Strategy of Tension: a bomb in Ottawa – mystery, investigation

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

Interview of Don Cobb by Quintal and Nowlan, 20 July 1977, LAC AtIP 93A00238, p. 199


As Jeanne d’Arc Saint Germaine lay Dying

As Jeanne d’Arc Saint Germain lay dying, early on the morning of Wednesday the 24th of June, 1970, I lay in my bed in the normally tranquille Ottawa suburb of Alta Vista, wondering why I had been woken by the sound of an explosion. A synchronicity that was a portent of my future. I glanced at the clock on my bedside table. It was 06h25.

The sound – a shock wave that was a push, rather than a sharp crack – was the signature of dynamite. A bomb. In the tranquille Ottawa suburb of Alta Vista, several kilometers distant, it was an alien intruder.

The RCMP Commissioner wakes

Meanwhile, at precisely the same moment, at another Alta Vista address, RCMP Commissioner Higgitt awoke in his bed. Later that day, he would note in his daily journal:

06h25: I heard heavy explosive sound at home while still in bed. 07h25, telephone call from DCI (Director Criminal Intelligence) that a bomb had exploded at NDHQ Cartier Square, 1 woman dead.

The noise of the blast had come from downtown Ottawa.

A radio bulletin reported a bombing at National Defence Headquarters, three blocks from Parliament Hill, the heart of the city. More specifically, at the main Communications Centre of NDHQ, in the basement of Building B, along Lisgar Avenue. The bomb had been placed in a window well, which ensured that the focused blast would tear through the window, into the room, a deadly cone of glass and debris.

The Communications Centre was in operation 24/7, 365 days a year, and the lights were on when the bomber left the deadly device. Whether he had looked into the window or not, the light would have told him that the room was occupied. Which meant, unless he was unintelligent, that he knew the bomb would kill. A case, then, of first-degree murder.

Jeanne d’Arc Saint Germain, a 50 year-old widow, mother of two, telecommunications operator, stationed by the window, received the full force of the blast. She lay in a gathering pool of blood. Captain H. B. Valance, the officer in charge, also had been thrown, injured, to the floor. He crawled to Saint Germain. Blood coursed from a carotid artery of her neck, transected by a glass fragment. She looked up to him with pleading eyes. He tried to stem the flow. Moments later, her eyes dimmed, and she was gone.

The area flooded by Ottawa police, firemen, Military Police, ambulance personnel and investigators from military intelligence. Traumatized residents gathered along Lisgar Street.

RCMP “G” Section on the scene

Later that day, two RCMP officers from “G” Section, also known as “G” Operations (“G” Ops), Montreal, appeared on the scene. “G” Ops was the ‘sharp end’ of the recently established “G” Branch, led by Inspector (Joe) Joseph Ferraris. Its mandate whose mandate was to counter Quebec separatism and FLQ terrorism.

Inspector Don Cobb

“G” Ops, led by Inspector Don Cobb from its headquarters at 4095 St. Catherine Street west, near the Montreal Forum, ran the RCMP’s counterterrorism operations in the province of Quebec: surveillance, infiltration, gathering of intelligence, ‘disruption’, and certain, very special, operations that even today are hidden behind a wall of secrecy.

Algerian war of independence

Cobb was a cerebral officer who had begun his career in the RCMP’s Security and Intelligence Division (S&I) at Ottawa Headquarters. From 1954 to 1958, he was in Paris as RCMP liaison officer to France. During four years of the savage Algerian war of independence, torture, assassination and massacre by both sides became the order of the day. In France, the FLN (Front de Libération National), waged a terrorist war of retribution.

Un de mes voisins est tué sur le trottoire devant la maison par un assassin du Front de Libération National. Alors, cétait une éducation en soi.

Testimony, Don Cobb, LAC, RG33/128, v.4, p. 320

No doubt, in France, Cobb was initiated into the darker arts of counterterrorism as practiced by France’s domestic security service, DST (Direction de la surveillance territoire) and foreign intelligence service, SDECE (Service de documentation extérieure et de contre-espionage). After four years in France, he spent time in Italy and Germany, before returning to RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.

Inspector Cobb and Director General John Starnes had an arrangement. For operations that exceeded the bounds of legality, Cobb would not report them to Starnes.

What two “C” (Quebec) Division officers were doing in “A” Division, Ottawa, has never been explained.

Also unexplained were the links between the NDHQ bombing and certain  related events.

Robbery of the University of Montreal Caisse Populaire

On the 18th of May, 1970, armed robbers entered the Caisse Populaire, at the University of Montreal. They obtained $58, 000, a large sum of money by today’s measure. Montreal police quickly learned that the robbers belonged to the Lanctôt-Rose or Longueuil Group, led by Jacques Lanctôt and Paul Rose. The robbery was to obtain the funds necessary for planned terrorist actions, in particular, the kidnapping of foreign diplomats.

Chalet at 45 Mtée St. Thérèse, Prévost

In early June, 1970, 20 year-old André Roy, “the closest friend of Jacques Lanctôt”, using funds from the Caisse Populaire robbery, rents a chalet at 45 Prévost, a village 50km north of Montreal, in the Laurentian Mountains, the Laurentides. A chalet for himself and several confrères of the Lanctôt-Rose (South Shore) group. To ends quite unlike those of a customary abode for skiing on the nearby slopes.

Apartment on Boulevard Henri-Bourassa

François Lanctôt, brother of Jacques, and Claude Morency, a member of the Lanctôt-Rose Group, who had been arrested along with Jacques Lanctôt and André Roy for participation in the plot to kidnap US diplomat Burgess, rent an apartment on Boulevard Henri-Bourassa, in the north-east of Montreal. They install a Gestetner machine and paper with FLQ icon. They print a manifesto drafted by André Roy and Jacques Lanctôt. There is also a communiqué announcing the kidnapping of the US Consul William A. Burgess. The manifesto presents demands like those that will be presented by the FLQ in October.[i]

Paul Rose rents a house at 5630 Armstrong Street

In March, Paul Rose, under the name Paul Blais, accompanied by Lise Balcer, under the name of Lise Blais, had rented a house at 5630 Armstrong Street in St. Hubert.  He, brother Jacques Rose, and Bernard Lortie paint house and buy furniture.[i] Meanwhile, Jacques and Louise Cossette-Trudel join the ranks of the FLQ.[i]

That spring of 1970,  visitors to the house on Armstrong Street  included Jean-Paul Arene, Claude Morency, Bernard Lortie, Claude Simard, Turgeon, Lise Balcer, and a friend of Morency, someone close to Mario Bachand, who assisted Bachand as his ‘bodyguard’, a co-founder of Bachand’s Comité Indépendance Social (CIS), a plumber, Pierre Carrier. 

Montreal bombings

During May and June, 1970 there were bombings in Montreal, several of which, in bomb construction, time of day or placement, were similar to the NDHQ bomb.

On the early morning of 31 May, 1970, seven bombs were set in Montreal’s wealthy, English-Canadian residential district of Westmount, five of which exploded. One exploded, at 4:00 am, at the home of Peter Bronfman, 5 Landsdowne Ridge.

At 02:00 am, a bomb exploded behind the Financial Collection Agency, 4150 rue Sherbrooke west.

04:25 bomb explodes at 38 Belvedere Road.

04:38 bomb explodes at 61 Belvedere Road.

05:00 bomb explodes at 165 Edgehill Road.

Pierre-Louis Bourett

An unexploded bomb, the largest dismantled by police in years, was found beneath an Austin Cambridge car parked before 788 Upper Landsdowne. It was in double plastic bag, with alarm clock make Hero, of Chinese manufacture. There was a second bomb, with 12 sticks of dynamite, and a Five Rams clock, also of Chinese manufacture. Again with piece of hard rubber from bicycle brakes. A fingerprint was found on the Hero clock. A year later, Montreal Police asked the RCMP to compare the fingerprint to the those taken of the over four-hundred persons detained under the War Measures Act. On the 24th of June, 1971, the anniversary of the NDHQ bombing, it was identified as having been left by Pierre-Louis Bourett, a 20-year old associate of the Lanctôt-Rose (South Shore) Group. Québec. Rapport de la Commission d’enquête sur des opérations policières en térritoire québecois, p. 158

A bomb was found at 10 Roxborough Drive. Two white plastic bags 31 sticks of dynamite, Hero alarm clock, piece of hard rubber, again from bicycle brakes. 

Two weeks later, at 02h10 on the 16th of June, 1970.Two large bombs, with 20 sticks of dynamite, were discovered at IBM Canada in St. Laurent. The bombs were in two dark blue kit bags, wrapped in white cord. Each bomb had 40 pounds of dynamite, composed of large sticks, 5 pounds each, with white alarm clocks with nails added as contacts. Radar Light battery, 6 volt, soldered wire connections. It was reported that the nails in each bomb caught in the canvas, preventing an explosion. Possibly, although, as we shall discuss in a further post, several bombs, particularly during the period 1968-1969, were carefully constructed to not explode.

That night, the 16th of June, a bomb with ten sticks of dynamite was placed at the Domtar Ltd. research laboratory in Senneville, at the western tip of Montreal Island. It was dismantled by police. The bomb, which was set to explode at 01h15, employed a Silver Bell alarm clock, the model that had been commonly used by the Pierre-Paul Geoffroy réseau, whose 58-or-so bombs had terrorized Montreal during 1968-1969. It had been wrapped in two white-plastic bags

Finger prints were found on a piece of vinyl tape that had been wrapped around the sticks of dynamite. They were later identified as belonging to Pierre-Louis Bourett. (Robert Côté, Ma guerre contre le FLQ, p. 284)

McGill University bombing

Also that night, the 16th of June, at 02h10, a bomb exploded by two engineering buildings of the University of McGill, breaking windows and damaging the boiler room. It is second bombing at McGill in seven months and the 10th in Montreal for the year. It had been placed outside a window of the ground floor. Pieces of a Radar Light-type 6 volt battery were found in the debris. Police report it was like those dismantled at IBM earlier that evening.

Nigel Hamer

Nigel Hamer, the mysterious Anglo-Canadian McGill engineering student, who three months later would become one of the Cross kidnappers, knew the targeted building well. There is no evidence that he was involved in the McGill bombing. However, he would later be involved in the bomb placed on at the Petrofina oil refinery in East Montreal, which exploded on the 3rd of July. He wrote the communiqué, employing the Jacque Lanctôt’s Royal typewriter. Which suggested that Lanctôt was testing Hamer, relatively unknown and an Anglophone, to test his bona fides. Perhaps, and this is entirely speculation, the McGill bombing was also a test.

Police suggested that two FLQ cells were responsible.

The police raid on the Prévost chalet

Meanwhile, on the 8th of June,   RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dubé,  Maurice St-Pierre, head of the Quebec Provincial Police, and Marcel St. Aubin, head of the Montreal Police, meet to discuss counter-terrorist measures.

Almost certainly, the primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss an upcoming operation in Prévost related to the Caisse Populaire robbery.

Sergeant-Detective Gilles Masse of the Montreal Service Anti-Terrorist Squad (SAT) and member of the tri-service Combined Anti-Terrorist squad (CATS), which comprised officers from the RCMP, Sûreté de Québec, and the MUCP, had not forgotten the Caisse Populaire robbery. Quite the contrary, as revealed by Louis Hamelin in his book Fabrications:

June 1970. Le Sergeant-Détective Gilles Masse, de la section antiterroriste de la Police de Montréal, mène l’enquête. Aidé d’un délateur, il remonte la piste jusqu’à un chalet des Laurentides. Occupation d’un ou plusieurs chalets voisins, surveillance, filatures. À partir du 18 juin, écoute électronique. Une trentaine d’agents participation à l’opération. Une trentaine d’agents participent à l’opération. Le filet tissué par la CATS se resserre.

On the 18th of June, Montreal SAT police installed listening devices in the Prévost chalet. Three days later, on the 21st of June, the police raided the chalet. They made several arrests, including François Lanctôt, the brother of Jacques Lanctôt; André Roy; his wife Francine Roy; Claude Morency. They found $28,000 from the Caisse robbery, detonators, alarm clocks, detonators like those found at IBM St. Laurent and Domtar Senneville, alarm clocks modified with pieces of rubber, like the Westmount bombs.
There was also a communiqué announcing the kidnapping of the US Consul William A. Burgess.

At home of Morency are found 350 lbs. of dynamite and 250 copies of an FLQ manifesto very much like those that Lanctôt’s Liberation Cell would distributed on the 8th October 1970. On Roy is found a piece of paper with the address of farm at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle.

In Montreal, at the apartment on Boulevard Henri-Bourassa, several days later, they arrest Pierre Carrier and Maude Martin, who had the good fortune of  leaving the Prévost chalet shortly before the Montreal police raid of 21 June.

Comparison bomb components
Components of two bombs and some bomb components found at Prévost

The manifesto presents demands essentially the same as would be presented by the FLQ in October for the release of Cross. The bomb components shown in the above photograph are identical to those of the bomb constructed on the 3rd of December, 1970, and accompanied the Liberation Cell kidnappers and James Cross on their passage from des 10945 Recollets to Terre des Hommes.

James Cross Terre des Hommes bomb FLQ bomb
James Cross Terre des Hommes bomb

At home of Morency are found 350 lbs. of dynamite and 250 copies of an FLQ manifesto very much like those that Lanctôt’s Liberation Cell would distributed on the 8th October 1970. On Roy is found a piece of paper with the address of farm at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle.

However, for those responsible for the NDHQ bombing, and the death of  Jeanne d’Arc Saint Germain, there was, and remains, a ‘stinger in the tale’.


A fingerprint identified

The NDHQ bomb had been contained in a dark-blue sports bag, used a Hero or Five Rams alarm clock as timer, and pieces of hard rubber from bicycle brakes to separate the electrical contacts. A fingerprint of whoever had constructed the bomb was found on a piece of vinyl tape, found in the debris. The RCMP Identification Branch identified whose fingerprint it was. In a cruel irony of fate, the RCMP officer or technician who made the identification was the son of the victim, Jeanne d’Arc Saint Germain. 

…one person responsible for the NDHQ bombing was identified. (DND DSECUR, 22 October 1970, RG146, box 2469, NDHQ bomb.)

Who had constructed the NDHQ bomb and who had placed in the window well, and  was responsible for the death of Jeanne d’Arc Saint Germain? For a time, I thought that Pierre-Louis Bourett responsable for constructing and placing the bomb. When I first began looking for the answer, I had no idea that it would be an important vector to understanding of the October Crisis, the murder of Mario Bachand, and more.

Although the FLQ has claimed responsibility for the bomb explosion at Canadian Forces Headquarters, Ottawa on 24 June, and investigation has revealed that the bomb fragments are similar to those found at the scene of FLQ bombings in Montreal, no positive information has yet been developed to confirm the FLQ claim.

National Defence paper “FLQ Terrorism”, LAC, RG 146, vol. 2415, part 2, p. 201.

The mystery deepens

I began to suspect that the NDHQ bombing was particularly important. In part it was because I was unable to find much about it in the official records that I examined. 

RCMP records

I requested the RCMP records about the NDHQ bombing that I expected to be held at Library and Archives Canada. Expecting, eventually, to be given access to a significant number of records.

Several weeks later, I received one page, a copy of an Ottawa newspaper article. I asked the Access to Information officer who had processed my access request why there was, in effect, nothing released. She reminded me that the decision about what is and what is not released from government records is made by the government department or agency responsible for the records, in this instance it was the RCMP or CSIS. I asked the officer to contact the RCMP or CSIS and ask if they would review my request again to see if they had been excessively restrictive and allow a release of records beyond a newspaper article. He did so, but no joy. Nothing would be released about the NDHQ bombing.

Ottawa Police records

I decided to place a request, under Ontario legislation, for the Ottawa police records, which I expected to be extensive given that the bombing was in their jurisdiction. Some weeks later, I received a call from the Ottawa Police information officer asking if I would like to come down to review what they were releasing. I would. When I arrived at Ottawa Police headquarters and met with the information officer, she handed over a file folder with one record: a reference to the case, with no information at all apart from a case number and a date. She apologized, and said she had search high and low in the building but that was all she could find. She was very surprised, and said she could not understand why?

At Library and Access Canada, I had a CSIS ‘minder’ that had been keeping track of my researches into the assassination of Mario Bachand and what he could glean from conversations with me. I asked him why Ottawa police should not have records about the NDHQ bombing, which was obviously important in several important ways.

Oh, he said, some time ago the Ottawa police lost records from their evidence storage unit because of a scandal, the officer responsible having a problem with alcohol.

Ottawa Police cold case squad

Some weeks later, I decided I would speak with the cold case investigators at Ottawa Police. Surely they would have something. 

I made an appointment to meet with the cold case squad of the Ottawa Police, and met with two detectives. I ended up meeting with several officers, given that those assigned to the squad are changed fairly often. We discussed the NDHQ bombing, about which of course they knew little given that they had no records. They asked about the placing of the bomb and I mentioned the window and the victim having been seated by it. Could the bomber have known the room was occupied? they asked. I thought so, since the lights were certainly on, given that was probably very early in the morning, perhaps about 4h00 am, when they had placed the bomb in the window well.

 They said that it could bring a charge of Homicide in the First Degree.

When I mentioned the loss of records, and that the RCMP/CSIS officer had told me that the Ottawa police had lost the records because of mismanagement of the evidence storage, they laughed, with a note of bitterness, and said:

“The RCMP came one day and took all the records away! They said they would be in charge of the investigation.”

The stinger in the tail

It appeared that the crime of the NDHQ bombing, which brought the death of Jeanne d’Arc Saint Germain, could not be solved, that the guilty would escape their just fate. But there remains an aspect that should change the story, of which I learned when I interviewed a member of the Montreal SAT that had involved in the surveillance at the Prévost Chalet, 18 to 21 June, 1970. The SAT observed a man leave the chalet carrying two bombs, and hand over the bombs to two persons in a waiting car. The SAT officer gave me the name of the man, and said the man had constructed the bomb. The name was not that of Pierre-Louis Bourett, but the name of someone else who – I have verified –  for a time was at the Prévost chalet. The car belonged to a University of Montreal professor suspected of assisting the FLQ. The SAT officer told me that the car left with the bombs and travelled to Ottawa, where one of the bombs was set at NDHQ headquarters. “Why did you not follow the car and prevent the bombing?”, I asked. “We were not prepared for that.”, he replied. 

One thing for certain. The RCMP, Montreal Police, the SQ and National Defence know who is responsible for the NDHQ bombing, virtually from the moment it took place.

A SAT officer mentioned an aspect of the Mario Bachand assassination that I find interesting. An RCMP officer informed him that Normand Roy and Denyse Leduc were leaving for Paris, giving him the flight number, and advising that the two were “very dangerous”.  Following the assassination, an RCMP officer informed him “Mario Bachand was killed in an intelligence operation.” 

“Although the FLQ has claimed responsibility for the bomb explosion at Canadian Forces Headquarters, Ottawa on 24 June, and investigation has revealed that the bomb fragments are similar to those found at the scene of FLQ bombings in Montreal, no positive information has yet been developed to confirm the FLQ claim.”[i]

The individual responsible for DND HQ bombing of 24 June 1970 was “believed to be known” but no arrests have been made due to lack of evidence. [i]

[i] FLQ Terrorism, Annex C to V 2100-20-2/4 (DSECUR), 22 October 70, MG26 O11, vol. 40, file 40-17, FLQ Documentation A-6, FLQ, Terrorism, revue  des activites. P. 3.

On July 23, 1970, the Security Service presented a carefully-thought out appreciation of the “subversive” threats in Canada. This appreciation summarized what it calls “an extremely confusing, complex and constantly changing situation”. It stated that although the threat posed by individual organizations (or groups of organizations) could be contained, the total of the activities carried out in Canada was “very worrying” and “clearly represents a serious threat to the unity of the country and to the preservation of law and order”.

Conclusion …

(d) Thereafter, the FLQ will return with threats of bombings, possibly with bombings of public buildings (particularly of federal symbols), less probably with kidnappings but more probably with direct attempts at assassination of prominent French-Canadian federalists as being an easier and more novel tactic in contemporary Canada and likely to produce deep despair in the Governments, should this occur;

RG 146, vol. 2415, part 2, p. 201.


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