Ten years after the Quebec crisis of October 1970, in which extremists used kidnapping and murder to promote independence for their province, the events of that episode continue to reverberate across Canada.
The debate has been rekindled, Monitor correspondent James Nelson Goodsell says, with the issuance of a Quebec Provincial Government report dealing with the kidnapping of British diplomat James R. Cross and the kidnapping and murder of Quebec Minister of Labor Pierre Laporte.
Those events prompted the Canadian federal government, headed then as now by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, to use emergency powers intended for wartime use to suspend the civil liberties of Canadians -- with critics arguing Trudeau used the Wat Measures Act as part of an effort to stamp out nationalism in Quebec.
Not so, says the government report. While Montreal crown prosecutor Jean-Francois Duchaine, the author of the provincial report, accused the Federal Government in Ottawa, the provincial government in Quebec, and the city government in Montreal of exploiting the crisis and prolonging it, he says none of these "invented the situation."
Mr. Duchaine makes it clear that the situation was extremely threatening and that the provincial and municipal police were overtaxed in their search for the kidnappers. There was indeed a genuine concern, the report states, that the crimes were "part of a much larger plot" by Quebec extremists. But, once the war powers were imposed, "the police action that followed is a flagrant example of police operations deviating from their primary goals."
That statement is bound to be used against the Trudeau government in its efforts to win support for a new constitution, replacing the British North American Act of 1867 under which Canada is currently governed. Critics of the new constitution argue that it will open the door to the same kinds of abuses that were part of the events 10 years ago.