FLQ

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The Front de libération du Québec (Quebec Liberation Front) also known as the FLQ was a nationalist and Marxist revolutionary group seeking independence for the Canadian province of Quebec. It claimed responsibility for more than 200 bombings and other terrorist actions, culminating in 1970 with what is known as the October Crisis, in which British Trade Commissioner James Cross was kidnapped and Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte was murdered. The FLQ then collapsed and disappeared.

Contents

Aims

The FLQ opposed what it denounced as "Anglo-Saxon imperialism" in the province of Quebec, and its ultimate aim was to bring about an independent Quebec under a socialist government, based on a "workers' society" of French-speaking Quebécois. Its actions were supposed to be part of a socialist uprising modeled on previous left-wing rebellions in the former French provinces of Algeria and Vietnam, and it also drew inspiration from the deeds of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Terrorist Actions

The FLQ was composed of a number of nominally independent cells, a common terrorist organizational model. One cell was led by academics at the University of Quebec, and the FLQ enjoyed a fair amount of support among left-leaning university students and faculty. The most notorious of these were the Liberation Cell and the Chénier Cell, both of which were directly involved in the October crisis. Members of the FLQ received training in terrorist tactics from members of the Palestine Liberation Organization as well as other groups.

The terrorist actions, and the history of the FLQ, comprised six waves of attacks. The earlier attacks, those of the first three waves, took place during 1963 and 1964. These included the bombing of a railroad used by the prime minister, as well as bombings of various bastions of English speakers in the province, including various businesses and McGill University. This was followed by a streak of thefts of money valued at more than half a billion Canadian dollars, more extensive terrorist training, and the theft of weapons.

In 1965, the group expanded substantially through mergers with other Quebécois nationalist groups. These acquisitions included various left-wing groups and served to strengthen the extant socialist tendencies of the FLQ. The ensuing years saw further bombings by the group, resulting in the deaths of several members as well as a number of innocents. In 1966 Canadian police forces took strong action against the group, arresting a number of high-profile members.

1969 saw the group's boldest action yet, the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange, which caused massive destruction and injured 27 people. Later that year the FLQ bombed the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, though he escaped uninjured.

The October Crisis

On October 5, 1970, members of the FLQ kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner in Canada, James Cross. Soon after they kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the Vice-Premier of Quebec. Laporte was murdered a week later. With Cross still under their control, the FLQ sought to leverage public opinion in their favor and organized massive student strikes throughout the province. They put out a list of demands including the release of various imprisoned Quebcéois nationalist figures and a hefty ransom.

Response

The highest levels of the Canadian government quickly became involved. On 16 October 1970 the cabinet of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau passed the War Measures Act and Regulations (WMA) which immediately sent the Canadian army into Montreal. The army summarily dragged 497 people out of their beds and into jail. Of these, 435 were released within two days, while 62 were charged and 32 held without bail. There was near-unanimous public support for these drastic measures at the time. The government managed to secure the release of the Cross in exchange for safe passages of several of the terrorists to Cuba.

Collapse

The FLQ self destructed in the wake of the October Crisis. There was significant public backlash against the violent means used by the group, which had by then been infiltrated to the highest levels by police informants. The peaceful Parti Quebécois rose as the dominant voice of the pro-independence movement in Quebec. Some FLQ members who had fled Canada eventually returned and received generally light prison sentences. In later years small-scale vandalism has been associated with the FLQ name (for example, spray painting "FLQ" on Anglophone buildings, and vandalizing a statue in Montreal), but the group is now essentially defunct.

Further reading

  • Charters, David A. "The Amateur Revolutionaries: a Reassessment of the FLQ," Terrorism and Political Violence 1997 9(1): 133-169, in EBSCO
  • English, John. Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Volume Two: 1968-2000 (2009); the standard biography

Primary sources

  • Saywell, John T. ed. Quebec 70: A Documentary Narrative (1971) full text online
  • Tetley, William, ed. The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider's View (2007) 274pp.
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