On October 12, 1970, Pierre LaPorte's wife received a letter from her husband: (1)
The day before Quebec premier Robert Bourassa had also received a letter from his labour minister: (1)
How could Mr. Bourassa not be moved by such a letter? How could anyone not in that situation? "You have the power of life and death over me..."
LaPorte's kidnapping, had followed the kidnapping of British Diplomat James Cross, the week before.
Cross would survive. Mr. LaPorte was not so lucky.
To understand the severity of the crisis, you had to have lived during that time. Anglophone communities in Montreal were targeted, especially in the affluent neighborhood of Westmount.
Between 1963 and 1970, the FLQ had detonated over 95 bombs, including one at the Montreal Stock Exchange, Montreal City Hall and the RCMP recruitment office. Dozens more were in mailboxes. This was not like the false flag war that the Harper government has used as an excuse for Bill C-51.
This was no exaggerated far off threat. The threats were real and the terrorist activities were taking place in our own country.
The kidnappings were an attempt to have 23 prisoners, charged with previous bombings, released; in exchange for the hostages.
The Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously to implement the War Measures Act, and Pierre Trudeau complied. We were indeed at war. There was some hyperbole, mostly written of in modern times, but there was definitely a clear and present danger in October of 1970.
We know that Tommy Douglas opposed the implementation of the WMA, and said so in his October 16, 1970, address to Parliament. Four NDP MPs broke ranks, but the rest supported their leader. He would later explain to CBC, why he raised the alarm:
I'm not saving that the government is going to do all these things. But I am saying that it is dangerous to take these tremendous powers in order to deal with a situation that could be dealt with very easily, namely by bringing into the House of Commons a bill to amend the Criminal Code, giving the powers to search without warrant and whatever other powers it needs to cope with the situation in the City of Montreal. (2)I see amending the Criminal Code, "giving the powers to search without warrant and whatever other powers it needs to cope with the situation in the City of Montreal" being a slippery slope, since it is quite vague, without an exit. How long would the allowance to search without warrant be on the books?
There has been a suggestion that Douglas's opposition to the WMA was political, but I don't believe so. Tommy Douglas was a man of conviction. Thomas Mulcair is not, nor would he have opposed the implementation of the Act.
In 1982, the Government of Canada funded a new group called Alliance Quebec, to protect Quebec Anglophone economic interests and combat the threat of separatism. Mulcair would become their director of legal affairs. He had also been part of the anti-separatist movement, protesting the 1980 referendum.
Recently, a former president of the AQ had this to say:
My name is William Johnston. I am a veteran journalist/writer and former president of Alliance Québec. I believe the use of the War Measures Act by the federal government of M. Trudeau was necessary at the time. To know more about my views, consult the Virtual Library.If Mulcair had opposed the WMA at the time, he would never have been allowed membership into Alliance Quebec. Yet I'm constantly being reminded of the NDP stand, in discussions over Bill C-51.
Like only they have ever stood up for our rights.
As we know Tommy Douglas's opposition was not popular at the time. 85% of Canadians supported the idea, including a large number of NDP members.
Author Elaine Kalman-Knaves wrote of her personal experiences living in Montreal during this time. She recounts the site of tanks during a different period in her life, when she was a child in Budapest. They were Soviet tanks, invoking fear. However, in 1970, while riding a bus home, she remembers seeing the soldiers with guns.
I was awfully glad to see those soldiers at the front of the bus. They were there to protect me and the way of life my family had come to Canada for.Like many who supported the government's response at the time, she does feel some reget. However, says Kalman-Knaves:
At the time, I was a card-carrying member of the NDP, yet I believed that David Lewis and Tommy Douglas, who opposed the War Measures Act, were wrong. They weren't going through what Montrealers were in 1970. They didn't feel the pounding of my heart.Sources:
1. Documents on the October Crisis, Quebec History, Marionapolis College
2. Comments by T. C. Douglas, Leader of the New Democratic Party, On the War Measures Act, CBC, October 16, 1970