In 1963, they were organized and trained by Georges Schoeters, an itinerant Belgian revolutionary, whose hero was Che Guevara. On October 7, 1963 Schoeters was given 2 five-year prison terms for political crimes. At least two of the FLQ members had also received guerrilla training in selective assassination from Palestinian commandos in Jordan.
Various cells emerged over time: The Viger Cell, the Dieppe Cell, the Louis Riel Cell (see:Louis Riel), the Nelson Cell, The Saint-Denis Cell, the Liberation Cell and the Chenier Cell. The latter of these two cells were involved in what became known as the "October Crisis."
From 1963 to 1970, the FLQ committed over 200 political actions, including bombings, bank hold-ups and at least three deaths by FLQ bombs and two deaths by gunfire. In 1963, Gabriel Hudon and Raymond Villeneuve were sentenced to 12 years in prison for crimes against the state after their bomb killed Sgt. O'Neill, a watchman at Montreal's Canadian Army Recruitment Center. By 1970, twenty-three members of the FLQ were in jail, including four convicted murderers, and one member had been killed by his own bomb. Targets included English owned businesses, banks, McGill University, and the homes of prominent English speakers in the wealthy Westmount area of the city.
As a Marxist group, the FLQ was also greatly opposed to the United States's ruling class and one cell supposedly plotted to blow up the Statue of Liberty, but they were apprehended before this could occur.
In 1966 a secret eight-page document entitled Revolutionary Srategy and the Role of the Avant-Garde was prepared by the FLQ outlining its long term strategy of successive waves of robberies, violence, bombings and kidnappings, culminating in insurrection and revolution.
On October 5, 1970, members of the FLQ's Liberation cell kidnapped James Richard Cross, the British Trade Commissioner. Shortly afterwards, on October 10, the Chénier cell kidnapped the Quebec Vice-Premier and Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, whom they later murdered on October 17, 1970.
In July 1980, police arrested and charged a sixth person in connection with the Cross kidnapping. Nigel Barry Hamer, a British radical socialist and FLQ sympathizer, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
Although the five terrorists who wanted to go to Cuba were exiled from Canada for life, they were later found to be living in Paris, France. Over the years, despite being exiled for life, all of the FLQ members wanted to come back to Canada. The Federal Government consented. On their return:
The kidnappings and murder prompted Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to declare martial law under the War Measures Act -- which had only been used twice before in Canada's history, both in times of war. The October Crisis as it is referred to, was the first terrorist crisis in modern Canadian history. Pierre Laporte's killing was only the second political assassination in Canadian history since Thomas D'Arcy McGee was murdered in 1868.
The events of October 1970 galvanized a loss of support for violent means for Quebec secession that had gone on for nearly ten years, and increased support for the secessionist political party, the Parti Québécois, which took power in 1976. Nevertheless, terrorist activities continue from certain of the organization's members.
In 2001, Rhéal Mathieu, a member who in 1967 was sentenced to 9 years in prison for terrorist activities, was convicted of the attempted firebombing of three Second Cup coffee shops in Montreal. Mathieu targeted Canada's largest specialty coffee retailer because of the company's use of its incorporated English name Second Cup. For this offence, a judge sentenced Rhéal Mathieu to one month in jail. Shortly thereafter, seven McDonald's restaurants were firebombed. After the media coverage of the firebombings, Second Cups in Quebec changed their signs to Les cafés Second Cup. This follows the example set by many other stores in the past, some of which had even francized their trademark such as The Bay (La Baie) and Staples (Bureau en gros). (See Charter of the French Language.)