War Measures Act
As soon as Robert Bourassa's government took its decision to negotiate with the FLQ and to accept the term "political prisoners", the federal government made clear its opposition to this step.
Elliott Trudeau had no doubt that such a course would accelerate Quebec's path toward separation and make Rene Levesque premier de facto. Today everyone admits that had Trudeau not acted decisively, his worst fears might well have been quickly realized given the tempo of events in Quebec. Did he go much further than was necessary under the circumstances? Some think he should have done nothing and not to meddle. Some others approve his actins without question. It's perhaps too early to give an answer to the question.
But Trudeau was never one to take half or quarter measures when it came to exploiting an opportunity to squash or to humble Quebecois nationalism, for which he had nothing but contempt. On 14 October 1970 Canadian troops are sent into Ottawa. The next day the troops enter in Quebec. The military are positioned everywhere in Montreal. At 4 a.m. on 16 October 1970 the War Measures Act - WMA was invoked by the federal government. Ottawa declared that a state of “apprehended insurrection" existed in Quebec.
That day Canada became the only western democracy to use war powers during peacetime. Since the WMA was a federal status, all civil rights and liberties across Canada were technically suspended, but the WMA was applied mostly to Quebec. Over five thousand troops were deployed in the province. The membership in the FLQ was declared a retroactive crime, punishable by five years in prison. Having associated with a member of the FLQ also became a crime. Giving any assistance the FLQ or to a member of the FLQ, making any statement that appeared to advocate the aims of the FLQ, were all similarly punishable by a prison term of five years. Any person could be arrested without charge, held incommunicado and without bail for 21 days, as well as without trail for 90 days.
The first day, 242 people were arrested, 50 of whom had run for the Parti Quebecois in the April election. Those arrested included labour leaders, community activists and those known for effective opposition to any of the three levels of government. By the end of the arrests, 456 were in prison, their homes and offices ransacked and searched, their families and neighbours terrorized.
The WMA gave the Canadian government dictatorial powers over virtually every aspect of Canadian life. The immediate public reaction in English Canada was massive support for Trudeau and his measures. A poll three days after the proclamation found that 87 per cent of Canadians supported toe move. In the House of Commons, NDP leader Tommy Douglas, in what was his finest hour in federal politics, stood alone with 15 members of his caucus, to oppose the WMA. The whole country clapped…