Trudeau's Darkest Hour
Forty years ago, October 16, 1970, in the middle of the night the government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau proclaimed the War Measures Act following two political kidnappings by the Front de liberation du Québec. Under the War Measures the Constitution and all civil liberties were suspended. 12,500 troops were sent into Quebec —7,500 in Montreal alone. (For comparison, 8000 troops were sent to Dieppe in August 1942, a major Canadian operation; and a maximum of 3000 Canadian troops have deployed to Afghanistan.) 500 men, women, and children were arrested without charges, detained incommunicado, without bail and without the right to communicate with a lawyer. Many of those arrested were poets, writers, artists, and grass-roots organizers. The combined police forces (RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal City Police) entered and searched more than 10,000 homes without warrant. Two days after War Measures were proclaimed, one of the hostages, Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte, was found dead in the trunk of a car.
It is a wonder that Pierre Trudeau maintains the aura, internationally and domestically, of the consummate liberal and progressive. Time has come to reassess his record and the best place to start is his proclamation of War Measures in October 1970. For a starter, people should know that one of the first to congratulate Trudeau was Nixon’s National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger, the man who has admitted that he was already in the process of organizing a coup against Salvador Allende.
To justify War Measures, the Trudeau government claimed that Quebec was in a state of “apprehended insurrection.” In the speech on television explaining the measures, Trudeau spoke of the two kidnappings, the request for help received from the government of Quebec, and “confused minds” in Quebec. Studies have shown however that the leading police force, the RCMP, was opposed to invoking such sweeping measures as a means to free the hostages and arrest the kidnappers. In an exhaustive study based on hitherto confidential documents, security expert and political scientist Reg Whitaker pointed out that “the RCMP never asked for the War Measures Act, were not consulted as to its usefulness, and would have opposed it if they had been asked their opinion.” It has also been shown out that Prime Minister Trudeau’s Principle Secretary Marc Lalonde drafted the Quebec government’s request for War Measures and personally carried the letter to Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa and oversaw its signing. The third reason, “confused minds,” does not even deserve an answer. Since when is “confusion” a reason for suspending the Constitution and all civil liberties?
War measures were devised for war, whence the name of the act introduced into Canada’s political lives in August 1914. War measures were invoked in Canada during the both World Wars. Under War Measures, the federal government can use all the powers it deems useful—and it alone is judge—to achieve its goals. The government is not required to obtain authorization from anybody. The measures entitled Trudeau in 1970 to say exactly what Louis XIV said three centuries earlier, “L’État, c’est moi.”
War Measures suspend civil liberties and judicial rights. Censorship is applied, and suspicion, distrust, and denunciations run rampant. When Montreal morning man Rod Dewar declared on October 16, 1970, “I went to bed in a democracy and awoke to find myself in a police state,” he was immediately suspended.
(The full article is available online via CounterPunch.org.)