5 October 1970
On 5 October 1970 the gloves came off and the apparently irresistible democratic trajectory of Quebec toward some form of sovereignty was interrupted by political violence.
Early in the morning of that day, the Front de Libération du Québec escalated its terrorist attacks by kidnapping James Cross, the British trade commissioner in Montreal. In fact, this was not the first attack against citizens, as a number of people were killed in previous actions, but it was the very first time, the FLQ aimed a real person, as all the previous victims were “collateral damage’, when the flquists robbed weapons, money to finance their activities and so on.
Threatening to kill Cross, the FLQ gave authorities 48 hours to meet its seven demands, which included the broadcast of the FLQ manifesto on prime-time over the CBC and its affiliates across Quebec, its front-page publication in the major newspapers, the “liberation” of 23 “political prisoners” (in fact, only 20 of them were in jail, the other three were on bail). The demands also included the payment of “a voluntary tax” of $500, 000 in gold bullion to be placed on a plane which had to take the freed FLQ cadres to Cuba or to Algeria.
Non unexpectedly, both federal and provincial governments initially refused all the demands. They also took considerable pains to reject the allegations about the 23 “political prisoners”. They explained that these people were criminals convicted of terrorist actions, mainly armed robbery, bombings and murder when deaths had occurred during the commission of the offences.
Thus, all of them had, of course, been convicted of violations of the Criminal Code of Quebec. Yet everyone knew that their motives were political, however misguided. These young men were motivated by the romantic vision of a heroic freedom-fighter who courageously confronts the state and hopes to inspire the others to follow suit. In fact, the FLQ had already begun to win some public sympathy because of their harsh treatment by the justice system: some of these men had been held for over three years with neither bail nor trail. Even the first time offenders from the FLQ received sentences unprecedented in length.
Now, this issue of the “political prisoners” became the source of a split between the federal government in Ottawa and provincial government in Quebec. Both, Trudeau and Bourassa had only hours to make a final decision about the seven demands.