50th anniversary of War Measures Act (I) – The significance of the proclamation of War Measures

Demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 1970 opposing the invoking of the War Measures Act.

First of a series on the issues and goals of the “October Crisis” and the forces in motion, reposted from TML Weekly.

The Significance of the Proclamation of War Measures

By Pauline Easton

Army deployed on the streets of Montreal October 15, 1970, the day before the War Measures Act is invoked.

October 16, 2020 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the proclamation of the War Measures Act by the Liberal government headed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Trudeau declared a state of “apprehended insurrection” in order to use the powers of the War Measures Act, which had been used in World War I and World War II to indefinitely detain people without charges or trial.

The police carried out more than 1,000 raids between October 7 and 10, 1970. Using the provisions of the National Defence Act, the army appeared on the streets of Ottawa on October 12 and on the streets of Montreal on October 15. After the War Measures Act was invoked, the police carried out another 3,068 raids and searches without warrants. During these raids police arrested 465 people and held them without charges. The vast majority of the people arrested were released after 21 days without charges while others were held for longer periods.

The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and its precursor organizations and youth wings were active participants in the events surrounding this infamous self-serving use of the War Measures Act at a time the CIA was conducting its nefarious “Operation Chaos” on a global basis. Operation Chaos involved, amongst other things, state organized terrorist attacks, coups d’état, assassinations, disappearances and rabid anti-communist propaganda.

In preparation for this anniversary, the organization of the Central Committee responsible for the Party archives has digitized materials from the Party press related to the struggles of the workers, youth and students from 1968-1975, including the Party’s intervention against the War Measures Act, the state attacks, its support of the workers’ struggles and the national liberation of Quebec.

CPC(M-L)’s participation in the events at the time the War Measures Act was declared contributed to sorting out several key issues facing the workers’ and communist movement in Canada. The ideo-political and organizational problems that the Party sorted out in the period from 1968 to 1975 laid the foundation for the Party’s attitude towards the imperialist democracy and Anglo-Canadian state in its service and defined its fight for the rights of all, the national question in Canada and the nation-building project the Party is pursuing today to reconstitute Canada on a modern basis, which vests the sovereign decision-making power in the people and recognizes the hereditary rights of the Indigenous peoples, the right of Quebec to self-determination, the inherent rights of the Métis people, the need to humanize the natural and social environment and affirm the rights of all according to the demands of the times.

Key problems sorted out at that time include:

–        The Quebec national question is not a matter of concern to the Quebec people only but to the entire polity.

–        The line that under “exceptional circumstances” organization is not necessary. Under all circumstances and conditions, highest quality work must be carried out on the basis of the principles Individual Work/Collective Responsibility and For Us Accountability Begins at Home.

–        Acts of both individual terror and mass state terror are reprehensible and serve the same aim of subverting the striving of the people for empowerment and depriving them of their own outlook and organization

–        The attitude towards the state is what determines where one stands in relation to the struggle of the people and their striving for empowerment. The Party set the line of blaming the state and not the people for racist and other attacks and exposed the role of political opportunists within the communist and workers’ movement in promoting divisions amongst the people instigated by the state on the basis of language and national origin,

–        The revolutionary anti-imperialist nature and significance of the struggles of the period such as opposition to the war in Vietnam was sorted out, against the chauvinist line of “solidarity” consisting of activities to help those “out there” less fortunate than ourselves. The Party recognized that there was one anti-imperialist struggle of the peoples of the world, including the Canadian people, whose duty it is to organize against the ruling class in their own country as part of this. In this regard, it recognized and brought into play the dialectic between patriotism and proletarian internationalism.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Party’s founding, branches of the Party have been asked to educate members and supporters in the work of the Party throughout these 50 years, including its achievements during the time the War Measures Act and state repression were used in an effort to wipe it out. Individuals and collectives are asked to position themselves in relation to this work which should serve to educate the educators. It is important to keep in mind that in that critical period in the formation of the Party, its political consciousness was forged in the battle for the rights of the working class and people, of the Quebec nation and Indigenous peoples and the right to be of the peoples of the world. The successes in that work are the foundation for the Party’s work in the current period, particularly the Party’s Historic Initiative for constitutional and democratic renewal launched in 1995 and its modern nation-building project for the working class to constitute the nation and vest sovereignty in the people.

On the occasion of this anniversary, TML Weekly is publishing extensive background material to inform readers about the events which took place in 1970 and their significance.

Toronto demonstration, October 17, 1970.

In Vancouver, 1,500 rally at the courthouse, October 19, 1970. Speakers support the struggle of the Quebec people and call for all out opposition to the War Measures Act.

University of Calgary students hold a large rally on campus on October 27, 1970 to denounce the War Measures Act. After the rally, 300 students march angrily to downtown Calgary. Some 1,000 students in Regina organize similar actions.

The Prevailing Economic and Political Conditions on the Eve of the October Crisis of 1970

In October, 1968, The Internationalists joined forces with the workers in the struggle of the Murray Hill taxi drivers at Dorval airport.

To provide the context for what took place in Quebec in October 1970, it is instructive to review the economic, social, political and other conditions that prevailed at the end of the 1960s, on the eve of the October Crisis and the proclamation of the War Measures Act on October 16, 1970. It was a period of vast expansion of U.S. imperialism into Quebec, Canada and the world and the restructuring of the state by the government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau to facilitate that expansion and put down the revolt of the workers, women and youth against their conditions.

A brief review from the pages of People’s Canada Daily News and Mass Line, newspapers published on a regular basis at that time by the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), presents a portrait of what was taking place at the time. In a general account of the situation in Quebec, People’s Canada Daily News on November 20, 1970 wrote:

“The economic crisis is caused by U.S. imperialism. Through massive capital investments, sinister market manipulations and collaboration with the federal and provincial governments, the U.S. monopolies are destroying small farmers, small milk producers, small landlords and businesses. High U.S. investment and the plunder of Quebec’s natural resources by the monopolies has created thousands of unemployed throughout the nation. U.S. monopolies with ties to ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ have destroyed the small poultry farms in the Saguenay Lac-St. Jean area and have built huge monopoly farms for the Montreal market. In Sherbrooke, Carnation Milk Company has liquidated the small regional dairy farmers in the same manner, greatly contributing to the fighting anti-imperialist sentiment throughout the whole region. Recently, U.S. investment in the pulp and paper industry has liquidated over 100 small mills per year and production has been taken over by large, mechanized monopolies which hire only a small percentage of the workers thrown out of their jobs. In iron ore mines and asbestos extraction the same situation exists.

Photo from 1968 from the Party press, striking Domtar workers in Windsor, Quebec, defend their rights.

“Today, faced with economic crisis at home, the U.S. imperialists have not renewed contracts with monopoly firms situated in Quebec, preferring to give them to their own faltering factories in the U.S. As a result, over 9,000 workers are being laid off in Montreal alone from Canadair, United Aircraft, Marconi and Northern Electric.

“U.S. imperialist economic plunder and control of Quebec has resulted in untold hardships and misery. Over 15 per cent of the work force is unemployed. In some regions such as Trois Rivieres, St. Jean and St. Jerôme, the unemployment has reached 40-50 per cent of the working people. In Montreal’s working class neighbourhoods such as St. Henri and St. Jacques, unemployment has reached close to 50 per cent.”[1]

Montreal, 1968

In June 1968, Pierre Elliott Trudeau became the Prime Minister of Canada. He had Parliament adopt a series of measures and laws which had the purpose and effect of facilitating the expansion of U.S. capital and suppressing the resistance of the workers and youth.

The newspaper Mass Line reported: “It is a desperate attempt to end inflation, soaring prices, unemployment, the national liberation struggle in Quebec, the awakening of the national minority groups and the Native peoples and the new awakening of the Canadian working class and people against U.S. imperialism and Anglo-Canadian reaction.”[2]

Between June 1968 and October 1970, Trudeau’s government passed:

(1)     labour legislation to reorganize unions and restrict their action; 

(2)     “security” legislation to use immigration and citizenship departments to facilitate the entry of Nazis and fascists into Canada, and encourage political servility for immigrants (introducing a points system to assess immigrants); 

(3)     other incentives for the investment of U.S. capital in Canada through economic policies that facilitate the plunder of Canada’s resources by U.S. imperialist monopolies; 

(4)     arbitrary wage controls; and 

(5)     increased spending for the police and increased police powers to suppress progressive people and enlist the youth in the militia in a systematic plan to train troops to be used against Quebec and Canadian peoples. 

These measures were accompanied by: 

(6)     the coming into force on September 7, 1969 of Bill C-120, which declared that English and French were the official languages of Canada. Trudeau’s politics of bilingualism and biculturalism relegated other languages and cultures to an inferior status and promoted chauvinist divisions on the basis of a eurocentric outlook.

Regarding the just demands of the people of Quebec and farmers in Alberta, Mass Line reports:

“To the increasing demand of the Quebec people to be independent, equal and prosperous under the system of their own choice, Trudeau offered further and more vicious repression. To the prairie farmers, Trudeau replied with further elimination of small farms and the strengthening of the U.S. imperialist monopoly farms’ hold on them based on increasing their systematic control of market and subsidies.”[3]

As for the First Nations, Trudeau adopted policies of exploitation and repression, including the presence of the police on reserves, and issued a White Paper to ostensibly eliminate the Indian Act but its true aim was to extinguish hereditary rights and it was broadly condemned by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike.

In the late 1960s, there were strikes by workers fighting for their rights, against the foreign monopoly Murray Hill Limousine Service, Domtar, Sicar and Ford, among others. Newspaper reports bear witness to the fact that not a day went by without a struggle breaking out. College and university students were active on many issues, including opposition to the reactionary content of education, for the sovereignty of Quebec and its nation-building project, against the Vietnam War and in support of the Palestinian people.[4]

Mass rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, April 18, 1970 against the war in Indochina.

On the eve of October 16 when the army was deployed in the streets, thousands of youth and students rose to their feet at the Paul Sauvé arena in Montreal and at assemblies at the University of Montreal to salute the fighting spirit of the Quebec patriots and to denounce the unprecedented repression.

Youth fill Paul Sauve arena in Montreal in support of Quebec national liberation in 1970, on the eve of the declaration of the  War Measures Act.

“Down with fascism!” and “We are all from the FLQ – come and get us!” were shouted, among other slogans. Other gatherings took place in Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and elsewhere. Across Canada, demonstrations in support of the struggle of the people of Quebec for sovereignty took place in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg and elsewhere. There was vigorous opposition to repressive terrorist activities and arrests of activists, progressive people including activists of CPC(M-L) which had been founded in Montreal in March 1970.

These working and living conditions aroused the anger and opposition of the people who aspired to advance their nation-building project, for a modern independent Quebec which is not under the rule of an Anglo-Canadian state, of U.S. imperialism and its war agenda. The people of Quebec saw the need to conquer political and economic power and to build the nation of Quebec on every front, so that Quebeckers would cease to be, in the words of the national poet of the Quebec nation Félix Leclerc, “drawers of water, hewers of wood, tenants and unemployed in our own country.”

All in all, it can be said that revolutionary conditions prevailed in Quebec and Canada at that time in which communist ideas were rapidly gaining ground in the consciousness of the workers and youth. The newspapers of the time all attest to the fact that the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), its precursor organizations and its youth wings were at the heart of the actions, intervening in an active and organized manner to advance the struggle of the people of Quebec for their right to decide their own affairs.

It was to crush the struggle of the people which was developing on all fronts and to pursue the agenda of subjugating them to the needs of the expansion of U.S. imperialism that the Trudeau government promulgated the War Measures Act on October 16, 1970. It was also proof of the submission of the Canadian state to the U.S. imperialist and NATO intelligence agencies which pursued Operation Chaos whose objective was infiltration of and even the creation of different organizations through which they themselves participated in terrorist activities to then blame the people to justify the repression.

The activities of the FLQ were used to justify the proclamation of the most draconian war measures ever imposed during peacetime. The aim was to break the organized movement of workers and people who demanded justice and decent working and living conditions. And Trudeau did not act alone but in tandem with the CIA’s worldwide “Operation Chaos” which included, among other things, state-organized terrorist attacks, coups d’état, assassinations, disappearances and rabid anti-communist propaganda, along with other dastardly operations. The Canadian government acted under the pressures and orders of the U.S. imperialists.


1. “Nothing Will Save the Reactionaries from Economic and Political Disaster,” People’s Canada Daily News, Vol. 1 No. 37, November 20, 1970.

2. “The Rising Revolutionary Initiative of the People Will Certainly Smash the Bluster of the Anglo-Canadian Reactionaries! – The National Executive of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) issues statement on the ‘War Measures Act’ – ‘Public Order Act,’ the situation in Canada and Quebec and the tasks of the Party,” Mass Line, Vol. 2 No. 37, December 10, 1970.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

Source: TML Weekly Information Project, Supplement, No. 38, October 10, 2020



Filed under Canada, History

2 responses to “50th anniversary of War Measures Act (I) – The significance of the proclamation of War Measures

  1. Pingback: 50th anniversary of War Measures Act (II) – Police power above the civil power: The true nature of Canadian democracy | Tony Seed's Weblog

  2. Pingback: 50th anniversary of War Measures Act (III) – State-sanctioned Black Ops and cover-ups | Tony Seed's Weblog

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