October Crisis
Part of the Quebec sovereignty movement and the Cold War

Troop movements during the surrender of the Chenier Cell
DateOctober 5 – December 28, 1970

Canadian government victory



Front de libération du Québec
Commanders and leaders
Units involved
Royal 22e Régiment
Sûreté du Québec
Chénier Cell
Liberation Cell
Casualties and losses
1 soldier killed in an accident ~30 arrested
Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ; British diplomat James Cross kidnapped and later released by the FLQ

The October Crisis (French: Crise d'Octobre) refers to a chain of events that started in October 1970 when members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped the provincial Labour Minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross from his Montreal residence. These events saw the Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoking the War Measures Act for the first time in Canadian history during peacetime.

The Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, supported Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act, which limited civil liberties and granted the police far-reaching powers, allowing them to arrest and detain 497 people. The Government of Quebec also requested military aid to support the civil authorities, with Canadian Forces being deployed throughout Quebec.

Although negotiations led to Cross's release, Laporte was murdered by the kidnappers. The crisis affected the province of Quebec, Canada, especially the metropolitan area of Montreal, and ended on December 28.

At the time opinion polls in Quebec and throughout Canada showed widespread support for the usage of the War Measures Act. The response was criticized by prominent politicians such as René Lévesque and Tommy Douglas.

After the crisis, movements that pushed for electoral votes as a means to attain autonomy and independence grew stronger. At the time, support also grew for the sovereignist political party known as Parti Québécois, which formed the provincial government in 1976.


From 1963 to 1970, the Quebec nationalist group Front de libération du Québec detonated over 200 bombs.[2] While mailboxes, particularly in the affluent and predominantly Anglophone city of Westmount, were common targets, the largest single bombing occurred at the Montreal Stock Exchange on February 13, 1969, which caused extensive damage and injured 27 people. Other targets included Montreal City Hall, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the T. Eaton Company department store,[3] armed forces recruiting offices, railway tracks, statues,[4][5] and army installations. In a strategic move, FLQ members stole several tons of dynamite from military and industrial sites. Financed by bank robberies, they also threatened, via their official communication organ La Cognée,[6] that more attacks were to come.

On July 24, 1967, the nationalist cause received support from French President Charles de Gaulle who, standing on a balcony in Montreal, shouted "Vive le Québec libre". De Gaulle was promptly rebuked by Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson. In a statement delivered to the French embassy Pearson declared, "The people of Canada are free. Every province in Canada is free. Canadians do not need to be liberated. Indeed, many thousands of Canadians gave their lives in two world wars in the liberation of France and other European countries."[7]

By 1970, 23 members of the FLQ were in prison, including four convicted of murder. On February 26, 1970, two men in a panel truck, including Jacques Lanctôt, were arrested in Montreal when they were found with a sawed-off shotgun and a communiqué announcing the kidnapping of the Israeli consul. In June police raided a home in the small community of Prévost, located north of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains, and found firearms, ammunition, 140 kilograms (300 lb) of dynamite, detonators, and the draft of a ransom note to be used in the kidnapping of the United States consul.[8]


Further information: Timeline of the Front de libération du Québec

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A mailbox in Montreal bearing the graffiti FLQ oui (FLQ yes) in July 1971. The FLQ conducted several bombings of post boxes which typically bore a decal of the royal coat of arms of Canada.
A mailbox in Montreal bearing the graffiti FLQ oui (FLQ yes) in July 1971. The FLQ conducted several bombings of post boxes which typically bore a decal of the royal coat of arms of Canada.

War Measures Act and military involvement

Canadian Forces stand guard in downtown Montreal. (Image: Montreal Gazette October 18, 1970)
Canadian Forces stand guard in downtown Montreal. (Image: Montreal Gazette October 18, 1970)
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When Trudeau was asked by CBC reporter Tim Ralfe how far he was willing to go to stop the FLQ, he replied: "Just watch me." Three days later, on October 16, the Cabinet, under Trudeau's chairmanship, advised the governor general to invoke the War Measures Act at the request of the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa; and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau. The War Measures Act gave sweeping powers of arrest and internment to the police. The provisions took effect at 4 a.m. and, shortly after that, hundreds of suspected FLQ members and sympathizers were rounded-up. In total, 497 people were arrested, including union activist Michel Chartrand,[25] singer Pauline Julien and her partner, future Quebec Minister Gérald Godin, poet Gaston Miron, Dr. Henri Bellemare, simple living advocate Serge Mongeau, and CBC journalist Nick Auf der Maur and a junior producer.[26]: 97 

This act was imposed after the negotiations with the FLQ had broken down, and the premier of Quebec was facing the next stage in the FLQ's agenda.[27]: 88 [non-primary source needed]

At the time, opinion polls in Quebec and the rest of Canada showed overwhelming support for the War Measures Act;[28][29] in a December 1970 Gallup Poll, it was noted that 89% of English-speaking Canadians and 86% of French-speaking Canadians supported the introduction of the War Measures Act. They respectively showed 6% and 9% disapproval while the remaining 5% of each population was undecided.[27]: 103 [non-primary source needed] Since then, the government's use of the War Measures Act in peacetime has been a subject of debate in Canada as it gave police sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

Simultaneously, under provisions quite separate from the War Measures Act and much more commonly used, the solicitor-general of Quebec requisitioned the military's deployment from the chief of the Defence Staff in accordance with the National Defence Act. Troops from Quebec bases and elsewhere in the country were dispatched, under the direction of the Sûreté du Québec (Quebec's provincial police force), to guard vulnerable points and prominent individuals at risk. This freed up police resources to pursue more proactive tasks in dealing with the crisis.[citation needed]

The two named Canadian Forces operations were Operation Ginger (to mount guards on the Government of Canada buildings and significant residences outside of Quebec) and Operation Essay (to provide aid to Quebec's civil power).[30] The Royal 22e Régiment, more commonly known as the "Van Doos", the most famous French-Canadian regiment in the Canadian Army, was deployed to Montreal to guard buildings. It was understood that deploying troops from English-speaking regiments in Quebec as an aid to civil power would be politically problematic. Throughout the operation, the Army made a point of deploying primarily French-Canadian soldiers to guard buildings in Quebec.[31]: 257  The Royal 22e Régiment was based in Quebec City, but it was felt that having the "Van Doos" perform guard duty in Montreal, the largest city in Quebec, would be less likely to offend public opinion.[31]: 257  The Canadian Army saw no action during its deployment, which lasted until November 12. Only one soldier was killed when he tripped over his loaded rifle while on guard duty and inadvertently shot and killed himself.[31]: 257 

Outside Quebec, mainly in the Ottawa area, the federal government deployed troops under its own authority to guard federal offices and employees. The combination of the increased powers of arrest granted by the War Measures Act, and the military deployment requisitioned and controlled by Quebec's government gave every appearance that martial law had been imposed. However, a significant difference was that the military remained in a support role to the civil authorities (in this case, Quebec authorities) and never had a judicial role. It still allowed for the criticism of the government, and the Parti Québécois was able to go about its everyday business free of any restrictions, including the criticism of the government and the War Measures Act.[27]: 88 [non-primary source needed]

Nevertheless, many Canadians found the sight of tanks outside the federal parliament disconcerting. Moreover, police officials sometimes abused their powers without just cause, and some prominent artists and intellectuals associated with the sovereignty movement were detained.[32]

Canadian Forces bomb disposal robot from the Canadian War Museum, used during the October Crisis
Canadian Forces bomb disposal robot from the Canadian War Museum, used during the October Crisis

The October Crisis was the only occasion in which the War Measures Act was invoked in peacetime. The FLQ was declared an unlawful association, which meant that, under the War Measures Act, the police had full power to arrest, interrogate, and hold anyone whom they believed was associated with the FLQ: "A person who was a member to this group, acted or supported it in some fashion became liable to a jail term not to exceed five years. A person arrested for such a purpose could be held without bail for up to ninety days."[33] It is estimated that within the first 24 hours of the War Measures Act being put in place, police had mobilized to arrest suspects of the unlawful organization. The police conducted 3000 searches, and 497 people were detained.[34]

The War Measures Act also violated and limited many human rights of people being incarcerated: "Everyone arrested under the War Measures Act was denied due process. Habeas corpus (an individual's right to have a judge confirm that they have been lawfully detained) was suspended. The Crown could detain a suspect for seven days before charging them with a crime. In addition, the attorney general could order, before the seven days expired, that the accused be held for up to 21 days. The prisoners were not permitted to consult legal counsel, and many were held incommunicado."[35]

Several of those detained were upset by the method of their interrogation. However, most of those interviewed after had little cause to complain, and several even commented on the courteous nature of the interrogations and searches.[27]: 88 [non-primary source needed] In addition, the Quebec Ombudsman, Louis Marceau, was instructed to hear complaints of detainees, and the Quebec government agreed to pay damages to any person unjustly arrested. On February 3, 1971, John Turner, Minister of Justice of Canada, reported that 497 persons had been arrested under the War Measures Act, 435 of whom had already been released. The other 62 were charged, of whom 32 were accused of crimes of such seriousness that a Quebec Superior Court judge refused them bail. Regarding Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act, the Canadian historian Desmond Morton wrote: "It was unprecedented. On the basis of facts then and revealed later, it was unjustified. It was also a brilliant success. Shock was the best safeguard against bloodshed. Trudeau's target was not two frightened little bands of terrorists, one of which soon strangled its helpless victim: it was the affluent dilettantes of revolutionary violence, cheering on the anonymous heroes of the FLQ. The proclamation of the War Measures Act and the thousands of grim troops pouring into Montreal froze the cheers, dispersed the coffee-table revolutionaries, and left them frightened and isolated while the police rounded up suspects whose offence, if any, was dreaming of blood in the streets".[31]: 257 


See also: Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP

Pierre Laporte was eventually found killed by his captors, while James Cross was freed after 59 days as a result of negotiations with the kidnappers who requested exile to Cuba rather than facing trial in Quebec. The cell members responsible for Laporte's death were arrested and charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder after they returned.

The response by the federal and provincial governments to the incident still sparks controversy. This is the only time that the War Measures Act had been put in place during peacetime in Canada.[36] A few critics (most notably Tommy Douglas and some members of the New Democratic Party)[37] believed that Trudeau was excessive in advising the use of the War Measures Act to suspend civil liberties and that the precedent set by this incident was dangerous. Federal Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield initially supported Trudeau's actions but later regretted doing so.[38]

In 1972, Michael Forrestall, the defence critic in the Conservative shadow cabinet, warned when Trudeau stated he would use the War Measures Act again, "the deliberate use of the military to enforce the will of one group of Canadians over the will of another group of Canadians is detrimental to the credibility of the armed forces."[31]: 257  The size of the FLQ organization and the number of sympathizers in the public was not known. However in its Manifesto the FLQ stated: "In the coming year (Quebec Premier Robert) Bourassa will have to face reality; 100,000 revolutionary workers, armed and organized."[39] Given this declaration, seven years of bombings, and communiques throughout that time that strove to present an image of a powerful organization spread secretly throughout all sectors of society, the authorities took significant action.

The events of October 1970 marked a significant loss of support for the violent wing of the Quebec sovereigntist movement. This came after it had gained support over nearly ten years[1]: 256  and increased support for political means of attaining independence, including support for the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, which went on to take power at the provincial level in 1976. In 1987, after the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, which sought to amend the Constitution of Canada to resolve the passage by a previous government of the Constitution Act 1982 without Quebec's ratification, a pro-independence political party, the Bloc Québécois, was also created at the federal level.

The deployment of the military as an aid to civil power was very unpopular with the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces.[31]: 257  In the 1950s the primary purpose of the Canadian Army was to fight against the Red Army in Central Europe if World War Three broke out.[31]: 238  During the Pearson years and even more so under Trudeau there was a tendency on the part of the government to cut military spending and to shift the role of the Canadian Forces to acting more as an internal security force.[31]: 256  In 1968–69, Trudeau had seriously considered pulling out of NATO and stayed only to avoid damaging relations with the United States and Western Europe.

On April 3, 1969, Trudeau announced that Canada would stay in NATO after all, but he drastically cut military spending and pulled out half of the 10,000 Canadian soldiers and airmen stationed in West Germany.[31]: 255  In the same speech Trudeau stated that safeguarding Canada against external and internal threats would be the number-one mission of the Canadian Forces, guarding North America in co-operation with the United States would be the number-two mission, and NATO commitments would be the number-three mission.[31]: 255  In early 1970 the government introduced a white paper Defence in the Seventies, which stated the "Priority One" of the Canadian Forces would be upholding internal security rather than preparing for World War III, which of course meant a sharp cut in military spending since the future enemy was now envisioned to be the FLQ rather than the Red Army.[31]: 256 

The October Crisis, much to the dismay of the generals, was used by Trudeau as an argument for transforming the Canadian Forces into a force whose "Priority One" was internal security.[31]: 257  Many officers knew very well that the "Priority One" of internal security was "a greater threat than any other potential role."[31]: 255  By the end of the 1970s, the Canadian Forces had been transformed by Trudeau into an internal security force that was not capable of fighting a major conventional war.[31]: 259–260 

By 1982 all the convicted participants had been paroled and all of those sent to Cuba had returned to Canada, some completing short sentences in Canada.

In 1988, the War Measures Act was replaced by the Emergencies Act and the Emergency Preparedness Act.

In October 2020, 50 years following the October Crisis, Yves-François Blanchet, the party and parliamentary leader of the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois, introduced a motion in the House of Commons demanding an official apology from the federal government, now led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre Trudeau, for invoking the War Measures Act.[40]

In popular culture


  1. ^ The federal government also deployed troops to protect federal employees and structures in a number of cities outside of Quebec, particularly in Ottawa, Ontario.


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  12. ^ Appendix D of “The October Crisis, 1970: An Insiders View”, by Prof. William Tetley. "October Crisis 1970". Archived from the original on June 14, 2009. Retrieved June 23, 2009.
  13. ^ Tetley, William. The October Crisis, 1970 : An Insider View, pg 202. Demers, Robert. "Memories of October 70 (2010)" https://sites.google.com/site/octobercrisis70/
  14. ^ "The October Crisis: Civil Liberties Suspended | CBC Archives". Archives.cbc.ca. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
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  24. ^ "Chronology of the October Crisis, 1970, and its Aftermath – Quebec History". .marianopolis.edu. Archived from the original on February 13, 2007.
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  26. ^ Tetley, William (2007). The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider's View. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-3118-5.
  27. ^ a b c d Tetley, William (2007). The October Crisis, 1970 : an insider's view. Montréal [Que.]: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 9780773576605. OCLC 716062232.
  28. ^ "Chronology of the October Crisis, 1970, and its Aftermath – Quebec History". Retrieved April 13, 2008. There was widespread editorial approval of the action taken by the federal government; only Claude Ryan, in Le Devoir, condemned it as did René Lévesque, leader of the Parti Québécois. Polls taken shortly afterward showed that there was as much as 92% approval for the action taken by the Federal government.
  29. ^ "Chronology of the October Crisis, 1970, and its Aftermath – Quebec History". Retrieved April 13, 2008. In a series of polls conducted over the next few weeks, public support for the course of action undertaken by the Government of Canada continued to be overwhelming (72 to 84% approval rate). In a poll conducted on December 19 by the Canadian Institute of Public Opinion, Canadians indicated that their opinion of Trudeau, Bourassa, Caouette, and Robarts, who had all expressed strong support for the War Measures Act, was more favourable than before, while their view of Stanfield and Douglas, who had expressed reservations for the Act, was less favourable than previously.
  30. ^ Operation Ginger and Operation Essay. Retrieved January 16, 2018 – via Archeion – MemoryBC – Aberta on Record.
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  36. ^ "Quebec terrorists FLQ kidnapped 2 & began the Oct crisis". Archived from the original on January 31, 2008. Retrieved April 13, 2008. Public opinion polls showed that nearly nine in 10 citizens – both Anglo and French-speaking – supported Trudeau's hard-line tactics against the FLQ.
  37. ^ "Top Ten Greatest Canadians – Tommy Douglas". Archived from the original on April 25, 2008. Retrieved April 13, 2008. The decision to vote against the motion (which passed with a majority vote) was not viewed favourably; the approval rating for the NDP dropped to seven percent in public opinion polls. Still, Douglas maintained that Trudeau was going too far: "The government, I submit, is using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut."
  38. ^ "Remembering Robert Stanfield: A Good-Humoured and Gallant Man" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 14, 2008. Retrieved April 13, 2008. That particular backing [of the War Measures Act] was Stanfield's only regret in a long political life. He later admitted that he wished he had joined his lone dissenting colleague, David MacDonald, who voted against the Public Order Temporary Measures Act when it came before the House that November.
  39. ^ Rioux, Marcel (1971). Quebec in Question. Lorimer. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-88862-191-7.
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Further reading