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.
An existential threat
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, particularly Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, of which most Canadians were blissfully unaware.
A threat posed by events in the 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.
Rot Arme Faktion, Baader-Meinhof, European terrorism
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 one 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 that 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.
From that point, Quebecers were aware that France, the most important and influential European power, member of the UN Security Council, closely linked to several African and other francophone countries across the globe, supported Quebec separation from Canada independence. Given that separation and independence can only succeed by international recognition, via the United Nations, the support of France posed an existential threat.
The loss of Quebec, with almost a quarter of Canada’s population and of its land mass, which played a major historical role in Canada’s construction, would leave the country torn asunder. The resulting social, political, and economic violence and disorder would make her easy prey to predatory nations, particularly the adjacent United States, that would wish to take advantage of her plight.
While France itself, her citizens and her state and governmental institutions, had little or no support for de Gaulle’s quixotic passion for Quebec separation, the President was the heart of the state apparatus. In France, all roads lead to Paris. In Paris, all roads lead to the Elysée Palace, and to the president.
While virtually all Canadian citizens, including those in public office, academics and journalists, had only a limited, even nonexistent, awareness of de Gaulle’s carefully thought out program to dismember Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, his close confidants and officials, such as his Principal Secretary Marc Lalonde, Solicitor-General Goyer, Michael Pitfield, Jean Marchand, and officials of the Department of External Affairs, in particular Undersecretary of State Marcel Cadieux, were acutely aware.
In in 1968 and 1969 there were further events that further heightened the concern.
The French government began to take opportunities to treat Quebec as a country, a hostile act quite contrary to accepted practice between nation states. Understandably, because it threatened their territorial integrity. At times, the French actions appeared petty. For example, a government communique on the 30th of April, 1968, following a France-Quebec financial cooperation committee, that referred to Quebec as “a country”. A second example, in February, 1968, under French suasion, Gabon invited the Quebec’s minister of education to a meeting of ministers of education of francophone states.
Meanwhile, the RCMP became aware of SDECE operatives in Quebec, including providing support to separatist elements. It appeared that these elements included the FLQ, the severity of which, if true, would come close to a declaration of war.
The Parti Québecois
The most serious addition to the overall threat arrived in October 1968, with the founding of the Parti Québecois (PQ), under the leadership of René Lévesque. Lévesque had a classical education, a once television journalist with a quick and easy manor, beloved by Quebecers. While he was without the brilliance, discipline and fighting spirit of Pierre Trudeau, he, too, had a classical education, and was very intelligent. With his silver tongue he could, and usually did, bring crowds to their feet.
The very presence of the PQ on the political scene in Quebec meant that, at some time in the future, they would form a Quebec government. That meant a referendum on Quebec separation.
PQ’s separatist program, with support of the French government of Charles de Gaulle, formed a dagger pointed at the heart of Canada.
There developed a rising tempo of violence and civil disorder in Quebec, chiefly in Montreal.
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.