FLQ members practiced propaganda of the deed and issued declarations that called for a Marxist insurrection in the view of which the oppressors were identified with anglophones (English-speaking Québécois), the overthrow of the Quebec government, the independence of Quebec from Canada and the establishment of a French-speaking Quebecer workers' society. The organization was also influenced by other movements, such as those for the independence of former colonies such as Algeria, Vietnam and Cuba.
From 1963 to 1970, the FLQ committed more than 200 violent actions, including bombings, bank hold-ups, kidnappings, at least three killings by FLQ bombs and two killings by gunfire. In 1966 Revolutionary Strategy and the Role of the Avant-Garde was prepared by the FLQ, outlining their long term strategy of successive waves of robberies, violence, bombings, and kidnappings, culminating in revolution.
The history of the FLQ is sometimes described as a series of "waves."
By 1 June 1963, this original group had been arrested. In 1963, Gabriel Hudon and Raymond Villeneuve were sentenced to 12 years in prison for crimes against the state after their bomb killed Wilfred O'Neill, a watchman at Montreal's Canadian Army Recruitment Centre. Their targets also included English-owned businesses, banks, McGill University, Loyola College. However, these two and the rest of those arrested, including George Schoeters in connection with the FLQ were never made.
The 4th wave saw the increasing use of explosives, the production styles of which were sometimes detailed in La Cognée. An FLQ member, Jean Corbo, was killed by his own explosive, and a 64 year old female office worker died during the FLQ bombing of the shoe factory Lagrenade, 5 May 1966.
By August 1966, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had arrested many FLQ members. Gagnon and Vallières had fled to the United States, where they protested in front of the United Nations and were later arrested. It was during his incarceration that Vallières wrote his novel, White Niggers of America. In September 1967, the pair were extradited to Canada.
On 13 February 1969, the Front de libération du Québec set off a powerful bomb that ripped through the Montreal Stock Exchange causing massive destruction and seriously injuring twenty-seven people. After another series of bombings, on 28 September 1969, they bombed the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. After the bombing, police concluded that the bomb was placed in the toilet so inspectors couldn't find it.
1969 also saw many riots, including one against McGill University. The RCMP had intercepted intelligence relating to the planned riots, and prevented excessive damage. This failed riot led to Mario Bachand leaving Canada, and another group of FLQ forming, which would become responsible for the October Crisis. This group, formed of Paul Rose, Jacques Rose, Francis Simard, and Nigel Hamer became known as the "South Shore Gang".
During the police strike of 1969, the "Taxi Liberation Front", a creation of the "Popular Liberation Front", which was itself the creation of Jacques Lanctôt and Marc Carbonneau, killed a police officer. Jacques Lanctôt is credited by Michael McLoughlin, author of Last Stop, Paris: The Assassination of Mario Bachand and the Death of the FLQ, with writing the FLQ Manifesto during the prelude to the October Crisis.
The South Shore Gang bought a house, which they named "The Little Free Quebec", and it quickly become a den of the FLQ. Jacques Lanctôt was charged in connection with a failed FLQ kidnapping attempt of an Israeli diplomat, and in 1970, while a member of the FLQ, likely took refuge at "The Little Free Quebec".
These new FLQ members bought two other houses, prepared their plans, and stocked sufficient equipment for their upcoming actions. The group split into two over what plans should be taken, but both were reunited during the crisis itself.
In the following days, FLQ leaders held meetings to increase public support for the cause. Consequently, a general strike involving students, teachers and professors resulted in the closure of most French-language secondary and post-secondary academic institutions. On 15 October 1970, more than 3,000 students attended a protest rally in favour of the FLQ. Demonstrations of public support influenced subsequent government actions.
On 17 October, callers to a radio station announced that Laporte had been murdered and divulged the location of a map which led to the discovery of his body.
The FLQ released a list of demands for Cross's release.
The FLQ also stipulated how the above demands would be carried out:
As part of its Manifesto, the FLQ stated: "In the coming year Bourassa (Quebec Premier) will have to face reality; 100,000 revolutionary workers, armed and organized."
Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, in his statement to the press during the October Crisis, admitted that the radicalism occurring in Quebec at this time had bred out of social unease due to imperfect legislation. “The government has pledged that it will introduce legislation which deals not only with the symptoms but with the social causes which often underlie or serve as an excuse for crime and disorder.” (Pierre Trudeau, CBC interview). However, despite this admission, Trudeau declared in his statement to the press that in order to deal with the unruly radicals or "revolutionaries," the government of Quebec will adopt The War Measures Act, the first and only time a province has used this legislation in peacetime. Enacting The War Measures Act was a risky move for Trudeau because it overrides fundamental rights and privileges operating in Humphrey’s adopted Canadian Bill of Rights; therefore, there was a strong possibility that Trudeau might have lost popular support among Quebec voters; however, this did not occur.
In a famous impromptu radio interview with Tim Ralfe and Peter Reilly, Pierre Trudeau uttered the iconic phrase regarding the enactment of the War Measures Act, which now has a place in current Canadian history books that deal with Trudeau and his reign. In response to a question asking how extreme would be his implementation of the War Measures Act, Trudeau answered, “Well, just watch me.” This line has become a part of Trudeau’s legacy. Early in December 1970, police discovered the location of the kidnappers holding James Cross. His release was negotiated and on 3 December 1970, five of the terrorists were granted their request for safe passage to Cuba by the Government of Canada after approval by Fidel Castro.
As a result of the invocation of the War Measures Act, civil liberties were suspended. By 29 December 1970, police had arrested 453 persons with suspected ties to the FLQ. Some detainees were released within hours, while others were held for up to 21 days. Several persons who were detained were initially denied access to legal counsel. Of the 453 people who were arrested, 435 were eventually released without ever being charged.
On 13 December 1970, Pierre Vallières announced in Le Journal that he had terminated his association with the FLQ. As well, Vallières renounced the use of terrorism as a means of political reform and instead advocated the use of standard political action.
In July 1980, police arrested and charged a sixth person in connection with the Cross kidnapping. Nigel Barry Hamer, a British radical socialist and FLQ sympathizer, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
In late December, four weeks after, the kidnappers of James Cross were found. Paul Rose and the kidnappers and murderers of Pierre Laporte were found hiding in a country farmhouse. They were tried and convicted for kidnapping and murder.
The events of October 1970 contributed to the loss of support for violent means to attain Québec independence, and increased support for the political party, the Parti Québécois, which took power in 1976.
The support and political capacity of the FLQ changed drastically during 1970. The FLQ immediately lost public support after the October crisis and the murder of Laporte. The general public overwhelmingly supported the emergency powers and the presence of the military in Quebec. The Parti Québécois warned young activists against joining, “childish cells in a fruitless revolutionary adventurism which might cost them their future and even their lives.” Laporte’s murder marked a crossroad in the political history of the FLQ. It helped sway public opinion towards more conventional forms of political participation and drove up popular support for the Parti Québécois.
The rise of the PQ attracted both active and would be participants away from the dangerous activities of the FLQ. In December 1971, Pierre Vallieres emerged after three years in hiding to announce that he was joining the PQ. In justifying his decisions he said that the FLQ was a “shock group” whose continued activities would only play into the hands of the forces of repression of which they were no match. Those members of the FLQ who had fled began returning to Canada in late 1971 continuing to 1982 and most were given light sentences for their terrorist offences. Most former FLQ members joined the PQ.
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