January 23, 2021

Bloc Québécois seeks official apology for October Crisis detentions

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologize on behalf of the federal government for the implementation of the War Measures Act during the October Crisis in 1970 and the detention of hundreds of Quebecers.

The third-place party in the House plans to bring forward a motion in the House on Thursday asking that the “House demand an official apology from the prime minister on behalf of the government of Canada for the enactment, on Oct. 16, 1970, of the War Measures Act and the use of the army against Quebec’s civilian population to arbitrarily arrest, detain without charge and intimidate nearly 500 innocent [Quebecers].”

“You cannot pretend to be deeply in love with Quebec without respecting this desire of Quebecers to receive some apologies from Her Majesty’s government,” Blanchet told reporters during a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

This month marks 50 years since the Front de Libération du Quebec — which had been running a bombing campaign across the province since the 1960s in the name of turning Quebec into an independent state — kidnapped Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. That spurred Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau into invoking the War Measures Act — the first time in Canadian history the act had been used during peacetime. 

The prime minister’s order, supported by then-Quebec premier Robert Bourassa and Montreal’s mayor, suspended civil liberties and allowed police to conduct searches and arrests without warrants and extend detentions for 21 days without charges, and without the right to see a lawyer.

Laporte’s body was found in the trunk of a car the night of Oct. 17, 1970.

Conservatives plan to vote against motion

To pass, the Bloc’s motion would need support from other parties in the House. Even then, such motions are non-binding.

Blanchet said he hasn’t entered formal negotiations with either the NDP or the Conservatives regarding the motion.

“We never get in touch with NDP and we have informal discussions with the Conservatives about that,” Blanchet said Wednesday, adding that former Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield said later in life that he regretted backing the government on the War Measures Act.

A newsboy in Ottawa holds up a newspaper with a headline reporting the invoking of the War Measures Act on Oct. 16, 1970. It was the first time Canada had invoked the act in peacetime, put into effect following the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte by the FLQ. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

“If Mr. Stanfield did say so, I believe that logically the Conservatives of today will agree with the Bloc Québécois that this does require and justify some apologies from the prime minister,” said Blanchet.

Conservative support for the motion appears unlikely. Conservative MP Gérard Deltell, the party’s House leader, said Conservatives will be voting against the motion.

“For us, the October Crisis is first and foremost a death of the deputy premier of Quebec, Pierre Laporte, a guy who was elected by the people and killed by terrorists,” he told reporters heading into a caucus meeting.

“Obviously there are some other issues, and we’ll address it tomorrow in the debate.”

An NDP source, speaking on background, said caucus members will read the motion carefully.

This is not the first time Quebec politicians have asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to issue a public apology for the suspension of civil liberties during the crisis — a defining moment in his father’s career.

“There’s no question that the events of October 1970 had a difficult impact on many Quebecers, but I think we need to remember first and foremost that this particular anniversary is going to be very difficult for the families of Pierre Laporte,” Trudeau said earlier this month.

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