This Day. Anniversary of the War Measures Act

Forty-nine years ago on October 16, 1970, the federal Liberal government led by Pierre Elliott Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. Trudeau declared a state of “apprehended insurrection” in response to kidnappings and mailbox bombings taking place in Quebec. The War Measures Act gave the police the power to act without warrants and to detain people indefinitely without charges or trial.

Soldiers on the streets of Montreal, October 1970

.Even before Trudeau put in force the War Measures Act, the police had already carried out more than 1,000 raids from October 7 to 10. Also, using the provisions of the National Defence Act, the federal government deployed the army on the streets in Ottawa on October 12 and in Montreal three days later. On October 13, 1970 in front of Parliament, a reporter asked Trudeau how far he would go in suspending democratic rights. The Prime Minister replied, “Just watch me.”

Upon invoking the War Measures Act, the military appeared in force in Quebec in full combat gear. The police carried out a further 3,068 raids and searches without warrants, arrested 465 additional people and held them without charges. The vast majority of the people arrested were eventually released without charge after 21 days while the rest were detained for longer periods.

The subsequent Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP (commonly referred to as the McDonald Commission into the “wrong-doings” of the RCMP) revealed how the RCMP themselves were behind the violent events that took place prior, during and after 1970. The RCMP’s participation in secret bombings and giving direction and means to various individuals and gangs to carry out violent acts were justified in the name of catching those engaged in illegal activities. The real reason was in fact to suppress the political movement of the people of Quebec for self-determination.

Demonstration against War Measures Act in Ottawa in 1970

The McDonald Commission found that the RCMP itself issued false statements in the name of the Front de Liberation du Québec (FLQ) and other groups calling for acts of violence. State agents provided arms and explosives to incite FLQ members and others to commit violence. State agents were found to be directly responsible for violent acts to the extent that one was injured when a bomb he was planting exploded prematurely. The government used the violent actions of its agents and their proxies as a reason to declare a state of “apprehended insurrection,” invoke the War Measures Act and take other actions to deprive the people of their rights.

After 1970, the state intensified its campaign to criminalize dissent and block the people from participating in politics. State agents burned down a barn in Quebec used by political activists; they vandalized and burned bookstores operated by the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and arrested more than 2,000 of its activists; they fabricated tax records of CPC(M-L) founder and leader Hardial Bains in an attempt to frame and jail him, and engaged in other illegal methods to stop the working class and its allies from organizing politically.

Also, the McDonald Commission proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the state was behind the racist attacks in 1970 and after committed by groups called the KKK, Western Guard and other white supremacist names. Has the role of police agents not been revealed repeatedly since 9/11, as being behind attacks and conspiracies to commit violence, which are blamed on Muslim youth? Agents of the state incite various individuals to carry out illegal activities and even provide the means for them to do so. The leading role of police agents in committing and provoking violence was clearly the case at the time of the Summit of the Americas in Montebello, Quebec, in the summer of 2007 and again during G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010. The Native people also have a history of being infiltrated and violated and then blamed for being violent. The history of Canada is rife with such examples, which have led to the warranted conclusion that when acts of political and racist violence take place, it is the state that should be blamed, not the people.

When the RCMP and other police and spy agencies themselves commit crimes or incite individuals to commit crimes and justify it in the name of catching those who pose a danger to society, is something not seriously wrong? The state agents then use the crimes they themselves have incited or directly organized to justify yet more exceptional measures of the state to deprive people of their rights. Should the people not be seriously concerned about what is taking place?

The history of the use of the War Measures Act in Canada confirms that self-serving reasons are used to invoke it. Today exceptional measures taken in the name of national security and national interest are the new normal. Legislation is enacted by governments no matter which cartel party is in power that deprives Canadians of the ability to exercise rights which belong to them by virtue of being human. This includes basic things like the right to negotiate wages and working conditions or to access funding for education or healthcare, or child care or seniors’ care or home care or housing, shelter from abuse and all the other aspects which affect the lives of Canadians and their standard of living.

Actions taken often deprive the citizenry of the ability to affirm their civil rights. It has become commonplace to justify police interference in lives of the people when the government says Canada’s national interest and security are at stake as a result of a terrorist threat or economic disruption or other excuse.

Renewal Update, October 16, No. 36

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Filed under Canada, History

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