By Jeff Morris
I was only six years old at the time, but it was the first year that I had a sense of awareness of what was happening in the world.
Perhaps it was because part of my morning routine was to ride my bike to the newspaper box on Merwin Lane with a dime and bring home the morning paper for my dad. I always looked at the front page and read the headlines. I would ask my father what was going on. I think he, being a newspaper man and a news junkie, saw this as a way to connect with me.
But I remember one day in particular. A chilly October wind slapped my face as I sped on my CCM Supercycle. I kept glancing at the headline from 50 years ago. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had invoked the War Measures Act. The 72-point headline scared me, and I didn’t know what it meant. And who are these FLQ people causing all of this trouble.
I remember that for the first time, I was afraid of what was going on in the world.
It was 1970 and even though things have changed a lot in 50 years, there was a stark feeling of change that is parallel to what we are going through today. The Beatles broke up that year. Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin both died. There were massive Vietnam protests on the news. The Kent State riots happened. Muhammad Ali won his famous comeback fight against Jerry Quarry after serving three years in prison for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. armed forces. We also watched anxiously as the Apollo 13 crew averted disaster and arrived safely back from their trip to the moon.
But all of this seemed to have taken place under a dark cloud cast by what was going on in Quebec.
The October Crisis was 50 years ago. For those of you who lived through it and remember it, it won’t seem like 50 years have gone by. For those born since then, it will seem like ancient Canadian history.
The FLQ was the Front de libération du Québec. They were talked about a lot at home, primarily because we had anglophone friends and family in Montreal. We also spent a lot of time with those people in the village of Val David, just south of Ste. Agathe in the Laurentians. The FLQ had detonated close to 1,000 bombs in Montreal, with targets ranging from mailboxes to City Hall to the Montreal Stock Exchange to Eaton’s Department Store.
They were terrorists. As a six-year-old, I was terrified.
On Oct. 5, 1970, British diplomat James Cross was kidnapped from his home in Montreal by the FLQ’s Liberation Cell. In exchange for Cross, the FLQ demanded the release of convicted or detained FLQ members, and they also wanted the CBC to broadcast the FLQ manifest. All English and French media outlets broadcast the manifest on Oct. 8.
On Oct. 10, Quebec Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte was tossing a football with his nephew on his front lawn when members of the FLQ Chenier Cell pulled up in a blue-green Chevrolet Biscayne. They kidnapped Laporte in broad daylight and drove off. Laporte’s nephew wrote down the license plate number.
The day after his kidnapping, Laporte had a letter of captivity to Premier Robert Bourassa read and broadcast by the CBC. B y this time, the 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Military – the Van Doos – were already in Montreal to protect federal property. Negotiations between the FLQ and the Quebec Government began but broke down after a few days. By the end of the week, Prime Minister Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. It was a move widely supported across Canada.
It was during this week that Trudeau was asked by a CBC reporter how far he would go to stand up to the FLQ.
“Just watch me,” he said. It was perhaps Trudeau’s second most famous quote behind only “Fuddle Duddle.”
On Oct. 17, the FLQ informed the Quebec government that Laporte had been executed. Laporte wore a religious medallion around his neck, and police believe that the chain from that medallion was used to strangle him. Police found the Chevrolet in the brush near the St. Hubert Airport near Longueuil.
It would later be argued that Laporte’s murder was unintentional. In a 2010 Radio-Canada documentary, journalist Jean Guy Gendron says Laporte was strangled in a moment of panic.
Bernard Lortie was the first member of the Chenier Cell arrested. Paul Rose, who owned the car, along with Jacques Rose and Francis Simard, were all arrested in late December, 1970.
James Cross, meanwhile, was released Dec. 4, 1970. The five known kidnappers, Marc Carbonneau, Yves Langlois, Jacques Lanctôt, Jacques Cossette-Trudel and his wife, Louise Lanctôt, were granted safe passage to Cuba by the government of Canada after approval by Fidel Castro.
James Cross is 99 years old and lives in Ireland.
We live in a different world today. We have technology and social media and we are dealing with a coronavirus. But take those things out of the equation.
Have things really changed that much?