As a prelude to the dramatic events, since 1963, terrorists calling themselves the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) had committed over 200 violent crimes, including numerous bombings that killed several people, one of which was a major blast at the Montreal Stock Exchange on February 13, 1969 that injured 27 people. Further, they burgled military and industrial sites, accumulating several tons of dynamite. After many of these deeds, they made their warnings to the public of more murders and bombings to come through an official communication organ known as La Cognée. These terrorists funded their activities with armed bank hold-ups.
By 1970, 23 members of the FLQ were in jail, including four convicted murderers. On February 26, 1970 two men in a panel truck were arrested in Montreal when they were discovered to have a sawed-off shotgun and a communiqué announcing the kidnapping of the Israeli consul. One of them was a man named Jacques Lanctôt. In June, police raided a home north of Montreal in the small community of Prévost in the Laurentian Mountains and found firearms, 300 pounds of dynamite, ammunition, detonators and the draft of a ransom note to be used in the kidnapping of the United States consul.
Seminal events of the 1970 October Crisis:
The use of the War Measures Act has long been a subject of debate in Canada, and the events of September 11, 2001 revived the issue. In 1970, due to the known existence of several terrorist cells and previous terrorist bombings by the FLQ, the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, requested Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to invoke the War Measures Act which would put the country under de facto martial law in order to deal with the situation. Prime Minister Trudeau agreed and the act was invoked for the first time in peacetime and the military was called out to increase security of essential locations and personnel.
Under the War Measures Act, 118 residents of Quebec who were known communist supporters or sympathizers of the FLQ, as well as those suspected of being part of it, were subsequently arrested and held according to the law for questioning, without charge or trial for several days. Pierre Laporte was eventually found murdered by his captors while James Cross was freed after 60 days as a result of negotiations with the kidnappers who requested exile to Cuba rather than face trial in Quebec. The cell members responsible for Laporte were arrested and charged with kidnapping and murder.
This incident proved to be the most serious terrorist attack in Canada's history and the response by the government still sparks controversy. However, at the time, opinion polls showed overwhelming support in Quebec for the War Measures Act. A few critics believed that Prime Minister Trudeau was being excessive in using the War Measures Act to suspend civil liberties and that the precedent set by this incident was dangerous. The size of the FLQ organization and the number of sympathizers in the public was not known. As such, the authorities had no real idea of the scale of terrorist events that could happen. Also, for years, the wording of the FLQ communiqués strove to present an image of a powerful organization spread secretly throughout all milieus of society. Supporters of the government's strong measures also point out that there have been no equivalent terrorist incidents since 1970 and it might well be because the vigorous response by the government has been a deterrent.
Regardless, 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.
For details and photographs of the people involved, see: Front de Libération du Québec.