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The consequences of the War Measures Act

The implementation of the War Measures Act following the events of the October Crisis, specifically the kidnapping and death of Pierre Laporte divided the nation. As Bruce Wallace, a journalist for the Ottawa Citizen said, “the question of whether there was evidence to justify imposing the War Measures Act has been one of the most controversial and hotly debated points of modern Canadian history” . Although a Gallup poll taken in December of 1970 revealed that 89% of English-speaking Canadians and 86% of French-speaking Canadians agreed with the implementation of the War Measures Act , there were those who voiced their opinions against the use of this law. This event has been seen as both duly needed and unjustified. How is the Was Measures Act viewed on the Internet? Through 20 websites found on the Internet concerning the War Measures Act during the October Crisis, I will attempt to prove that there is no single way of viewing the consequences of the law.

The websites were compiled in two different fashions. The first of which was through the use of search engines. Having never attempted to base a paper solely on Internet sources, many different search engines were used in the hopes of determining which were useful, and which were not. Some of the search engines used includes Google, Yahoo, La Toile du Quebec (this one was particularly useful as it turned up francophone sites that the other engines did not) and Canadian Content. Many different keywords were used as well, such as FLQ, October Crisis, War Measures Act, Pierre Trudeau, and Bourassa. To begin with, the keywords were used alone. However, when used in combination with some of the others, the results were more specific, and better suited the requirements for this essay. The second method of finding websites was through the links that a site had posted. Many of the websites found initially through the search engines had a section of the page dedicated to other Internet links of the same topic. Clicking in these links often brought me to other pages about the War Measures Act that I had not seen prior.

Once the 20 websites were found, the task became to divide them into categories. The sites used for this essay can be divided into three categories: corporate or business, educational institutions and personal Web pages. It was very simple in most cases to determine which category any particular website fell into. For educational institutions, if the website was linked directly or was a part of a CEGEP or University, the Web page fell into this category. Websites included under educational institutions included pages from Marianopolis College , St. Thomas University (New Brunswick) , the US Army War College Quarterly , CEGEP du Vieux Montreal , and McGill University . Corporate and business Web pages were more difficult to categorize. If the site was associated with a newspaper, magazine or television station, such as The Ottawa Citizen , CBC , Alternative Culture Magazine , Radio Canada or grubstreet books (which is devoted to publishing small works of literary non-fiction) , then it fell into this group. The next category is personal Web pages. Association to a domain identified theses sites with free web pages such as Lycos , or sites that identified themselves as “rather personal and subjective” were included into this section.

Personal Web Pages were more likely than others to present strong personal opinions. The author of one site dedicated to the history of the FLQ claims to prove that the War Measures Act “a brimé les droits de la personne au Quebec” , meaning that this law took away any rights and freedoms that the population held previously. This author cites many different facts concerning the implementation of the law in an attempt to prove that it was indeed unjustified. Part of the clauses of the War Measures Act allowed the police and army “to arrest, detain, exclude or expel individuals” who either belonged to the FLQ or whom the authorities believed had ties to the organization. This was one of the strongest arguments against the use of the law. In the eyes of those who opposed the law, those arrested were “des vrais prisonniers politiques” , roughly translated to true political prisoners. This site lists off various oppositions to the War Measures Act. For example, there was no discussion in the National Assembly as to whether federal help was needed during this crisis . Trudeau took the decision himself, after premier Bourassa called for help . Another website that fell into this category was that of a private newspaper. Here, the author validates Trudeau’s decision so as to “keep up freedom and justice” . The “Site Historique du FLQ” also names censorship of the press as one of the consequences of the law; the author states that “les forces policières interdisent la publication de certains messages pourtant authntiques” . As a whole, personal Web Pages tended to be biased, and slighted more towards the opposition of the use of the War Measures Act. These sites stated facts such as the censorship of the press and the restriction of personal freedoms as fuel for the condemnation of the law.

The second category of websites that will be covered are the commercial ones. First it is important to note that the goal of any business is to make money. In this case then, although the website is portraying events of the October Crisis, these companies are hoping to make money off of advertisements on their websites, such like the commercials seen during television programs. There were a total of six websites used for this section. These websites were CBC, Historica (an online encyclopedia), two articles published in the Ottawa Citizen and Toronto Star available through an online database, Radio-Canada, the Alternative Culture Magazine and grubstreet books (as described earlier). These websites do not view the events that transpired alike. One of the sites found had an article entitled “The Politics of Terror, Canadian-Style”. This essay strongly opposed Trudeau’s decision to apply the War Measures Act. The author argues, “in tumultuous times it is easy for unfounded ideas to gain merit and momentum” , an example is history that this author cites as an “unfounded idea” are the witch hunts that took place. Tamara Horan, author of this article raises the question: “Was there a clear case of insurrection or were events manipulated into an opportunity for Trudeau and the liberal government to obstruct Quebec nationalism and quell separatism?” . She argues that the answer to this question is in fact yes. She backs her statement up with much convincing evidence, one of the most alarming being notes from a meeting between Mitchell Sharp (external affairs minister) and Sir Alec Douglas-Home (his British counterpart) that “no evidence of an extensive and coordinated FLQ conspiracy” existed. She concludes that the aim of the War Measures Act was “implicitly […] to stop separatism; and certainly its first result was to bring a widespread revulsion against separatism” . Radio-Canada’s site offered little other than original news broadcasts aired during the crisis. However in one of its pieces aired nearly 30 years after the events, it declared that “[c]ette loi permissive laisse place à de nombreuses arrestations abusives et injustifiées” . This statement, when roughly translated means that this law (the War Measures Act) lead to a number of abusive and unjustified arrests. This view was also expressed on the Marianopolis site mentioned earlier. The Gallup Poll mentioned earlier was well, stating the overwhelming support for Trudeau’s course of action was also cites on the grubstreet Web page. This particular site supported Trudeau’s decision. It’s proof lied in two strong arguments. The first being the media’s “unanimous” acceptance. According to this page, the Vancouver Sun announced “At last, a government has armed itself to fight fire with fire and match ruthlessness with ruthlessness” . The CBC shared much the same view. Although it has been stated by other sites that the media was censored, according to their site “very little in the way of hard news actually got censored or managed by the government” . The last site included under commercial was Historica, an online encyclopedia “on all things Canadian” . Although it contained many useful articles on the October Crisis, the FLQ and the War Measures Act, the information was merely factual. The description of the events, including names and dates were included. However, this website was useful in getting a general idea of the events that took place before reading the sites for the positions supporting and condemning Trudeau’s use of the War Measures Act.

The last websites were those tied to educational institutions. These were easiest to find, and more abundant than the others. The academic sites, more so than the others, acknowledged a conflict in views of the War Measures Act. The site from Mount Allison University acknowledges this conflict in views by saying “[s]upporters have argued that the War Measures Act demonstrated to terrorists that their acts would not be tolerated in Canada, while opponents have argued that political terrorism would have declined as a democratic separatist movement grew within the Parti Quebecois” . The Marianopolis site claims that “[t]he issues raised by the October events are many and complex”, and that “[m]any Canadians were torn” on the issues of the War Measures Act . Likewise, Tetley’s site from McGill as raises the issue of civil liberties. It contradicts the views expressed by the Alternative Culture article (which said that the goal of the War Measures Act was to crush separatism). Tetley, a professor of law at McGill argues quite the opposite. He states that the act “did not in any way affect the right of the PQ to go about its normal business, including the holding of meetings, the posting of notices or banners, the making of public announcements and the criticizing of governments and their laws” . Through his extensive research (which are to appear in a book on the October Crisis at some point), he believes that the application of the War Measures Act was the proper course to take” . St. Thomas University from New Brunswick brings up the issue of the arrests made because of the War Measures Act. It states that the arrests were abusive due to the fact that nearly all of the hundreds of people incarcerated “were not charged with any crime” . The repetition of the idea of abusive arrests by numerous websites used in this sample shows the importance given to this issue when considering the debate of the War Measures Act. The issue of policing also came up in the website from CEGEP du Vieux Montreal, where it said that the police “ont parfois, même souvent, commis des négligences” . What is of relevance here is the direct comment of the unfairness of the police. In the other websites, the references were never made to the police force directly, but were aimed at the arrests. Even an American study, done by the US Army War College Quarterly, supported the use of the War Measures Act. It equated, as many other sites have, the FLQ with terrorists. It stated that the “FLQ was pursuing the five-stage Maoist revolutionary war doctrine”, and that the “FLQ was is the armed resistance phase and was ready to proceed further” . The next step is preparations for mobile warfare and followed by national liberation, so in light of this, it is simple to see another justification for Trudeau’s call for the War Measures Act.

There are many facts and points of view concerning the implementation of the War Measures Act contained in this paper. And, after all the reading and synthesizing, there is but one conclusion that can come from this: there is no definite conclusion. The debate about this event in the history of Quebec and Canada will never close. There will always be those who argue for or against the law. This will never change. New facts may arise in the future, but the debate will continue. The image of Quebec concerning this event is controversy and continuity. Even today, some 30 years later, a heated debate continues online, with each side’s facts pitted against the other. It seems that for every fact or issue that one side raises, the other turns that same event, concept or statistic around to fit their argument. This was the case with the issue of press censorship, where those against the law argued that it restricted freedom of press, and those for the law argued that things essentially remained the same. What we can learn from this is that many, if not most events in history cannot be seen solely from one point of view. There are two sides to every story. By reading and examining both sides of a debate such as the one presented in this paper, we are able to understand that events that transpired. Understanding history is vital to the survival of the human race. As the famous saying goes, “Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it”. So therefore the lesson to be learned here is that no matter what the issue, both sides need to be addressed and understood so that in the future, events such as the October Crisis (which lead to the implementation of the October Crisis) will not repeat themselves.

Cynthia Pike
Concordia University



Dernière modification : 31 décembre 2069

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