50th anniversary of War Measures Act (V) – Courageous resistance to military occupation and attempt to isolate Quebec

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

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.

By Christine Dandenault

When the government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau enacted the War Measures Act on October 16, 1970 and the army was deployed in the streets of Ottawa and Montreal before that and arrests began, opposition and resistance was immediate across the country. Students and youth, intellectuals, working people and other collectives in their thousands protested all across the country. The following account is taken from newspapers published by the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and its affiliated organizations at the time the events were taking place.

On the eve of the coming into force of the War Measures Act, 3,000 youth and students gathered at the Paul Sauvé Arena in Montreal to salute the spirit of uncompromising struggle against the fascism of the government and to support new developments in Quebec’s national liberation struggle. The next day, October 16, 1970, more than 300 students gathered to support the people’s struggle for national liberation and to publicly oppose the military occupation. More than 35,000 copies of a statement issued by the Communist Party of Quebec (Marxist-Leninist) was widely distributed, calling for opposition to the War Measures Act. “The working class moves into the political arena and begins to take independent action. All these things showed the weakness of the Canadian compradors and thwarted all their plans. In order to suppress the rising struggle of the people, they have now unleashed fascism on the Quebec people. These measures have not worked,” the statement reads.[1]

Rally at the University of Montreal, October 1970.

“In Montreal, students from McGill University, the University of Quebec, the School of Fine Arts, the University of Montreal and various CEGEPs rose in militant protest. Many students voted for a boycott of classes and at the Université du Québec, students organized a sit-in for several days, defying fascist intimidation by the authorities,” People’s Canada Daily News reported on October 27, 1970.[2]

“On October 19, in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Regina, Saskatchewan, mass demonstrations were organized in support of Quebec patriots and to denounce the War Measures Act […]. One thousand students participated in the rally in Regina. After the rally, 300 activists marched angrily to government buildings where they organized a powerful demonstration. In Vancouver, 1,500 demonstrators heard speakers at the courthouse supporting the struggle of the Quebec people and calling for total opposition to the measures imposed by the Trudeau lackey regime. Students from the University of Calgary did the same. After the rally, 300 students marched angrily to central Calgary in an act of defiance to express their militant protest against the government’s fascist measures.”[3] In Ottawa, on October 16, a meeting of more than 300 French-speaking students from the University of Ottawa voted by a two-thirds majority to strike against the War Measures Act.

A People’s Canada Daily News report states:

“Students from across the country defended their right to publish the FLQ manifesto in their student newspapers. In Alberta, authorities […] at the University of Lethbridge banned the distribution of The Meliorist newspaper and threatened the publishers with expulsion. In Halifax, commercial printers refused to print St. Mary’s Journal because it contained an editorial protesting the government’s attempt to ‘institutionalize the suppression of information in Canada.’ In Guelph, the RCMP seized a mock-up copy of a special issue of The Ontarion on the struggle of the people of Quebec and the War Measures Act. Other student newspapers, such as the University of Toronto’s Varsity, published the manifesto and various articles quoting statistics exposing the oppressive condition of the Quebec people and describing their long history of struggle for national liberation.”[4]

“On Friday, December 25, more than 1,000 members and sympathizers of various democratic and patriotic groups in Montreal held a demonstration in front of the Parthenais Detention Center to denounce the imprisonment of revolutionary fighters and Quebec patriots,” PCDN reported. The action was led by the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDP) founded in 1968 during the uprising of workers and students to defend them against ongoing persecution.[5]

One year later, on the anniversary of the use of the War Measures Act, the newspaper Le Québec populaire reported that in Montreal, on October 16, 1971, “more than 7,000 people demonstrated on the first anniversary of the imposition of the fascist ‘war measures’ law on the people of Quebec. The law was denounced as a dirty attempt to crush revolutionaries and patriots and to stifle the national liberation struggle.”[6]

On the same day, in Toronto, a “rally took place at Nathan Philips Square, followed by a demonstration along Toronto’s main streets to the U.S. imperialist consulate.”[7]

The articles in the Party press testify to the failure of attempts by the Trudeau government and police forces to isolate the people of Quebec and crush their resistance struggles. Ongoing demonstrations took place to demand the release of the political prisoners, and the affirmation of the rights of workers, students, Indigenous peoples and the Quebec people themselves.

Since then, one event after another has shown that the striving of the people of Quebec and all of Canada to gain control of decision-making power over all matters that concern them cannot be resolved by the police and military powers. Political problems require political solutions, which the ruling elite refuses to provide. The arrangements where power remains in the hands of a privileged few are unsustainable because they are self-serving and because the narrow private interests keep fighting for more. The people cannot agree with that. 

Today, no problem can be solved without the full participation of the people of Quebec and Canada at the centre of decision-making. To think otherwise is to maintain illusions about the current outdated and bankrupt political process.

Today, in this time of pandemic, the problem remains. On October 1, the Quebec government issued an order-in-council imposing new containment measures in response to the numerous COVID-19 outbreaks occurring in Quebec. These were accompanied by new policing powers announced by Premier François Legault and Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault. How can the response to a pandemic and all the social, medical, educational, mental health and containment issues be police powers? This response serves the pursuit of the neo-liberal agenda by governments in the hands of a financial oligarchy. It stands against the solutions being put forward by the thousands of workers in health, education and throughout the society who are on the frontlines and working to resolve the crisis in their favour.

Today, as before, these real problems can only be solved with the full political and ideological mobilization of the human factor/social consciousness, not with the criminalization of different collectives, including the youth. The people have never given up the struggle to vest themselves with the power to decide all the issues that concern them. They expressed this vigorously during the War Measures Act in 1970 and affirm it today in the extremely difficult and complex conditions of COVID-19 as they confront a governance that blocks the solution of problems and once again resorts to criminalizing dissent.

Notes

1. “The Quebec People’s Unarmed Struggle Will Become Armed!” Statement by the Communist Party of Quebec (Marxist-Leninist), People’s Canada Daily News, October 17, 1970

2. “Canadian Workers and Students Stand Firmly Behind Quebec People,” People’s Canada Daily News, October 27, 1970.

3. “The Resistance Movement Will Develop People’s Democratic Power,” People’s Canada Daily News, October 27, 1970.

4. “Canadian Workers and Students Stand Firmly Behind Quebec People,” People’s Canada Daily News, October 27, 1970.

5. “CDDP Leads Mass Demonstrations in Montreal,” People’s Canada Daily News, January 20, 1971.

6. “More than 7,000 people demonstrate for the struggle for national liberation and against fascism,” Le Québec populaire, October 18, 1971.

7. “Demonstration in Toronto against American imperialism and in support of the national liberation struggle of the Quebec people,” Le Québec populaire, October 18, 1971.

(Photos: TML, CC)

TML Weekly, October 17, 2020 – No. 39

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Filed under Canada, History, Working Class

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