Pierre Trudeau gave this impassioned broadcast during a
period that came to be known as the ‘October crisis’ – the effects of which are still felt in Canada today.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau was one of Canada’s most popular leaders – bilingual, cultured, suave and stylish, he had wide appeal.
However, he was often accused of arrogance and his occasional flippant remarks were infamous. Addressing agriculture students in 1979, he said: ‘Farmers are professional complainers.
When there is too much sun, they complain. When there is too much rain, they complain. A farmer is a complainer.’
Trudeau was born in 1919 in Montreal, Quebec and studied at Montreal, Harvard and London before becoming a lawyer. From 1961 until 1965 he was Professor of Law at the University of Montreal. He then entered politics, becoming an MP in 1965.
In February 1968, as Minister of Justice, he introduced a Bill of Rights, aimed at guaranteeing the protection of language rights for French-speaking citizens throughout Canada. In April of the same year, he succeeded Lester Pearson as party leader.
In June 1968, under Trudeau’s leadership, the Liberal Party was swept to power with 155 seats and the new Prime Minister began to introduce what he referred to as the ‘Just Society’, creating new departments to deal with urgent problems, including Environment, Science and Technology, Communications and Urban Affairs. His key aims were to meet the needs of society through innovation, and also to strengthen the sense of national unity.
Despite his Quebec origins, Trudeau was a firm opponent of nationalism and had no sympathies for those promoting secession for Quebec, a conflict that was to come to a head during his time in office in the ‘October crisis’ of 1970. At the height of this struggle he took charge of a hostage incident when Quebec Nationalists captured a British diplomat and a Quebecois minister. Trudeau’s response was to invoke the War Measures Act and suspend civil liberties. In his famous speech at this time he took a very firm line, refusing to bow to the demands of the kidnappers, who eventually released their British captive, although the minister was murdered.
Trudeau’s death on 28 September 2000 was followed by a general state of mourning for a genuinely popular leader who inspired respect and a sense of national pride in the majority of Canadians.
I am speaking to you at a moment of grave crisis, when violent and fanati men are attempting to destroy the unity and the freedom of Canada. One of that crisis is the threat which has been made on the lives of two innocent men. These are matters of the utmost gravity and I want to tell you what Government is doing to deal with them.
What has taken place in Montreal in the past two weeks is not unprecedented. It has happen elsewhere in the world on several recent occasions; it could elsewhere within Canada. But Canadians have always assumed that it could not happen here and as a result we are doubly shocked that it has.
Our assumption may have been naive, but it was understandable; underst endable because democracy flourishes in Canada; understandable because individividual liberty is cherished in Canada.
Notwithstanding these conditions – partly because of them – it has now been demonstrated to us by a few misguided persons just how fragile a democratic society can be, if democracy is not prepared to defend itself, and just how vulnerable to blackmail are tolerant, compassionate people.
‘Democracy flourishes in Canada; … individual liberty is cherished in Canada.’
The governments of Canada and Quebec have been told by groups of self- styled revolutionaries that they intend to murder in cold blood two innocent men unless their demands are met. The kidnappers claim they act as they do in order to draw attention to instances of social injustice. But I ask them whose attention are they seeking to attract. The Government of Canada? The Government of Quebec? Every government in this country is well aware of the existence of deep and important social problems. And every government to the limit of its resources and ability is deeply committed to their solution. But not by kidnappings and bombings. By hard work. And if any doubt exists about the good faith or the ability of any government, there are opposition parties ready and willing to be given an opportunity to govern. In short there is available everywhere in Canada an effective mechanism to change governments by peaceful means. It has been employed by disenchanted voters again and again. Who are the kidnap victims? To the victims’ families they are husbands and fathers. To the kidnappers their identity is immaterial. The kidnappers’ purposes would be served equally well by having in their grip you or me, or perhaps some child. Their purpose is to exploit the normal, human feelings of Canadians and to bend those feelings of sympathy into instruments for their own violent and revolutionary ends.
‘Freedom and personal security are safeguarded by laws; those laws must be respected.’
What are the kidnappers demanding in return for the lives of these men? Several things. For one, they want their grievances aired by force in public on the assumption, no doubt, that all right-thinking persons would be persuaded that the problems of the world can be solved by shouting slogans and insults.
They want more, they want the police to offer up as a sacrificial lamb a person whom they assume assisted in the lawful arrest and proper conviction of certain of their criminal friends.
They also want money. Ransom money. They want still more. They demand the release from prison of 17 criminals, and the dropping of charges against six other men, all of whom they refer to as ‘political prisoners’. Who are these men who are held out as latter-day patriots and martyrs? Let me describe them to you.
Three are convicted murderers; five others were jailed for manslaughter; one is serving a life imprisonment after having pleaded guilty to numerous charges related to bombings; another has been convicted of 17 armed robberies; two were once paroled but are now back in jail awaiting trial on charges of robberies.
Yet we are being asked to believe that these persons have been unjustly dealt with, that they have been imprisoned as a result of their political opinions, and that they deserve to be freed immediately, without recourse to due process of law. The responsibility of deciding whether to release one or other of these criminals is that of the Federal Government. It is a responsibility that the Government will discharge according to law. To bow to the pressures of these kidnappers who demand that the prisoners be released would be not only an abdication of responsibility, it would lead to an increase in terrorist activities in Quebec. It would be as well an invitation to terrorism and kidnapping across the cuntry. We might well find ourselves facing an endless series of demands for the release of criminals from jails, from coast to coast, and we would find that the he could be innocent members of your family or mine.
At the moment the FLQ is holding hostage two men in the Montreal are, one a British diplomat, the other a Quebec cabinet minister. They are threatened with murder. Should governments give in to this crude blackmail we would be facing the breakdown of the legal system, and its replacement by the law of the jungle.
The Government’s decision to prevent this from happening is not taken just to defend an important principle, it is taken to protect the lives of Canadian from dangers of the sort I have mentioned. Freedom and personal security are safeguarded by laws; those laws must be respected in order to be effective
‘The criminal law as it stands is simply not adequate to deal with systematic terrorism.’
If it is the responsibility of Government to deny the demands of the kidnappears the safety of the hostages is without question the responsibility of the kidnappers. Only the most twisted form of logic could conclude otherwise. Nothing that either the Government of Canada or the Government of Quebec has done or failed to do, now or in the future, could possibly excuse any injury to either these two innocent men. The guns pointed at their heads have FLQ fingers on the triggers. Should any injury result, there is no explanation that could condone the acts. Should there be harm done to these men, the Government promises unceasing pursuit of those responsible.
During the past 12 days, the Governments of Canada and Quebec have been engaged in constant consultations. The course followed in this matter had the full support of both governments, and of the Montreal municipal authorities. In order to save the lives of Mr Cross and Mr Laporte, we have engaged in communications with the kidnappers .
… If a democratic society is to continue to exist, it must be able to root out the cancer of an armed, revolutionary movement that is bent on destroying the very basis of our freedom. For that reason the Government, following an analysis of the facts, including requests of the Government of Quebec and the City Montreal for urgent action, decided to proclaim the War Measures Act. It did so at 4.00 am this morning, in order to permit the full weight of Government to be brought quickly to bear on all those persons advocating or practising violence as a means of achieving political ends.
The War Measures Act gives sweeping powers to the Government. It also suspends the operation of the Canadian Bill of Rights. I can assure you that the Government is most reluctant to seek such powers, and did so only when it became crystal clear that the situation could not be controlled unless some extraordinary assistance was made available on an urgent basis.
The authority contained in the Act will permit Governments to deal effectively with the nebulous yet dangerous challenge to society represented by the terrorist organizations. The criminal law as it stands is simply not adequate to deal with systematic terrorism.
The police have therefore been given certain extraordinary powers necessary for the effective detection and elimination of conspiratorial organisations which advocate the use of violence. These organizations, and membership in them, have been declared illegal. The powers include the right to search and arrest without warrant, to detain suspected persons without the necessity of laying specific charges immediately, and to detain persons without bail.
These are strong powers and I find them as distasteful as I am sure do you. They are necessary, however, to permit the police to deal with persons who advocate or promote the violent overthow of our democratic system. In short, I assure you that the Government recognizes its grave responsibilities in interfering in certain cases with civil liberties, and that it remains answerable to the people of Canada for its actions. The Government will revoke this proclamation as soon as possible.
As I said in the House of Commons this morning, the government will allow sufficient time to pass to give it the necessary experience to assess the type of statute which may be required in the present circumstances.
It is my firm intention to discuss then with the leaders of the Opposition parties the desirability of introducing legislation of a less comprehensive nature. In this respect I earnestly solicit from the leaders and from all Honourable members constructive suggestions for the amendment of the regulations. Such suggestions will be given careful consideration for possible inclusion in any new statute.
Pierre Trudeau gave this impassioned broadcast during a