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Pierre Trudeau’s War Measures Act Speech

Source Importance

The October Crisis was inspired by the Liberation Front of Quebec (Front de Liberation du Québec, abbreviated as FLQ), a left-wing group that emerged in the early 1960s. Today, despite the polarity of assessments of the terrorist activities of the FLQ-ists – from categorical condemnation to the glorification of “rebel heroes” – all historians agree on one thing: the socio-economic soil that gave rise to this phenomenon objectively existed.

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Pierre Laporte, the province’s labor minister, and James Cross, a British ambassador, were abducted by the FLQ in October 1970. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau enacted the War Measures Act. A solemn Trudeau spoke on national television on October 16, 1970, to clarify and justify his choice to the nation’s inhabitants (Tetley, 2008).

Source Description

The October Crisis, about which a lot of evidence has been collected, dissertations have been defended, monographs and articles have been published, films have been made, and in the October days, the front pages of central newspapers and prime time on radio and TV were given. The October crisis continues to agitate consciousness and excite the imagination. Public opinion has polar opinions, but reconciliation has begun at the state level. The October Crisis is perceived in today’s Canada as part of national history. The selected source is the official government position regarding the War Measures Act, as well as a description of its key provisions, which outlined the extent of military intervention and restriction of civil liberties during the Crisis.

Events Evident from the Source

  1. The illegal left-wing extremist organization FLQ, to attract Canadian and world public opinion, went to extreme measures (Trudeau, 1970). One of the FLC cells kidnapped the British Trade Representative in Montreal Cross as a political hostage and expressed a number of demands from the government in exchange for his release.
  2. These demands were described as excessive and unacceptable, and the government refused to negotiate with the FLQ. Only one demand was agreed upon – transmission of the text of the manifesto by radio (Trudeau, 1970). The extremely radical and, in many ways, naive tone of this document called on the working people of Quebec to make a revolution and take power into their own hands. However, the government took a hard line, refusing to negotiate with the FLC and hoping that the police would be able to locate Cross’s whereabouts. In response, another cell of the FLC took Pierre Laporte, the Minister of Labor of Quebec, as a second political hostage.

Events Evident from the Source

  1. The War Measures Act was announced to come into force. The law allowed the army and police to conduct mass raids, detain innocent people without a warrant of arrest, and hold them in jail for up to three months without any charges (Trudeau, 1970).
  2. The tactic of the ruling circles was to stop the growth of the mass national democratic movement under the pretext of fighting terrorism and to discredit the Quebec Party, accusing it of supporting the FLC.
  3. Such measures were supposed to strengthen the precarious position of the current regime. For this, a law so unprecedented in peacetime conditions was enacted in order to intimidate the population.

Events Not Evident from the Source

  1. The reaction of public opinion to the introduction of the law on was far from unambiguous. If the press unreservedly supported the actions of the federal and provincial governments, then the left-wing press condemned them. There was growing suspicion that the government was using wartime law not only against terrorism but also to suppress the national movement in Quebec.
  2. All the country’s progressive forces unanimously demanded the lifting of martial law in Quebec, the restoration of civil rights and freedoms, and the immediate start of negotiations with the FLC for the release of Cross. Massive public protests forced the ruling circles to replace the War Measures Act with a more lenient law (Tetley, 2008).
  3. The very first serious test that befell the government in October 1970 showed with its own eyes its reactionary, anti-people character and largely predetermined the further decline in the popularity of the new regime in Quebec. In the conditions of the factual refusal of the ruling circles to take any concrete steps to solve an acute national problem, in particular the language issue, an illegal left-wing extremist organization appeared.
  4. The main reason for the military occupation of Quebec and the introduction of the law on measures of war was the refusal of the Trudeau government and the monopolies that controlled it to recognize the right of the French Canadian nation to self-determination or even its very existence as a nation. The October events in Quebec demonstrated the urgency of fundamental changes in national politics (Tetley, 2008).

The liberal government, this time, openly expressed the interests of neo-capitalist political powers. The middle class, who had played an active role in the political life of Quebec since the beginning of the “quiet revolution”, were, if not completely, then to a large extent pushed aside from the political arena (Tetley, 2008). Thus, the new class alliance between the French-Canadian bourgeoisie, the middle strata, and the big capital of British Canada and the USA, which had developed and functioned well in the 60s, was seriously disrupted.


Quebec society learned lifelong lessons from what happened. Perhaps the main one was the rejection of violent measures and the belief that only through democratic means can one achieve an improvement in one’s rights. On the other hand, even the most conservative representatives of the Canadian establishment realized that Quebec must be reckoned with, recognizing its special historical path and understanding the deepest aspirations of its people.


Tetley, W. (2008). October Crisis 1970: An insider’s view. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Trudeau, P. (1970). Pierre Trudeau’s War Measures Act speech during the October Crisis. CBC Digital Archives.

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