Mrs. Pierre Laporte (veiled) is escorted by her son Jean and daughter Claire as they follow the casket after funeral services for the Quebec Labour minister at Notre Dame Church in downtown Montreal Tuesday, Oct. 20, 1970. Mr. Laporte was kidnapped from his home Oct. 10 and killed a week later when ransom demands by the terrorist group Front de Liberation Quebec, FLQ, were not met. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Bregg

‘A tragedy for Quebec’: Pierre Laporte’s death remembered 50 years later

‘A tragedy for Quebec’: Pierre Laporte’s death remembered 50 years later

MONTREAL — At age 91, Marc Lalonde still remembers the shock he felt on Oct. 17, 1970 when Pierre Laporte’s body was discovered in the trunk of a car at an airport south of Montreal, a week after he had been kidnapped by a cell of the FLQ.

Fifty years later, the events of the 1970 October Crisis, including the abductions of Laporte and British diplomat James Cross and the federal government’s decision to suspend civil liberties by invoking the War Measures Act, remain a dark period in the country’s history, with repercussions still being felt today.

“It was the most depressing time in my 20 years in federal politics,” said Lalonde, who in 1970 was an adviser to then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau and later ran for office and served in Trudeau’s cabinet.

“The killing of a senior provincial minister was just so, so unbelievably negative for the province,” he said in a phone interview. “It was a very, very depressing time. But we had to face it.”

Until Laporte’s body was found, Lalonde said, Trudeau and other members of the federal government had still believed they would be able to negotiate with the FLQ, whichLalonde refers to as an “ultra-nationalist group.”

The separatist, socialist Front de liberation du Quebec had begun setting off bombs in 1963, waging a campaign of terror that by 1970 had resulted in five deaths. But the group also gained some popular support for its political positions calling for an independent Quebec.

After Laporte’s death, that changed.

Robert Comeau, then a young university professor, says he was seduced into helping the FLQ by the romantic ideals of revolution that were prevalent in countries such as Algeria and Cuba in the 1960s. He was also motivated by a sense of anger over the economic discrimination against francophone Quebecers, whom he saw as a nation needing to break free from colonial rule.

“It’s hard for a young person today to imagine there was a time when a lot of young people, a lot of publications, believed a revolution was possible in North America,” Comeau said in a phone interview.

He said his main role in the FLQ was providing material support and, eventually, writing press releases to be distributed to the media. He said he knew only a handful of people in the organization, which he believed to be much bigger than it really was.

Comeau says Laporte, as a progressive Quebec politician and a former journalist, should never have been a target, but at the time he felt it was part of the revolution. “At the moment it happened, we were convinced we were in a bit of a war,” he said.

Now he feels differently. He has read the accounts of Laporte’s family and long ago stopped believing in violent acts as a means to an end. He’s happy that period in Quebec’s history “didn’t last long.”

Laporte’s death had political repercussions for Quebec, as well as tragic consequences for his family, who lost a beloved father, husband and uncle.

In a recent opinion piece in La Presse, Laporte’s niece and nephew criticized what they said was a lingering “adhesion of certain Quebec nationalists to the actions of the felquistes,” calling it “an apology for terror.”

“We fear that once again, we will ignore what Pierre Laporte was, his path as a man, his accomplishments as a journalist and politician, to present only … everything else,” Lise and Claude Laporte wrote in the Oct. 5 article.

Comeau does not believe there is any attempt to justify the actions of the perpetrators. “As of the death of Pierre Laporte, the sympathy was completely dropped. There was no more sympathy,” he said.

Two FLQ members — Paul Rose and Francis Simard — were eventually convicted of murder in Laporte’s death and sentenced to life behind bars, although they were released in 1982.

Rose’s son, Felix Rose, released a documentary about the family over the summer, born out of what he said was his attempt to reconcile how the “gentle” father he knew could have been involved in a man’s death.

In his film, “Les Rose,” he explores his father and uncle’s upbringing in a poor suburb of Montreal, at a time when men were expected to work in “miserable” conditions in factories where they had few educational opportunities and were humiliated for speaking French.

Rose said that while he doesn’t condone the actions of his father and uncle, he understands better why FLQ members would turn to violence, especially when faced with political and police repression, including a ban on protesting.

While he’s faced criticism for portraying his family in too positive a light, he believes that the lesson of the film is that violence is a symptom of a deeper problem, and also largely avoidable.

“When the government doesn’t respect youth, when it takes away an outstretched hand, when it stops them from demonstrating, it creates outbursts,” he said in an interview.

While Lalonde describes the October Crisis as a “tragedy for Quebec,” he believes some positive elements came from it.

Both he and Comeau say Laporte’s death instantly ended any support for the FLQ, which disbanded almost immediately afterwards, and there have not been any political kidnappings since.

Lalonde says the crisis convinced Trudeau of the importance of creating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and contributed to the creation of new emergency measures legislation that was subject to it.

While he’s glad the incident proved that Canadians have little tolerance for political violence, Comeau says some of the issues raised during the crisis remain unresolved. Quebec’s “national question,” as he calls it, still lingers, despite two referendums in 1980 and 1995.

While he doubts young Quebecers will resort to bombs and kidnappings, he says it’s impossible to say another crisis could never happen.

“In history, we can’t predict, he said. “It always happens in a way you can’t imagine, and never at the time you think.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct 16, 2020

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

A representative for the office of Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu says the new Red Deer drug treatment court is expected to be operational by the middle of 2022. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer drug treatment court expected to be up and running no later than mid-2022

The Government of Alberta expects the new Red Deer drug treatment court… Continue reading

Environment Canada says rain Tuesday evening will turn to snow. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Expect wet snow Tuesday night central Alberta

Heavy wet snow could accumlate with the potential for broken tree branches

FILE - In this Thursday, April 29, 2021 file photo, giant bucket-wheel excavators extract coal at the controversial Garzweiler surface coal mine near Jackerath, west Germany. A report by the International Energy Agency on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 says immediate action is needed to reshape the world’s energy sector in order to meet ambitious climate goals by 2050. This includes ending investments in new coal mines, oil and gas wells. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
Energy agency: End new fossil fuel supply investments

IEA report sets out 400 steps to transform how energy is produced, transported and used

A man inspects the rubble of destroyed commercial building and Gaza health care clinic following an Israeli airstrike on the upper floors of a commercial building near the Health Ministry in Gaza City, on Monday, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Strike from Gaza kills 2 as Israel topples 6-story building

Latest attack from Gaza on Tuesday hits packaging plant

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A review by the national spy watchdog has found inconsistencies when it comes to federal efforts to ensure information sharing with foreign agencies does not result in torture. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Spy watchdog calls for changes to ensure information-sharing does not lead to torture

Differences in federal departments stances when dealing with the same foreign agency creates concern

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

Sheffield United’s Daniel Jebbison celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Sheffield United at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alex Pantling/Pool via AP
Canadian teenager Daniel Jebbison turns heads with Premier League goal

Jebbison, 17, is the youngest player in Premier League history to score on his first start in England’s top tier

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Nathalie Emmanuel, left, and Vin Diesel in a scene from “F9.” (Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures via AP)
The blockbuster movie makes a comeback this summer

Last year, summer earnings were $176 million, down 96% from 2019

FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, exile Tibetans use the Olympic Rings as a prop as they hold a street protest against the holding of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Dharmsala, India. Groups alleging human-rights abuses in China are calling for a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics, which is sure to ratchet up pressure on the International Olympic Committee, athletes, sponsors, and sports federations. A coalition of activists representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, residents of Hong Kong and others, issued a statement Monday, May 17, 2021 calling for the “full boycott,” eschewing lesser measures like “diplomatic boycotts" and negotiations with the IOC or China. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia, File)
AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

Canada's Eric Lamaze riding Fine Lady 5 during the CP International competition at the Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. Canada's most decorated show jumper has withdrawn from consideration for the Tokyo Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze withdraws from Tokyo short list

Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze withdraws from Tokyo short list

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse questions a foul call during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday, April 26, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Nurse says it was the COVID-19 outbreak in March that spiked his team's chances for a post-season run.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris O'Meara
Nurse faces a busy off-season, much busier if Canada qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Nurse faces a busy off-season, much busier if Canada qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Danielle Goyette speaks to reporters during a press conference in Toronto on Friday, November 10, 2017. Goyette has been named director of player development for the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and their American Hockey League affiliate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette together again on Toronto Maple Leafs staff

Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette together again on Toronto Maple Leafs staff

Most Read