The October Crisis was a series of events triggered by two kidnappings of government officials by members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) during October 1970 in the province of Quebec. These circumstances ultimately culminated in the only peacetime usage of the War Measures Act in Canada's history, done on the advice of the prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, having been requested by the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau. The invocation of the act resulted in widespread deployment of Canadian Forces troops throughout Quebec, and in Ottawa gave the appearance that martial law had been imposed, although the military remained in a support role to the civil authorities of Quebec. The police were also enabled with far-reaching powers, and they arrested and detained, without bail, 497 individuals, all but 62 of whom were later released without charges.
At the time, opinion polls throughout Canada, including in Quebec, showed widespread support for the use of the War Measures Act. The response, however, was criticized at the time and subsequently by a number of prominent leaders, including René Lévesque, Robert Stanfield, and Tommy Douglas, who believed the actions to be excessive and the precedent to suspend civil liberties dangerous. The criticism was reinforced by evidence that police officials had abused their powers and detained, without cause, prominent artists and intellectuals associated with the sovereignty movement.
The events of October 1970 galvanized support against violence in efforts for Quebec sovereignty and highlighted the movement towards political means of attaining greater autonomy and independence, including support for the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, which went on to form the provincial government in 1976.
From 1963 to 1970 the Quebec nationalist group Front de libération du Québec had detonated over 95 bombs. While mailboxes– particularly in the affluent and predominantly Anglophone city of Westmount– were common targets, the largest single bombing was of the Montreal Stock Exchange on February 13, 1969, which caused extensive damage and injured 27 people. Other targets included Montreal City Hall, Royal Canadian Mounted Police recruitment offices, railroad tracks, and army installations. FLQ members, in a strategic move, had stolen several tons of dynamite from military and industrial sites, and, financed by bank robberies, they threatened the public through their official communication organ, known as La Cognée, that more attacks were to come.
By 1970, 23 members of the FLQ were in prison, including four members convicted of murder. On February 26, 1970, two men in a panel truck– including Jacques Lanctôt– were arrested in Montreal when they were discovered with a sawed-off shotgun and a communique announcing the kidnapping of the Israeli consul. In June, police raided a home in the small community of Prévost, north of Montreal in the Laurentian mountains, and found firearms, ammunition, 300 pounds (140 kg) of dynamite, detonators, and the draft of a ransom note to be used in the kidnapping of the American consul.
* October 5: Montreal, Quebec: Two members of the "Liberation Cell" of the FLQ kidnap British Trade Commissioner James Cross from his house. The kidnappers were disguised as delivery men bringing a package for his recent birthday. Once the maid let them in, they pulled out a rifle and a revolver and kidnapped Cross. This was followed by a communique to the authorities that contained the kidnappers' demands, which included the exchange of Cross for "political prisoners", a number of convicted or detained FLQ members, and the CBC broadcast of the FLQ Manifesto. The terms of the ransom note were the same as those found in June for the planned kidnapping of the U.S. consul. At the time, the police did not connect the two.
* October 8: Broadcast of the FLQ Manifesto in all French- and English-speaking media outlets in Quebec.
* October 10: Montreal, Quebec: Members of the Chenier Cell approach the home of the Minister of Labour of the province of Quebec, Pierre Laporte, while he was playing football with his nephew on his front lawn. Members of the "Chenier cell" of the FLQ kidnapped Laporte.
* October 11: The CBC broadcasts a letter from captivity from Pierre Laporte to the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa.
* October 13: Prime Minister Trudeau is interviewed by the CBC with respect to the military presence. In a combative interview, Trudeau asks the reporter what he would do in his place, and when Trudeau was asked how far he would go he replies "Just watch me".
* October 14: Sixteen prominent Quebec personalities, including René Lévesque and Claude Ryan, call for negotiating "exchange of the two hostages for the political prisoners". FLQ's lawyer Robert Lemieux urges University of Montreal students to boycott classes in support of FLQ.
* October 15: Quebec City: The Government of Quebec, solely responsible for law and order, formally requisitions the intervention of the Canadian army in "aid of the civil power", as is its right alone under the National Defence Act. All three opposition parties, including the Parti Québécois rise in the National Assembly and agree with the decision. On the same day, separatist groups are permitted to speak at the Université de Montréal and Robert Lemieux organizes 3,000 student rally in Paul Sauve Arena to show support for the FLQ; labour leader Michel Chartrand announces that popular support for FLQ is rising and "We are going to win because there are more boys ready to shoot members of Parliament than there are policemen."The rally frightens many Canadians, who view it as a possible prelude to outright insurrection in Quebec;
* October 16: Premier Bourassa formally requests that the government of Canada grant the government of Quebec "emergency powers" that allow them to "apprehend and keep in custody" individuals. This resulted in the implementation of the War Measures Act, which allowed the suspension of habeas corpus, giving wide-reaching powers of arrest to police. The City of Montreal had already made such a request the day before. These measures came into effect at 4:00 a.m. Prime Minister Trudeau made a broadcast announcing the imposition of the War Measures Act.
* October 17: Montreal, Quebec: The Chenier cell of the FLQ announces that hostage Pierre Laporte has been executed. He is strangled to death, and his body is stuffed in the trunk of a car and abandoned in the bush near Saint-Hubert Airport, a few miles from Montreal. A communique to police advising that Pierre Laporte had been executed referred to him derisively as the "Minister of unemployment and assimilation". In another communique issued by the "Liberation cell" holding James Cross, his kidnappers declared that they were suspending indefinitely the death sentence against James Cross, that they would not release him until their demands were met, and that he would be executed if the "fascist police" discovered them and tried to intervene.
* October 18: While denouncing the acts of “subversion and terrorism – both of which are so tragically contrary to the best interests of our people”, columnist, politician, and future Premier of Quebec, René Lévesque, criticizes the War Measures Act: “Until we receive proof (about how large the revolutionary army is) to the contrary we will believe that such a minute, numerically unimportant fraction is involved, that rushing into the enforcement of the War Measures Act was a panicky and altogether excessive reaction, especially when you think of the inordinate length of time they want to maintain this regime.” 
* November 6: Police raid the hiding place of the FLQ's Chenier cell. Although three members escaped the raid, Bernard Lortie was arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte.
* December 3: Montreal, Quebec: After being held hostage for 60 days, kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross is released by the FLQ Liberation cell terrorists after negotiations with police. Simultaneously, the five known kidnappers, Marc Carbonneau, Yves Langlois, Jacques Lanctôt, Jacques Cossette-Trudel and his wife, Louise Lanctôt, are granted their request for safe passage to Cuba by the government of Canada after approval by Fidel Castro. They are flown to Cuba by a Canadian Forces aircraft. One of them is the same Jacques Lanctôt who earlier that year had been arrested and then released on bail for the attempted kidnapping of the Israeli consul.
* December 28: Saint-Luc, Quebec: The three remaining members of the Chenier Cell still at large, Paul Rose, Jacques Rose, and Francis Simard, are arrested after being found hiding in a 6 m tunnel in the rural farming community. They would be charged with the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte.
War Measures Act and Military Involvement
When a CBC Radio reporter asked how far he was willing to go to stop the FLQ, Trudeau replied: "Just watch me." Three days later, on October 16, the Cabinet under his chairmanship advised the Governor General to invoke the War Measures Act at the request of the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau. The provisions took effect at 4:00 a.m., and soon, hundreds of suspected FLQ members and sympathizers were taken into custody. The War Measures Act allowed the warrantless arrest of nearly 457 people, including Pauline Julien.
At the time, opinion polls in Quebec and the rest of Canada showed overwhelming support for the War Measures Act; in a December 1970 Gallup Poll, it was noted that 89% of English-speaking Canadians supported the introduction of the War Measures Act, and 86% of French-speaking Canada supported its introduction. They respectively had 6% and 9% disapproving, the difference being undecided. Since then, however, the government's use of the War Measures Act in peacetime has been a subject of debate in Canada as it gave police sweeping powers of arrest and detention.
Simultaneously, under provisions quite separate from the War Measures Act and much more commonly used, the Solicitor-General of Quebec requisitioned the deployment of the military from the Chief of the Defence Staff in accordance with the National Defence Act. Troops from Quebec bases and elsewhere in the country were dispatched, under the direction of the Sûreté du Québec (Quebec's provincial police force), to guard vulnerable points as well as prominent individuals at risk. This freed the police to pursue more proactive tasks in dealing with the crisis.
Outside Quebec, mainly in the Ottawa area, the federal government deployed troops under its own authority to guard federal offices and employees. The combination of the increased powers of arrest granted by the War Measures Act, and the military deployment requisitioned and controlled by the government of Quebec, gave every appearance that martial law had been imposed. A significant difference, however, is that the military remained in a support role to the civil authorities (in this case, Quebec authorities) and never had a judicial role. Nevertheless, the sight of tanks on the lawns of the federal parliament was disconcerting to many Canadians. Moreover, police officials sometimes abused their powers and detained without cause prominent artists and intellectuals associated with the sovereignty movement.
Once the War Measures Act was in place, arrangements were made for all detainees to see legal counsel. In addition, the Quebec Ombudsman, Louis Marceau, was instructed to hear complaints of detainees, and the Quebec government agreed to pay damages to any person unjustly arrested. On February 3, 1971, John Turner, Minister of Justice of Canada, reported that 497 persons had been arrested under the War Measures Act, of whom 435 had already been released. The other 62 were charged, of which 32 were accused of crimes of such seriousness that a Quebec Superior Court judge refused them bail.
Pierre Laporte was eventually found to have been murdered by his captors while James Cross was freed after 60 days as a result of negotiations with the kidnappers who requested exile to Cuba rather than facing trial in Quebec. The cell members responsible for Laporte were arrested and charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder.
The response by the federal and provincial governments to the incident still sparks controversy. This is the only time that the War Measures Act had been put in place during peacetime in Canada. A few critics (most notably Tommy Douglas and some members of the New Democratic Party) believed that Trudeau was being excessive in advising the use of the War Measures Act to suspend civil liberties and that the precedent set by this incident was dangerous. Federal Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield initially supported Trudeau's actions, but later regretted doing so. The size of the FLQ organization and the number of sympathizers in the public was not known. However, in its Manifesto, the FLQ stated: "In the coming year Bourassa (Premier Robert Bourassa) will have to face reality; 100,000 revolutionary workers, armed and organized."Given that declaration, along with seven years of bombings and the wording of their communiques throughout that time that strove to present an image of a powerful organization spread secretly throughout all sectors of society, the authorities took significant action.
Indeed, the events of October 1970 galvanized a loss of support for the violent wing of the Quebec secessionist movement that had gained support over nearly ten years, and increased support for political means of attaining independence, including support for the secessionist Parti Québécois, which went on to take power at the provincial level in 1976. After the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, which sought to amend the Constitution of Canada to resolve the passage by a previous government of the Constitution Act 1982 without Quebec's ratification, a pro-independence political party, the Bloc Québécois, was also created at the federal level.