Monday, March 19, 2012

The Insider's Guide to Political Instability in the 1960s and 1970s

The former Montreal Stock Exchange

The 1970's ushered in many political changes and the rise of the Parti Quebecois (PQ) to power. French Canadians suffered from centuries of oppression, and the PQ wanted to re-establish French Canadian dominance in Quebec. The former Montreal Stock Exchange was bombed as part of this era of political unrest. The former Montreal Stock Exchange is now the Centaur Theatre.
One needs only to have lived in Montreal before the 1970s to see the affluence that was clustered in the mostly English-speaking, well-heeled enclaves such as Westmount or the Town of Mount Royal, or in the comfortable middle-  to upper-middle class towns of Montreal West and Notre Dame de Grace. Vast sections on Montreal's east side were economically deprived. In 1969, mailboxes on the Westmount's streets were removed because of routine mailbox bombings in Westmount.

Since 1963, the terrorist group, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ)  had carried out several bombings that resulted in the deaths of six people. These were mostly the Westmount mail box bombings. But on February 13, 1969, the Montreal Stock Exchange was bombed, which caused extensive damage and injured 27 people. The FLQ had stolen several tons of dynamite from military and industrial sites. The FLQ then warned  that more attacks were to come.

By 1970, 23 FLQ members were in jail, including four convicted of murder. In February, two men  were arrested in Montreal for possession of a sawn-off shotgun, as well as a communiqué announcing the kidnapping of the Israeli consul. Police raids during this time yielded significant munitions weaponry and dynamite. 

A draft of a ransom note to be used for the kidnapping of the American consul was also found during these raids. This was a dangerous time to be in Quebec.  The demonstrations were becoming increasingly violent, such as the Quebec Libre demonstration in which protestors yelled, "Quebec pour les Quebecois" (Quebec for the Quebeckers - meaning the French-speaking Quebeckers). Molotov cocktails were thrown.

The October Crisis, 1970 

The October Crisis of 1970 is well known in Quebec but few in the U.S.A or elsewhere are familiar with the details. 

On October 5, the FLQ kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross, followed by the demand to release convicted or detained FLQ members.  

  •  October 5, FLQ Liberation Cell kidnapped James Cross, the British Trade Comissioner.
  •  October 8, FLQ broadcast their manifesto to all Quebec media outlets.
  • October 10, the FLQ kidnapped Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte.
  • October 13, reporters asked Trudeau how far he would go to protect peace and he replied: "Just watch me." 
  • October 15, in separate events, members of separatist groups spoke at the University of Montreal; 3,000 students gathered in Montreal in support of the FLQ. 
  • October 16, Trudeau implemented the War Measures Act, which suspended habeas corpus, which enabled police to enter and search without a warrant. This allowed police to apprehend and keep in custody individuals suspected of terrorist links. 
  • October 16, The FLQ announced Laporte has been executed. 
  • October 30, Rene Levesque, journalist and future Quebec Premier wrote that "The Army occupies Quebec. It is unpleasant but undoubtedly necessary in times of crisis."
  • November 6, Bernard Lortie was arrested and charged with Laporte's murder. 
  • December 3, kidnapped minister Cross is released. Simultaneously, five FLQ terrorists, Marc Carbonneau, Yves Langlois, Jacques Lanctot, Jacques Cossette-Trudel and wife Louise Lanctot were flown to Cuba in Canadian Forces aircraft, arranged by the Canadian government and Fidel Castro. On December 27, the remaining three members of the FLQ cell responsible for Laporte's murder were arrested.

By 1977, Bill 101 was passed, which meant that Quebec's official language would be French and not English and French, as had been the case prior to 1977.
Copyright © The Insider's Pocket Guide to Montreal, Kathryn Esplin. 2006- ad infinitum. Photos copyright © Kathryn Esplin 2006- ad infitum. All rights reserved.

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