Cross, a British trade commissioner. The FLQ also kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. The Act had never been used before during peacetime. It suspended civil liberties and led to hundreds of arrests. Laporte was murdered and found on 17 October. Cross was freed on 3 December. The crisis ended on 28 December, when Laporte’s killers were captured.
(This article is a plain-language summary of the October Crisis. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see the full-length entry.)
The FLQ was founded in 1963. It wanted Quebec to be independent from Canada so that Francophones could control their destiny. Anglophones in Quebec had enjoyed much power for a long time. The FLQ believed that they were right to use violence against those who, they believed, oppressed Francophones.
Between 1963 and 1970, the FLQ was involved in over 200 bombings and many armed robberies. In total, six people were killed. The FLQ targeted symbols of English colonialism. They bombed mailboxes in Anglophone neighborhoods like Westmount; Canadian Armed Forces buildings; the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC); the provincial Department of Labour; an Eaton’s department store; and the Montreal Stock Exchange, among others.
On 5 October, members of the FLQ kidnapped James Cross. The FLQ said that they would free Cross if FLQ members were freed from prison. The FLQ saw its members who were jailed for bombings and robberies as “political prisoners.” The Quebec government said that it would negotiate.
In the meantime, the FLQ released a manifesto. It was read on CBC/Radio-Canada. Then, on 10 October, the FLQ kidnapped Pierre Laporte. He was Quebec’ minister of immigration and labour. The FLQ said that it would kill him if their demands were not met. Premier Robert Bourassa refused. Prime Minister Trudeau had the army guard public buildings in Ottawa. This scared many people. Canadians were not used to seeing soldiers on their streets. On 13 October, a CBC reporter asked Trudeau how far he was willing to go. Trudeau replied, “Well, just watch me.”
Both Premier Bourassa and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau asked Trudeau to come to their aid. On 15 October, Trudeau sent 1,000 soldiers into Montreal. On 16 October, Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. Civil liberties were suspended. The FLQ was declared an illegal organization. Within 48 hours, about 250 people were arrested. Only 46 were charged.
On 17 October at 10:50 p.m., Laporte’s body was found in the trunk of a car. He had been strangled. By 20 October, police had conducted 1,628 raids under the War Measures Act.
On 3 December, James Cross was released. The government promised his kidnappers that they would not be arrested. They were given safe passage to Cuba instead. Others involved in the kidnapping and murder of Laporte were arrested and sent to prison. They included brothers Jacques and Paul Rose, Francis Simard, and Bernard Lortie. Paul Rose and Francis Simard were sentenced to life in prison. Lortie was sentenced to 20 years. Paul Rose was sentenced to eight years. Those who went to Cuba eventually returned to Canada. When they did, they were all given short prison sentences.
Pierre Trudeau’s invoking of the War Measures Act remains a controversial issue. Some believe that it helped to end the crisis quickly. Others believe it was an abuse of power. Nearly 500 people were arrested during the crisis; only 62 were charged. As a result of the controversy, the War Measures Act was replaced by the Emergencies Act in 1988. It gave the government less power and control during times of emergency.