This Day. Anniversary of the Proclamation of War Measures in 1970

Police powers unjustly imprisoned hundreds uring 1970 “October Crisis”

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

October 16 marks the 51st anniversary of the proclamation of the War Measures Act by Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his Liberal government. 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 people of Quebec and all of Canada fought militantly in defence of democratic rights and freedoms and upheld Quebec’s right 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, and 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. This is what happened in 1970 and what the Canadian state continues to do today.

Among the victims of the persecution under the War Measures Act and the special measures taken before and after were many Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) members who spent months in jail along with many others arrested at that time. An Interpol warrant was even issued 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 to deprive him of citizenship for 30 years.

Of note is the fact that the list of persons imprisoned under the War Measures Act has never been 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.

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 in 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]

Youth pack Paul Sauvé Arena in Montreal on the eve of the invoking of the War Measures Act.
Toronto demonstration against the War Measures Act, 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.
Demonstration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 1970 following declaration of the War Measures Act.


1. La Presse, January 31, 1992.

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

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Filed under Canada, Canadian Forces, History

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