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What Was the October Crisis?

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  • Written By: Nicholas K.
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2014
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The October Crisis, an incident in Canadian history, started with kidnappings by of two dignitaries by Quebec separatists on 5 October 1970. The Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) was responsible for the abductions. Regional officials asked for assistance from the Canadian government, which responded by sending troops. This federal assistance brought a small group of FLQ members to justice but raised questions about excessive government intervention. Consequences of the October Crisis included the rise of a more moderate Parti Quebecois and an investigation into the use of federal intervention in Quebec.

This incident began with the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross on the morning of 5 October 1970. Representatives from a radical cell of the FLQ demanded freedom for imprisoned separatists and a provincial broadcast of their grievances. National broadcaster Radio Canada allowed the group to speak to Quebec listeners on the evening of 8 October 1970. This address reiterated previous conditions for releasing Cross while pointing out the FLQ’s desire for the freedom of Quebec from the rest of Canada. The Quebec provincial government began negotiating with the FLQ cell to achieve the freedom of Cross.

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Another group within the FLQ escalated the October Crisis by kidnapping Quebec minister Pierre LaPorte on 10 October 1970. As local and regional police searched for LaPorte, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa requested military assistance from the federal government on 15 October 1970. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act of 1914 before sending the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to aid law enforcement in searching for LaPorte. This act allowed for a prohibition on the FLQ and the arrest of nearly 500 suspected collaborators without legal proceedings.

Quebec and RCMP officers found LaPorte dead in the back of a car in Montreal on 17 October 1970. The following two months featured continued arrests and interrogations of suspected members of the FLQ. James Cross was freed on 3 December 1970 in exchange for free passage by the kidnappers into Cuba. Pierre LaPorte’s kidnappers were apprehended on 28 December 1970 and later convicted of kidnapping and murder. The final RCMP troops sent under the War Measures Act would leave Quebec by April 1971.

The conclusion of the October Crisis led to a great deal of debate over separatism in Quebec along with the federal government’s role in the affair. The FLQ reemerged after the crisis though it became less important to Quebec separatists than the more moderate Parti Quebecois. This continued controversy over separation divided French-Canadians who opposed the use of the RCMP and English-Canadians who supported Trudeau’s actions. Canadians revisited the October Crisis during the proceedings of the McDonald Commission in 1977. This commission determined that the RCMP had exceeded its authority during the investigation and that federal courts should have been consulted prior to the invocation of the War Measures Act.

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