Crime in the national interest

Crime in the national interest
Map, evolution of policy, crime in the national interest

Crime in the national interest

I understood that he (DGIS John Starnes) had been directed by them (Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Solicitor General Jean-Pierre Goyer) to see that the FLQ was put to sleep or, you know, that it didn’t do its 1970 thing again.

Inspector Don Cobb, interview by A/Comm. Quintal, Sup. Nowlan, 20 July 1977. LAC, AtIP 93A00238, p. 199.

By the end of 1969, Canada was ‘in a tough spot”. The situation in Quebec had become critical, with 60-some bombings or attempted bombings in the previous year, students and striking workers in the streets, influence of growing unrest in Europe, particularly in Germany and France, and the United States.

But there was another, more serious, problem, one that amounted to an existential crisis that threatened to tear the country apart. A problem that, apart from a handful of officials at the top of Canada’s Department of External Affairs, military, the RCMP Security Service, certain academic advisors, and some ministers, particularly Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, of which most Canadians were blissfully unaware. A threat posed by events in the international diplomatic  corridors of power, quite apart from the waves of  labour unrest and strikes, disorder and violence in the streets of Quebec, the fusion of student unrest with unrest in Europe, particularly in Germany, France and Italy, itself driven by opposition to the Vietnam War and to the treatment of Blacks within US society. Added to  the revulsion felt by the growing awareness of young Germans of the horrors of the Second World War, and what their parents and neighbors might have done.

Berlin visit of the Shah of Iran

In Germany, in the Spring of 1967, preparations were being made for the nine-day visit of the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, and his wife Farah. Certain opponents of the Shah were taken into protective custody, with no legal justification. On the 7th of June, a demonstration, led by Iranian students in Berlin, who inspired members of the Socialist German Student Union, was met with brutality of the security guards of the Shah, and of the German police. A policeman shot at a student of literature, a pacifist and member of a Protestant student community, Benno Ohnesorg, attending his first demonstration. The bullet struck his head, killing him.

The events in Berlin that day set alight a powder train that led to Paris, and the explosive events of May, 1968. These, in turn, inspired student in Quebec, joining the student unrest of Berkeley, the opposition to the war in Vietnam, and the struggle of African Americans for liberty and justice.

It also led to the further radicalization of Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, and Gudrun Ensslin, the Rot Arme Faktion (RAF), and what became known as the Baader Meinhof Band. Soon to be responsible for on of the most serious episodes of terrorist violence in post-war Europe.

There developed a perfect storm, a fusion of factors that would profoundly influence events in Quebec. The Geist turned towards violence.

Vive le Quebec Libre

The most important disturbing element was the support France’s President, Charles de Gaulle, gave to Quebec separation and to the associated political and social forces. De Gaulle’s “Vive le Quebec Libre” speech before an adoring crowd before Montreal City Hall, on the 24th of July, 1967. Mario Bachand being one of the spectators.

Crime in the national interest

It was  the sum total of these elements that led the government of Pierre Trudeau to begin measures to enable ‘Crime in the national interest’, which soon developed sinister implication.

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