The Making of the October Crisis (Book review)
The Making of the October Crisis – On the morning of October 5, 1970, senior British trade commissioner to Montreal James Cross was forcibly kidnapped from his Westmount home by members of the Liberation Cell of the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ); one of their chief demands in exchange for Cross’ life was for the Quebec government to release a number of FLQ “political prisoners” who have been jailed since 1963.
The Making of the October Crisis
Five days later, after the provincial government of Premier Robert Bourassa – through its Justice Minister Jerome Choquette – announced that they would refuse to meet the kidnappers’ demands, Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was kidnapped outside his home in St. Lambert by members of the FLQ’s Chenier Cell.
These two political kidnappings formed the basis of what came to be known as the “October Crisis”. And throughout this controversial, dark two-month period in Canadian history, a palpable sense of fear gripped the country, as certain events and images became etched in the minds of people in Montreal, Quebec and Canada: Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau telling a reporter “Just watch me” outside the House of Commons before he proclaimed the War Measures Act, the presence of armed Canadian soldiers in the streets of Montreal, the discovery of Laporte’s body in the trunk of a car at the St. Hubert airbase, and the convoy of cars to the Expo 67 site on December 3 that lead to the safe release of Cross and the eventual passage of his kidnappers to exile in Cuba.
However, the events of October 1970 that practically put Canada into a state of siege by the FLQ did not begin and end during the crisis. It began with a series of mailbox bombings in Westmount in the spring of 1963, and this campaign of terror and violence by the FLQ practically continued off and on throughout the rest of the 1960s. Journalist D’Arcy Jenish, who has written several best selling books that dealt with the history of the Montreal Canadiens, the Stanley Cup and the life of 18th century explorer and map maker David Thompson, has written a thorough examination about the October Crisis and the violent events that led up to it – as well as its aftermath – in his latest book The Making of the October Crisis.
In a recent phone interview, Jenish stated that the genesis of his book came from an article that he wrote about the October Crisis, which was publish in the October 2010 issue of Legion magazine. “I got the chance to interview Robert Cote for the article, and he represented the law enforcement side as head of the Montreal Police Department bomb squad during this violent period between 1963 and 1970. He told me about the waves of bombings that occurred during that time, and how he busted the many rings of the FLQ,” he said. “When I was ready to write the book, Cote, who had all of his documents detailing his investigations of the bombings, introduced me to other Montreal police detectives who worked alongside him. And they had a lot of other documents themselves that helped to add to the story of the FLQ during the 60s.”
Jenish firmly believes that his mission to write the book was because he felt he had to present a factual, balanced account of the October Crisis and why it happened, because the current generation of Canadians have very little knowledge and understanding of this crucial event in modern Canadian history. “For many, what they only remember about the October Crisis are the War Measures Act and the ‘occupation of Quebec’ by the Canadian Army, which was absurd, because the first regiment to reach Montreal was the Royal 22nd Regiment (the Van Doos), who were based near Quebec City. Many intellectuals and politicians used the October Crisis basically as a means to suit their own political agenda or strengthen the sovereignty movement during the 70s. However, this story is not just history on the hoof; it’s much larger than that,” he said.
During the course of his extensive research for the book, Jenish unearthed a treasure trove of information that has been rarely seen since their original publication during the 60s … copies of the FLQ’s newsletters “La Cognee” and “La Victoire”. “Those two newsletters helped to keep the fires stoked within the FLQ; it was the glue that held it together,” he said. “And combined with the intellectual leadership of people like Pierre Vallieres, the FLQ managed to keep the people of Quebec stirred up and easily pushed their young members into action.”
But what compelled the FLQ to switch from bombings and bank robberies to kidnapping in 1970? Jenish believed they were inspired by a series of turbulent events in Latin America, where a great deal of political kidnappings took place at the time. “They were also inspired by the literature that was produced there, especially the Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla by Brazilian revolutionary Carlos Marighella,” he said. “And by 1970, the FLQ believed that bombings became counter productive; how can you advance your cause if you keep blowing yourself up? That’s why they turned to kidnapping.”
And nearly 50 years since the tragic events of October 1970 occurred in Montreal at the hands of the FLQ, Jenish believes that the legacy of the October Crisis is to teach future generations of Canadians that sometimes extreme examples or turmoil and turbulence can happen in Canada. “Canada is a difficult country to govern, and sometimes things do happen that can be way off everybody’s charts,” he said. “It gives us a stark reminder that bad things can happen here; however, our government, through a lot of common sense, can deal with things like this without tearing the fabric of our country apart.”
The Making of the October Crisis is a book that finally gives a complete, well-rounded, factual account of one of the most darkest times in modern Canadian history, and the seven-and-a-half violent years that led up to October Crisis, from every bombing and robbery that took place, to the origins of the FLQ, to the all the major figures on both sides of the story that moved things to its tragic conclusion during that October of 1970. As well, Jenish provides rare insight to the raison d’etre of the FLQ, its intellectual base, how the kidnappers spent a less-than-ideal exile in Cuba and Paris, and how the kidnappers were worshipped as heroes and patriots by a younger generation of Quebecers that helped to galvanize the Parti Quebecois’ historic victory in the 1976 provincial election campaign.
This is a historically fascinating, frightening book that should serve as a stark reminder that such an example of urban terrorism should never happen again in Canada.