Painful memories resurface in news of Paul Rose's death
MONTREAL—The death of Paul Rose, one of the leaders of the Front de libération du Québec, has brought back vivid and painful memories to many, like me, who lived through the 1970 October Crisis in the streets of Montreal and its aftermath.
Rose died Thursday of a stroke at the age of 69. The man he kidnapped four decades ago was not so lucky.
Pierre Laporte, then-Quebec labour minister, was strangled to death by the FLQ cell led by Rose.
Rose was convicted of the murder but paroled in 1982 after an investigation found he was not present when Laporte was killed.
I never met Rose but I did meet his fellow FLQ kidnapper Jacques Lanctot and the other famous FLQ captive – James Cross, the British trade representative.
It was the double kidnapping of Cross and Laporte that plunged the country into its deepest political crisis in its history – and to this day people debate its consequences.
In 1990, for a CBC fifth estate report I produced on the 20th anniversary of the October Crisis, we brought Cross back from England to the small apartment in north end Montreal where he had been held by Lanctot and other FLQ members for 59 days.
“I expected to die,” Cross told us as he walked into the tiny room where he had been held, forced to sit on a chair and never look at his kidnappers.
He remembered thinking: “I think I must compose myself for death.”
“We knew we wouldn’t be able to kill James Cross,” Lanctot insisted when we asked him about those tense days. “We wanted a response, a violent response, to the violence of the government.”
He got it.
On October 15, a panicked and overwhelmed Quebec government asked Ottawa to send in the troops.
On October 16 at 4 a.m., the War Measures Act was declared.
At the time, I was a student journalist at the McGill Daily. We had printed the FLQ manifesto; we were not alone – as part of the FLQ demands, Radio-Canada had been forced to read it on air.
But overnight our publication had become illegal.
Was the FLQ enough of a threat to justify the War Measures Act and the widespread suspension of civil liberties?
John Starnes, then the head of RCMP security services, said he told the government the FLQ at the time had about 10 cells with “50 to a hundred people at most.”
Mitchell Sharp, the then minister of external affairs, told us: “It wasn’t an actual insurrection, It was an apprehended one.”
But it sure felt like martial law.
More than 400 people were arrested in the following days – only a handful ever were charged.
Police searched 22,000 homes, questioned 35,000.
The day after the WMA as invoked, Pierre Laporte was killed at the hands of the FLQ cell led by Paul Rose.
Cross, sitting in his tiny room, heard the news in horror. Not just because of Laporte’s death but because initially news reports announced erroneously that “James Cross has also been found dead.”
He was pained by what his family must have been going through.
And convinced he would likely die soon: “I could be next”
After almost two months, Lanctot and the other FLQ kidnappers in his cell struck a deal with the government: they released Cross in exchange for asylum in Cuba.
Lanctot eventually returned to Montreal eight years later and became a successful book publisher. (His company even got a $100,000 grant from the federal government.)
When we asked Lanctot if he would consider apologizing for Cross, he said:
“No. Because for me, like I told you, it was part of the game. Nobody in Quebec is ashamed of me.”
James Cross returned safely to England and worked for various government departments but never got another posting abroad.
Standing in the room where he though he was going to die, we asked him if he thought the War Measures Act was worth it.
“If it did anything to get me out I was delighted,” he replied.
Then, ever the diplomat, he quietly said: “That is for you Canadians to solve. Don’t ask me to be your conscience.”