Friday, February 29, 2008

October 1970

The standard view of the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 is Pierre Trudeau was using a sledgehammer -- the army -- to crush an ant -- the FLQ.
But maybe there was more to it.
William Tetley, a law professor at McGill, was in Robert Bourassa's cabinet in 1970. He believes Claude Ryan worked to establish a "provisional government" in Quebec during the FLQ crisis.
The timeline is interesting. In the excerpts from his book, The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider's View (McGill-Queens, 2006), Tetley says Ryan, along with senior members of his staff at LeDevoir, met after the kidnapping of James Cross (and before Pierre Laporte was abducted) to plan some sort of regime of "worthies" that would take over from Robert Bourassa, who was seen to be young, weak and inexperienced. The regime would have been centred on Montreal's city hall. Rene Levesque, Jacques Parizeau and senior Liberals were approached. Here are some of the pertinent passages from Tetley's book:
The proof lies in several pieces of evidence. First, on is October 25, 1970, the night of his election victory, Jean Drapeau referred to attempts to put in place a "provisional government." The next day, Peter C. Newman, editor of the Toronto Star, wrote an unsigned article, which claimed that there had been a plot to replace the government of Robert Bourassa- - an article that was later attributed to Star journalist Dennis Braithwaite - and on 27 October the journalist Pierre-C. O'Neil wrote in La Presse of attempts to create a "provisional government" or a "government of public safety." That same day, in a press release, Robert Bourassa referred to the concept of a parallel government: "Premier Robert Bourassa formally denied, yesterday, being influenced in some way by the hypothesis `so illusory as a supposed project of parallel government' in his decision to request the federal government for the application of the War Measures Act."

Then, on 30 October 1970, Ryan, in answer to growing rumours and public commentary, finally admitted, in an editorial in Le Devoir, that he had actually discussed the issue of a provisional government on Sunday, 11 October 1970, with the four senior members of his staff, whom he had especially called to the Le Devoir offices for that purpose. There he had presented three alternatives: i) Bourassa taking a hard line;) Bourassa being unable to act, which would require "the creation of a provisional government team made up of the worthiest elements of the several provincial parties, reinforced by a few political personalities from various circles" …
Rvan went on to state that, emboldened by this meeting, and "it having been agreed that [he] should consult certain persons privately and confidentially," he immediately telephoned Lucien Saulnier, chairman of the Cit. of Montreal's Executive Committee, that afternoon (11 October 1970). The two men then had a conversation that was "purely private, consultative and confidential." Saulnier apparently turned Ryan down but spoke to Mayor Jean Drapeau, who referred to the matter on municipal election night, 25 October 1970.


My own research shows Pierre Trudeau was asked by reporters several times during the October Crisis about plans for a "provisional government". Suspending civil liberties and sending troops into Quebec to deal with a handful of very amateur terrorists -- and the government not only knew the true size of the threat but even knew the personal identities of the kidnappers by Oct. 16, 1970 -- makes no sense.
Now Bourassa and Drapeau's request for troops and the War Measures Act is quite understandable, as is Trudeau's quick response. Sending the army in to make a clear statement that the federal government was prepared to protect the constitutional authority of the federal and provincial government from Claude Ryan and his fellow "worthiests" makes all the sense in the world.
So, too, do the words "apprehended insurrection".

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