50th anniversary of War Measures Act (IV) – Honour to those unjustly imprisoned during the 1970 ‘October Crisis’

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

Rally of 1,500 in Vancouver, October 19, 1970, one of many actions across the country supporting the Quebec people’s struggle and opposing imposition of the War Measures Act.

Youth fill Paul Sauvé Arena in Montreal in support of Quebec national liberation on the eve of the declaration of the War Measures Act in October 1970. A number of the youth in attendance are among those arrested in the raids which follow the Act being invoked.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the War Measures Act by Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his Liberal government, the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) salutes all those who were unjustly imprisoned and persecuted on that occasion and all who fought militantly in defence of democratic rights and freedoms and who, to this day, continue to uphold the right of Quebec to self-determination, up to and including secession if the Quebec people so decide. Unless the Canadian federation is a free and equal union of all its members, including the Indigenous peoples, where sovereignty is vested in the people, the oppressive Anglo-Canadian state in the service of U.S. imperialism will continue to launch acts of state violence based on racism, anti-worker and anti-communist ideology and pose a danger to the peoples of this land, no matter what their national origin, beliefs, language, gender, age or ability. And this is what it is in deed continuing to do today.

Victims of the persecution under the War Measures Act and the special measures taken before and after include many CPC(M-L) members who spent months in jail along with many others arrested at that time. An Interpol warrant was even issued at the time for the arrest of the Party’s leader Hardial Bains against whom several assassination attempts, frame-ups and other acts of political persecution were also organized under the CIA’s Operation Chaos, including depriving him of citizenship for 30 years.

CPC(M-L) vigorously participated across the country in organizing Canadians to oppose the use of the War Measures Act and arbitrary measures and the violence of the state. In Quebec, Party members organized without letup for the freedom of the political prisoners.

Freedom by Marcel Barbeau (click to enlarge).

On October 16, 2010, a commemorative monument in honour of those unjustly imprisoned during the 1970 October Crisis was erected in Montreal outside the premises of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. The idea of the monument is simple, said René Bataille, then-President of the Fondation Octobre 70 which raised the funds for the monument and presided over its inauguration.

“People whose names have been engraved into the steel were jailed under Trudeau’s War Measures Act. That is why the monument’s column is surrounded by prison bars. The work of art, entitled Freedom, by [painter and sculptor] Marcel Barbeau blends well with the monument’s concept. Freedom is imprisoned during the October Crisis. The bird on the sculpture represents Quebec. It is imprisoned. However it would not take much for it to fly off and be free.”

Of note is the fact that the list of persons imprisoned by virtue of the War Measures Act was never made public. Journalists and historians who have looked into the events estimate that between 500 and 1,000 arrests were made, and between 10,000 and 15,000 warrants served.

When the monument was inaugurated Bernard Landry, former Premier of Quebec, said:

“We have a duty to remember and express gratitude towards those who were the victims of an injustice which has brought shame to Canada.”

“Does a democracy brutally send 500 people to prison without charge, without them having broken the law? This is not forgotten and must not be forgotten. Abuse of power is always possible,” Landry said.

“Surely we all know that the best way of honouring those unjustly imprisoned is to bring the country’s project to term,” he concluded.

Three public commissions of inquiry (Duchaîne, Keable and McDonald) found a total lack of justification for the adoption of such extreme and unprecedented measures as the suspension of civil rights at a time of peace. It should be remembered that the October 14-15, 1970 Trudeau cabinet meetings revealed that the federal caucus of ministers was perfectly aware that the police would arrest hundreds of innocent people without expecting to find the two FLQ hostages.[1] The commissions brought to light the many illegal and even criminal activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Quebec soil.[2]

This year, on October 1, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the War Measures Act in 1970, the Parti Québécois presented a motion to the National Assembly of Quebec demanding an official apology from the federal government for the imprisonment of hundreds of Quebeckers during the October crisis. The Liberal Party of Quebec refused to support the initiative.

The motion was handed over to journalists the same day by the interim leader of the Parti Québécois, Pascale Bérubé. It reads:

“That the National Assembly recall that 50 years ago, in October 1970, no less than 497 Quebeckers were unjustly arrested and imprisoned and 36,000 people were the subject of an unreasonable search because of their independentist political allegiance.

“That the National Assembly demand an official apology from the Prime Minister of Canada as well as the complete opening of the archives of all federal institutions involved in these sad events, in order to shed light once and for all on this troubled period in our history.”

At the press briefing, Bérubé explained that on the 50th anniversary of this troubled period in Quebec and Canadian history, the tabling of this motion is both “a duty to remember and a necessity for all those who have seen their rights trampled by the War Measures Act.”

CPC(M-L) concurs. Open the archives and right the wrongs committed at that time.

Honour to all those unjustly imprisoned during the 1970 “October Crisis” and to their spouses, parents, children, friends and colleagues who were caught in the maelstrom.

Red salute to all who continue to fight for the rights of all under all conditions and circumstances.

Notes

1. La Presse, January 31, 1992.

2. TML Weekly Supplement on 50th Anniversary of the War Measures Act Invoked in 1970, October 10, 2020

(Text of PQ motion translated from original French by TML. Photos: Wikipedia, CC, V. Keremidshieff)

TML Weekly, October 17, 2020 – No. 39

 

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