October 5, 1970: FLQ kidnapping of British diplomat

On this day in 1970 the Quebec separatist terrorist group FLQ kidnapped UK trade commissioner James Cross in a bid to gain independence.

Separatism in the Canadian province of Quebec may be quiet now but it once was very violent.

MONTREAL, CANADA — There are many things my country, Canada, is known for. Being very big, natural beauty, politeness, and ‘not America’ may come to the fore.

One that probably does not is ‘terrorism’. In truth, Canada has seen very few acts of terrorism in which people died or were injured over its 150+ years of existence.  When that is compared to the other Western nations with which it is usually associated this country comes out looking pretty good. And yet Canada has not been immune from terrorism. 

And yet it cannot be said that terrorism never grabbed the attention of Canadians, and perhaps the world. One such period was the rise of the violent Front de Liberation du Quebec – the FLQ – in Montreal in the 1960s. These actors, pressing for an independent francophone state, carried out a series of bank heists and bombings that gripped the city and the country. Several people died and many more were injured.

Front de libération du Québec - Wikipedia
The proposed flag of an independent Quebec

In one of the group’s most brazen acts, on this day in 1970 it kidnapped James Cross, the UK trade commissioner, as he was walking to work. Five days later it seized Pierre Laporte, Quebec’s deputy premier and labour minister. Cross was later rescued: Laporte was not as fortunate as the FLQ killed him.

The incident became known as the ‘October Crisis’ in Canada and led to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s famous line ‘Just watch me’ in response to a journalist’s question on what the government intended to do. Martial law was declared, civil liberties were suspended and hundreds of FLQ members and sympathisers were arrested.

Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don’t like the looks of a soldier’s helmet…Just watch me

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau

In the end the FLQ fizzled out. Maybe the wanton violence lost them a lot of their grass roots support. Separatism did not die – we had two referendums in 1980 and 1995 – but the violence did.

The FLQ was a stain on Canadian history. It is one thing to campaign for more rights and even independence. It is quite another to kill for it. We in Canada do not take kindly to these types of threats.

NB I will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis with a podcast as well. In addition, you might be interested in my next book, a look at the history of terrorism in Canada from 1867 to the present, which I hope to have published in 2021. Subscribe to my email list to be the first notified when it releases!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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