10 October 1970 : Pierre Laporte is kidnapped
On 10 October 1970, the FLQ kidnaps Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte in a further escalation of the confrontation in the province of Quebec. Jean Drapeau, the mayor of Montreal, is the first to call to take a hard line, rejecting any idea of concessions or negotiation with the terrorists. However, the former unity of position that had characterized the Ottawa, Quebec and Montreal authorities cracked and the collapsed completely under a growing demand that negotiations be opened to save the lives of James Cross and Pierre Laporte.
The day after Laporte’ abduction, Premier Robert Bourassa of Quebec broke ranks. It was partly as a result of a letter from Laporte begging that he and Cross be exchanged for the FLQ “political prisoners”. In his statement, Bourassa used this term – political prisoners, and he offered to open official negotiations in order to exchange Cross and Laporte for the liberation of imprisoned FLQ members.
In addition, sixteen prominent leaders of Quebec, including Rene Levesque, the leaders of the major trade unions, the leader of the Catholic Farmer’s Union, and the editor of Le Devoir, one of the major news-papers, issued a joint statement declaring that the crisis was a Quebec issue and had to be solved by Québécois. The statement said: We most urgently recommend negotiations to exchange the two hostages for political prisoners, and these negotiations must be made in the teeth of all objections from those outside Quebec.” The Quebec government appointed lawyer Robert Demers as its representative.
The FLQ named lawyer Robert Lemieux, who had represented FLQ militants in the courts. Elliott Trudeau’s government made clear its opposition to Quebec’s decision to negotiate and to use the term “political prisoners”. For Trudeau, the FLQers were nothing more than criminals, bandits and outlaws. During a famous confrontation with TV journalist Tim Ralfe on the steps of Canadian Parliament, the prime minister justified his initial deployment of troops in Ottawa and Montreal to protect public buildings and officials. He used the term “parallel power” and said that the society should take means to prevent the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power”.
When asked by Ralfe how far Trudeau would go, his answer left no room for doubt: Just watch me. I think that goes to any distance.
Meanwhile, colleges and university student activists organized meetings to discuss the FLQ Manifesto. In some cases proposals for student strike in support of the document’s program were expressed. On 15 October 1970 a huge rally of students in Montréal Paul Sauve’s Arena had place. There the crowd gathered demonstrated its wholehearted support for the Manifesto.
The same day, the Quebec government announced its final offer: the release of five of the FLQ prisoners in exchange for James Cross and Pierre Laporte.
Meanwhile, the federal government was convinced that any concessions to the FLQ would amount to a total capitulation to an illegal power derived from the kidnappings and execution threats. The greatest fury of the federal government was reserved however for Bourassa’s capitulation. Trudeau had no doubt that such a course would accelerate Quebec’s path toward separation. Ottawa was ready to impede this by all means.