World attention focused on Canada this month (October 1970) after the shock kidnappings of a British diplomat and a Canadian government minister - and the shock turned to horror after the brutal murder of the latter, Quebec Labour Minister Mr.
World attention focused on Canada this month (October 1970) after the shock kidnappings of a British diplomat and a Canadian government minister - and the shock turned to horror after the brutal murder of the latter, Quebec Labour Minister Mr. Pierre Laporte.
The kidnappings, which led to the biggest security clamp-down of the century in Canada outside two World Wars, were carried out by the Front for the Liberation of Quebec -- a separatist movement which seeks self-government for the largely French speaking Quebec Province.
The first man to be kidnapped, Latin-American guerrilla style, was Mr. James Cross, the senior British trade commissioner in Montreal. Four armed men took him away from his Montreal home at gunpoint on October the fifth, and promptly demanded from the Canadian government 500,000 Canadian dollars ( GBP208,000) in gold, the release of 12 jailed fellow members, and safe passage to Cuba. While Mr. Cross's wife Barbara warned that Mr. Cross needed twice-daily medication for high blood pressure -- and without which he might die -- the Canadian Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Mitchell Sharp, said the incident would deal the cause of separatism "a very serious blow".
Canadian police mounted a massive manhunt for Mr. Cross and his kidnappers, and a former jailed member of the F.L.Q., Roger Tetrault, told reporters he thought the kidnapping was the beginning of a new wave of terrorism and revolutionary action by the movement. He added that the killing of Mr. Cross by his captors would not be considered a desperate measure by the F.L.Q., but merely a military action against a servant of the British Government which allegedly occupies a colonial position in Quebec.
Later, while deadlines for the ransom to be met came and went, the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau, said his government would not let a minority group impose their view on a majority by violence. It was a difficult decision, he said, when a man's life had to be held in the balance, but the government's commitment to society was greater than anything else.
Two days after the kidnapping, with another ultimatum rapidly expiring, the search for Mr. Cross continued. In a further statement, Mr. Sharp said the kidnappers' demands were "wholly unreasonable" and their authors could not have expected them to be accepted. The government's obligation was a double one, he added - to safeguard Mr. Cross and at the same time preserve the rule of law in Canada.
Negotiations with the F.L.Q. difficult under the circumstances, were partly conducted through Lawyer Robert Lemieux - who had represented their members in the past. He denounced the search for Mr. Cross, saying it would lead at best to an armed confrontation with F.L.Q, and at worst to the death of Mr. Cross. He accused the Government of reversing its original promise not to call out the police.
Within five days of the first kidnapping, another surprise development took place -- the armed seisure of the Quebec Labour Minister Mr. Pierre Laporte. Two masked men, armed with machine-guns, swooped on his Montreal home and seized him as he was playing football with his son. His wife and mother watched the attack.
The kidnapping come only minutes after an official announcement that Mr. Cross's kidnappers would be given safe conduct to a foreign country of their choosing if Mr. Cross was released. Appealing to the kidnappers to accept the offer, Quebec Justice Minister Mr. Jerome Choquette also offered "the full clemency of the courts" if they released Mr. Cross and chose to give themselves up. At the same time Mr. Lemieux professed this "profound admiration" for the F.L.Q. and said he was honoured to act as their lawyer.
As negotiations for the release of the two men dragged on, armed troops were moved into Ottawa. They were stationed in and around an exclusive residential area where many Canadian and foreign diplomats live. Armed with machine-guns, they were there to help the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the city in an effort to prevent more kidnappings by the F.L.Q.
On October the 15th, the Federal Government made a "final offer" to the F.L.Q. -- the release of five so-called political prisoners, and safe passage out of Canada for the kidnappers. It was flatly rejected by an angry Mr. Lemieux, who said the offer was "an insult" to Canada's French-speaking population.
Hours later, early the following day, Robert Lemieux was one of hundreds arrested as Prime Minister Mr. Trudeau declared a state of emergency and began a massive round-up of F.L.Q. members and sympathisers. The emergency powers seized by the Government, and the suspension of all civil liberties, marked the biggest security clampdown in Canada this century outside the two World Wars. Mr. Trudeau invoked the War Measure Act -- not used since the end of the Second World War -- after the Quebec Government reported a state of "apprehended insurrection". As his decision was announced in Ottawa, police swept through Montreal and Quebec City in a series of lightning raids which resulted in nearly 400 arrests. Among them was a prominent trade union leader, Michael Chartrand. Under the emergency powers, the F.L.Q was outlawed. At the same time, the Cuban Government co-operated, through its consulate in Canada, with a plan to declare a bridge on the site of EXPO '67 as Cuban territory, where the safety of F.L.Q. members would be guaranteed if they handed over their hostages.
But the biggest shock of the then 12-day-old drama happened the next day -- Saturday, October the 17th, the day that Prime Minister Trudeau described as "a sorry moment" of Canada's history. The body of Mr. Laporte was found by police in the boot of a car parked at a Montreal airport. He had strangled to death. The body was discovered after a tip-off to a private radio station -- although it was several hours before the boot of the car was opened, because of fears that it was booby-trapped. A shocked Mr. Trudeau called the act "a cowardly assassination by a band of murderers", and the F.L.Q. was widely condemned by the Canadian public and government leaders. The previous day, Friday, Mr. Trudeau, in address to the nation, said those who gained power through terror also ruled through terror. Therefore, he said, the Federal Government was acting to protect the lives and liberty of Canadians, as well as trying to ensure the safe return of Mr. Cross and Mr. Laporte.
Shortly after the murder of Mr. Laporte, word came through that Mr. Cross was still alive. A letter written by Mr. Cross to his wife Barbara indicated he was alive and well, and being treated decently. It was the last of four letters that Mrs. Cross had received -- since then, there has been no indication that Mr. Cross is still alive. Although fears are still growing that Mr. Cross has been murdered by his abductors, officials have hope -- because different calls of the F.L.Q. were responsible for the two kidnappings. The murders of Mr. Laporte, therefore, are probably not the same men who are holding Mr. Cross.
While the hunt drugs and hopes of finding Mr. Cross alive diminish, communications from the F.L.Q. -- some of them hoaxes -- continue. The latest was on Thursday (October 28) shortly after Mrs. Cross had broadcast an appeal for news of her husband. The note, believed to be from the cell which murdered Mr. Laporte, carried no information about Mr. Cross. Police withheld the contents of the communique, but said it was mainly of a political nature. Meanwhile, Mr. Joseph Smallwood, the Prime Minister of another Canadian province, Newfoundland, has received a threatening letter signed "F.L.Q.". It said: "You're next".