The current version of the Teachers’ Zone will not display optimally in your browser. Please upgrade it for the best experience.

Lost Liberties – The War Measures Act

The October Crisis: Liberty Repressed

At the end of the 1960s, both Quebec and the wider world were undergoing massive upheaval — both peaceful and violent — that was rooted in a desire for change. Montréal was not immune to the social unrest. Strikes and demonstrations, often marked by violence, intensified, forcing authorities to take a harder line. People denounced capitalism, Anglo-American domination, racism, the Vietnam War and more. Mayor Jean Drapeau’s own home was bombed in September 1969.

The Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) was a movement formed in 1963. Their main goals were to secure Quebec’s independence from the rest of Canada, and to create a socialist state. Their approach was radical and violent. On February 13, 1969, an FLQ “super-bomb” injured 27 people at the Montréal Stock Exchange. By the end of 1970, the FLQ had launched more than 200 bomb attacks and stolen weapons, explosives and money. FLQ activities caused nine deaths.

In October 1970, the FLQ carried out two political kidnappings — something never before seen in North America. As a result, the federal government invoked the War Measures Act for the third time in Canadian history, and the first in peacetime.

Here is a brief timeline of key events during the October Crisis:

October 5, 1970: Kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross

October 10, 1970: Kidnapping of Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte

October 15, 1970: Deployment of the Army in Quebec

October 16, 1970: Invocation of the War Measures Act

October 17, 1970: Death of Pierre Laporte

December 3, 1970: Release of James Cross

December 3, 1970: The Public Order (Temporary Measures) Act replaces the War Measures Act

January 4, 1971: The Army leaves Quebec

April 20, 1971: Expiry of the Public Order (Temporary Measures) Act

Governments and public opinion demanded a decisive response to the threat of the FLQ, although protesters were alarmed by the suspension of civil liberties via the War Measures Act. Although everyone lived through the same political crisis, each experience was deeply personal. Protests against war measures were forcefully expressed in Quebec by members of the young intellectual left, who were largely separatist. There were dissenting voices in anglophone Canada as well. Supporting neither the FLQ nor Quebec separatism, Anglophones nonetheless demanded that fundamental freedoms be upheld.

This topic provides an overview of different perspectives from those who lived through this period. Click on the objects below to learn more.