“Laporte est mort” / October Crisis Part 2 – WKT4 #2

NOTES from the podcast:

Growing up in Pierrefonds, Montreal, we used to have these two, large black and white posters hanging in our unfinished basement. One was of Robert Kennedy, the other Pierre Elliot Trudeau. This was at the end of the 1960s, my mother had totally bought into Trudeaumania. There was never a poster of that other Quebec political rock star, Rene Levesque.

I’m going to run straight to the punchline. There were two kidnapping, and one was fatal. In October 1970 the Quebec FLQ terrorist group – the Front de libération du Québec – first abducted British trade commissioner James Cross. They then went after Quebec Minister of Labour and Deputy Premiere, Pierre Laporte. Under captivity, Laporte was murdered and his body later found in the trunk of an abandoned car at the Saint Hubert airport.

This is Who Killed Theresa.

The FLQ was founded in 1963, but up to that time there had already been considerable revolutionary and terrorist activity in Quebec and throughout the world – in Cuba, the United States, Ireland, South America, Africa, Continental Europe….

In March 1963, someone unbolted the statue of James Wolfe in Quebec City – British hero who defeated the French at the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Wolfe toppled from his pedestal, smashing into pieces, and it all went downhill from there.

Beginning with Molotov cocktails and then eventually graduating to dynamite bombings, the FLQ waged guerrilla warfare against English institutions in Quebec throughout the 1960s. Targets included armories and military recruitment centers, the federal railroad system, the department of revenue, mailboxes in English residential sectors of Montreal, the Montreal Stock Exchange, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and the home of Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau.


FLQ Mailbox bomb

Long before Cross and Laporte there had been at least six fatalities, most being ordinary citizens – secretaries and shop keepers going about their business – beginning with the April 1963 death of night watchman Wilfred O’Neil, who was killed when a bomb exploded outside an army recruiting station.

James Cross

Rather than explaining all subsequent events, it might be best to hear the story of the October Crisis from the one hostage who managed to survive the grueling affair. The following are excerpts from James Cross’ account of events – with some additional notes for clarification – from a taped interview conducted in 1996 at Churchill College, Cambridge:

“October 5th was a typical bright Montreal Autumn day. My wife and I were facing a busy week with a number of important engagements including a visit from the President of the Confederation of British Industries for whom we were organising certain functions and we were discussing the week ahead as I walked between the bedroom and the bathroom dressing, I heard a ring of the doorbell and was surprised that anybody would arrive that early in the morning. My wife suggested that it was probably Hydro Quebec come to read the meter so I took no further notice. I then heard raised voices but did not pay much attention as our maid was inclined to speak loudly sometimes to her small child. The next thing I knew was as I was walking back towards the bathroom dressed only in shirt and underpants. A man came through from the opposite side holding a gun and said, ‘Get down on the floor or you’ll be fucking dead‘. I backed into the bedroom lay on the floor and he then made me turn over onto my face and puts handcuffs on me. Our Dalmatian dog was sitting on the bed beside my wife and started to growl and he told her that if she let the dog move he would shoot it. He then called out another man who came up the stairs into the bedroom carrying a sub machine gun and shepherding the maid and her daughter in front of them. The first man then took me into the dressing room beyond the bathroom put my trousers on and shoes and slipped a jacket over my shoulders. He then led me back through the bedroom. My wife said “you must let me say goodbye to my husband” and came over and kissed me goodbye. They tore the phones out of the sockets beside the bed and told my wife that she must not phone anybody for an hour. I was then taken downstairs where there was a third man also armed. We went out through the front door and there was a taxi sitting outside the house. The only other person I could see was a gardener collecting leaves on the far side of the road. I was pushed into the taxi and shoved down between the front and back seats and a rug thrown over my head. “

James Cross home on Redpath crescent

“Then we drove for about five to ten minutes and stopped in what was clearly some sort of garage or workshop. I was taken out, made to stand against the wall with my eyes closed and a gas mask with the eye pieces painted black was placed over my head. I was then taken back and pushed into another car in the same position between the seats and we drove for possibly fifteen to twenty minutes. We finally drew up in what was clearly the garage of a house. I was taken out, led upstairs the handcuffs were transferred from behind my back to the front and I was put lying down on a mattress in a room where I was to spend the next fifty nine days. My gas mask was removed and a hood placed on my head. I asked them what their intentions were and they said I would have to wait and see. Later that morning they read me their manifesto which included the demands for the release of political prisoners etc. as had been demanded for Harrison Burgess. If these demands were not met I would be executed within forty eight hours. On hearing this I said, “In that case I must compose myself for death.” During the whole day the radio was on most of the time and they were listening avidly to the various reports coming in. Sometime later in the day following a call to a radio station, messages from the kidnappers were found at the University of Montreal. These listed seven demands to be met “In order to preserve the life of the representative of the ancient racist and colonialist British system”. It gave the authorities until noon on Wednesday i.e. forty eight hours to submit. That afternoon the Quebec Justice Minister made a statement outlying the ransom demands. These, as I have mentioned, were similar to those for Harrison Burgess early in the summer included the release of twenty three “political prisoners”, the provision of an aircraft for their transportation to Cuba or Algeria, five hundred thousand dollars in gold bars, the reinstatement of some postal drivers who had been dismissed as a result of privatisation, the name of the informer who had helped the police apprehend the earlier cell, the publication of the full text of the FLQ manifesto and the cessation of all police activities. “

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War Measures Act Invoked

“The next few days presented a picture of some confusion; I think it took authorities in both Quebec and Ottawa a little longer to recognise the seriousness of the demands and in the first instance it appeared that the Quebec Government were taking the lead with Prime Minister Trudeau refusing to answer questions on the subject. In spite of this the premier Bourassa announced that he was carrying on with a business promotion visit to New York on the Thursday and Friday. On the Tuesday evening a message was delivered to a radio station which contained a personal letter from me to my wife and repeating the demands that the FLQ requests be met in full otherwise, “we will not hesitate to do away with J Cross.” On Wednesday there was a further communication from the FLQ including one from me dictated of course by them, asking that their demands should be met. There was still no clear response from either Quebec or Federal Governments. On Thursday the first step was taken when the FLQ manifesto, a crude polemic attacking every institution in Canada and Quebec and abuse for politicians such as Trudeau and Bourassa was read by a po-faced announcer on Radio Canada’s television network. “

FLQ Manifesto

“On Friday [ October ] 9th the Minister of Justice asked for my kidnappers to provide proof that I was still alive and well and a letter containing the message which I had been asked to sign was delivered to a radio station. Saturday the tenth, Choquette the Justice Minister of Quebec came on television and radio just before 6:00pm and said that the kidnappers’ demands would not be met but they offered to provide them with safe conduct to a foreign country in return for my release. He also promised to examine the cases of those “political” prisoners to see if parole or remission of sentence would be justified. During the whole of this week my condition had been static. After the first day or two I was allowed to sit in an armchair for most of the day but still handcuffed. My hood was adjusted so that I could watch television during part of the day although I never saw my captors. Arrangements were made for me to be provided with some pills for my blood pressure for which my wife had appealed on television. The television and radio were on constantly and members of the group were frequently going out to bring back newspapers which they read avidly for news of their exploits. “

Pierre Laporte

“After Mr Choquette had made his statement I asked them what they were going to do with me . They replied that they were going to hold me for a few days “pour baver la police”, to taunt the police. In a few minutes the news came on radio that [ on Saturday, October 10th ] Pierre Laporte the Minister of Labour and Deputy Prime Minister of the Quebec Government had been kidnapped. He had been playing football outside his house with a young nephew when four men drove up in a car, bundled him into it and drove off. This changed the whole situation for whereas I was a virtually unknown foreign diplomat, Pierre Laporte had been a major figure in Quebec politics for the past twenty years. All attention was now focused on his fate. “

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“The next week was then concentrated on the cell holding Pierre Laporte. On the Sunday there were three communications from the cell including in the evening a long letter from Laporte to Bourassa drawing attention to the number of people who were depending on him and urging that the kidnappers’ demands be met. It’s well to point out here that all public messages by either Laporte or me were dictated by the kidnappers and accepted as the only means of communication with the outside world. On the Monday morning a letter from me was discovered and the Government then proceeded to open negotiations through an intermediary named Demers. The next few days saw an astonishing rise in support for the FLQ’s demands coming not only from old FLQ militants but also from students and the trade unions. On Wednesday October 14th a message from my cell was found indicating that contact had been made between the two and that their joint demands were that the prisoners should be sent to Cuba or Algeria and thereafter Cross and Laporte would be freed. The same day there came an appeal from a number of leading Quebec figures including publishers and labour leaders. While offering their support to the provincial Government they clearly favoured an exchange of prisoners for the hostages. On Thursday 15th [ Prime Minister Pierre ] Trudeau met with opposition leaders to seek a solution to the situation. He got no general support and on that evening troops were called out in support of the forces of law and order in Quebec. At this point they were only carrying out guard duties and protection in support of the police. That evening there was a rally at the Paul Sauvé Arena. “

Trudeau invokes the War Measures Act

This was originally organised by the opposition party in the civic elections but was taken over by a large number of FLQ supporters including LaMieux the lawyer negotiating for the FLQ, Michel Chartrand a leading nationalist labour leader and several well known FLQ supporters. I was watching the event on television and it did seem at that point as if a very large number of people in Montreal were supporting the aims and objectives of the FLQ. In the early hours of Friday morning (the 16th) the government passed the War Measures Act which, for the first time in peace-time, imposed a state of war in Canada. “

“Immediately a large number of FLQ sympathisers and supporters were rounded up together with a number of other people whose connection with the movement was to say the least slight. Friday evening Trudeau came on television and said that the Government would not give in to these demonstrations and attempts by a small group to force its will on the majority by violence. We were listening to this on television and immediately after he’d finished I heard the woman in the group (presumably Louise Cassett Trudel) say, “Laporte est mort”, Laporte is dead.”

Funeral of Pierre Laporte

“The following day was reasonably quiet with no great activity that I could see. Then in the late evening watching television, news came in that there was something strange happening at St Hubert Airport to the east of Montreal. Shortly afterwards one began to see the television cameras arriving on the scene. In the early hours of the morning the trunk of a car which was parked there was broken open to reveal the body of Pierre Laporte. It was then revealed that a telephone call to a radio station earlier in the evening had given this news. Thus the journalists arrived almost as soon as the police. The rest of that evening or early morning was chaotic. Shortly after the announcement that Laporte’s body had been found there was an announcement that my body had been found at Rawdon near Quebec. This was naturally an appalling piece of news since I feared that my wife might be watching. I wanted to get up and shake the television set and scream “I’m not dead! I’m not dead!”. Finally I think even my captors took pity on me and gave me some aspirin or something to calm me down. The following morning they allowed me to write a letter to my wife. “

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Before we continue the rest of the story I might describe the conditions under which I was held during the first week. As I mentioned I began by being handcuffed then after a day or so these were changed that two handcuffs linked together with cloth to avoid them fraying my wrists were attached. I was allowed to sit in an arm chair for most of the day and watch television or listen to the radio or read news papers. While these conditions were not terrible onerous it was clear that there were other measures to be taken if I should prove recalcitrant. For example, there were bolts fitted to the floor which could be used to chain me down and there were all the implements for gagging and other methods of restraint. Accordingly I decided that the only way to survive 8 was to go along with the kidnappers and obey their orders.

James Cross

“The next six weeks were into a fairly steady routine. The first few days there was the drama of Pierre Laporte’s funeral and the surrounding interest and excitement. Also reports of the various police raids and arrests of those suspected of FLQ sympathies. Mayor Drapeau fought his municipal election and swept the opposition (suspected of FLQ sympathy) from the field. My own position sank into one of inertia. The kidnappers refused to discuss their next moves with me but one evening I heard a number of them talking in another room and one returned to give my guard the news. I could not hear the full gist of his statement but I clearly heard the word ‘indefinitely’. The routine was that I usually got up about 10 in the morning, was allowed to wash and go to the lavatory, sometimes to shave although the woman in the party was reluctant to allow me to do so. Then I returned to sit in the chair facing the television set and spent the rest of the day there. I would either read, watch television when they had it on, listen to the radio or play innumerable games of Patience. Another means of occupying my mind was to go over holidays or things I had done in the past, for example, I began to retrace in my mind the walk of about three quarters of a mile which I used to take to school as a small boy. In the beginning I could barely remember the details, but after a few weeks I could probably have described every blade of grass on the route. Food usually consisted of toast and coffee in the morning, two pieces of toast, one with peanut butter. In the evening there was some sort of a mess, sometimes soup sometimes a Chinese meal or some sort of mess up. The food was not very adequate and in fact I lost 22lbs in my eight weeks incarceration. After the excitements and dramas of the first two weeks in captivity culminating in the terrible night when Laporte’s body was found the remaining six weeks were very much a period of stagnation. I followed the same routine getting up late watching television, reading or playing patience during the day and going to bed very late at night after the last television programme had finished. My selection of reading was a curious mixture, on the one hand there were the revolutionary manuals such as Valliere’s on the wrongs of the French Canadians, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ by Franz Fanon the Algerian psychologist who was a guru of the Algerian revolution and a few miscellaneous works on the revolutionaries of the 1960’s. On the other hand there was a very good selection of early Agatha Christies in French and it was surprising how good many of them were to read again. One curious book they supplied me with was an early work by Jules Verne about the French Canadian patriots of 1837. I believe that, in addition, to his science fiction work he also went through an anti-British period when he wrote works about British imperialism in Canada, India and Ireland.”

The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon

“In the first two weeks I had been interested in their political ideas and their objectives and we had had a certain amount of discussion but after La Porte’s death I felt that I no longer wanted to pursue these subjects and we really sank into our two solitudes. The great problem throughout was that I never knew what was going on behind me and it would have been a disaster for me to have turned my head and seen any of my captors. This was sometimes very difficult to avoid if a sudden noise happened behind me or somebody spoke to me. The only major events of those weeks were first an occasion when they sat me on a box (supposedly containing dynamite) took certain pictures of me which were later released to the press together with a letter from me (dictated of course by them) and a letter to my wife. It caused rather an unpleasant incident with my captors because they had spelt the words prisoners in English with two N’s (as in French) and I had not corrected it. The press took this up as suggesting that I was trying to pass some sort of code message. As, of course, I was being held in north Montreal it could have been an attempt to convey information but, of course, I had no idea where I was. Following press commentary on this they were quite hostile to me for a couple of days, practically the only occasion on which any really nasty incidents arose.

Jules Verne’s Famille Sans-Nom, about the 1837 Lower-Canada Rebellion. The 1978 edition added the text, “Pour le Quebec Libre”.

” I’d already adjusted my mind to getting through the period up to Christmas and was beginning to think that I might possibly have to last through the whole winter. At the beginning of December there seemed to be a little more activity around with people coming and going and discussions about the amount of money they had which suggested that they were finding it difficult to keep going. “

Cuban Pavilion at Man and his World

Premier Robert Bourassa at the Laporte funeral

“The 2nd December was a day much as usual. I noticed that there did not seem to be so many people around but this was not unusual as they sometimes left for a few hours. This evening they came and put handcuffs on me which was the first time this had happened for a number of weeks. I asked what had happened and they told me that the police knew where I was and had arrested two of their comrades who had gone out during the day and not returned. Later that evening all the lights in the apartment went off and at that I was taken from my chair, led into the passageway between the rooms and handcuffed to a door handle. In this extremely uncomfortable position where I could neither sit nor stand I spent the rest of the night. They clearly expected an attack during the night and on one occasion began to compose a message of defiance to be thrown out of the window. When they had finished drafting this somebody said, “We must add our slogan ‘nous vaincrons'” meaning ‘we shall win’. At that absurdity of three men defying the whole of the Canadian security services we all burst out laughing. Dawn came. I was allowed to stand up and move around the corridor. They remained on the alert. At some time in the morning the negotiator appointed by the Federal Government, Mr Mergler, a lawyer who had represented FLQ members in the past, came and knocked on the door. There was considerable dismantling as they had wired the door with explosives against attack. He came in and as his first question asked me the name of the bull terrier we had when living in Delhi. This had been agreed by my wife as a codeword. Interestingly enough the full title of the story from which the name is drawn is “Garm a hostage”. Then followed two hours of negotiation. The government proposal was that we should all go to the EXPO site where a building had been designated as the Cuban consulate for the day. I would remain there under the supervision of the Cuban Consul while the kidnappers and their families were flown to Cuba. As soon as they arrived in Cuba I would be released. They were extremely suspicious of all this and suggested that as soon as they got outside the building they would be mowed down. Mr Mergler and I pointed out that they could hardly do this if I was among them. Finally they agreed and towards 1:00pm we went down into the basement and climbed into the battered old car in which I presume I had arrived two months before. The back of the car was covered in newspaper to prevent a shot being taken. I got in the back with Lanctot and Carbonneau the taxi driver and Seguin were in the front. Carbonneau was extremely nervous and as we drove out of the garage scraped the wing of the car. When we got outside into the bright sunlight it was an astonishing sight with hundreds of police and soldiers lining the streets. Mergler climbed into the front of the car and we started this terrific ride behind police outsiders across Montreal. The back door of the car was shaky and at time as we went round corners I was worried that Lanctot would fall out so I hung on to him. Finally we crossed the long bridge to the Expo site, pulled up outside the then designated Cuban Consulate. Bill Ashford, my information colleague, was there waiting for me and we went into the building. I turned to one side, my kidnappers to the other and I never saw them again. I had to remain in the Consulate then until about midnight. I first t a l k e d t o m y wife in Switzerland an d t h e n t o t h e H i g h Commissioner in Ottawa. I spoke later to Mr Trudeau and to Mr B o u r a s s a t h e P r i m e M i n i s t e r o f Q u e b e c . “

“F o o d a r r i v e d , unfortunately nobody had thought to provide any drink, a great deprivation after two months without alcohol. At 6:00 the kidnappers left; their families having been collected at the airport, and then Mr Chauquette (the Minister of Justice) arrived, then my daughter came, then later in the evening Mr Bourassa the Prime Minister. I stayed there until midnight when I was driven to the Jewish General Hospital (my GP was a consultant there) where I was weighed, tested and spent a peaceful night. The following day I had further tests, then a long session with the police recording my impressions of the kidnappers and went to the office to see the staff. On Saturday morning early we drove to the airport and I made a short speech before flying to England together with my daughter. On the plane I gave a long description of the whole affair to Jim Davy – one of Mr Trudeau’s aids but alas he had failed to switch his tape recorder on. When we landed at London my wife came on board to meet us and we descended to meet the press. After a brief interview we went by car to Dorney Wood, the Foreign Secretary’s country residence where we spent a quiet weekend. “


Two days before Christmas, December 23rd, 1970 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announces that all troops stationed in the province will be withdrawn from Quebec by January 5, 1971.

On December 28th the three members of the Chenier Cell still at large, Paul RoseJacques Rose, and Francis Simard, are arrested after being found hiding in a tunnel in a Saint Luc rural farming community 20 miles south east of Montreal. Later they would be charged with the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte.

Paul Rose had been vacationing in the United States in the fall of 1970 when he got word that James Cross had been kidnapped. He quickly cut short his vacation and hurried back to Montreal, and basically improvised the abduction of Pierre Laporte. The versions of Laporte’s death have changed over the years. At once, it was deemed an accident, they “accidentally” strangled Laporte with the religious chain around his neck when he tried to escape. Later Rose and Simard basically fell over themselves claiming they had murdered Laporte, and would gladly do it again. Still later, Rose claimed that the murder was the result of frustration after authorities had cut off communication between the FLQ cells. In this version Rose blamed the establishment for Laporte’s death.

House where Laporte was held at
 5630 Armstrong Street, three blocks from the crime scene of Diane Dery and Mario Corbeil

The outcomes from the October Crisis have always been unresolved and less than satisfactory. What did anyone learn? Jacques Trudel and his wife Louise Lanctôt negotiated safe passage to Cuba and lived there for 4 years. In 1977 Rene Levesque announced he was seeking a pardon for Trudel and Lanctot. They returned to Montreal in 1978. For the kidnapping of James Cross they received five years on probation; they served two. Trudel became a successful screenwriter and filmmaker, receiving financial assistance from Téléfilm Canada.

Parti Quebecois leader Rene Levesque the evening of the Laporte assassination.

For the murder of Pierre Laporte, Francis Simard was given a life sentence, but was paroled in 1982. Jacques Rose served even less time, he was paroled in 1978. At the 1981 Parti Quebecois convention Jacques Rose was given a standing ovation, Levesque shook his head in disgust, never wanting his party controlled by extreme voices. Paul Rose served 13 years. By the mid-eighties he was out, attempting to resume his teaching career in Montreal. Rose applied for work at an elementary school just blocks from where Pierre Laporte’s widow was living.

In a 1978 interview with Photo Police Paul Rose was without remorse:

“I regret nothing: 1970, the abductions, the prison, the suffering, nothing. I did what I had to do. Placed before the same circumstances today, I would do exactly the same thing. I will never deny what I did and what happened. It was not a youthful indiscretion. “

My experience is that you cannot remain agnostic about the events of October 1970, people in Quebec expect you to take a side. My own thoughts have evolved over the years, I am now a long way from that basement in the West Island of Montreal with those black and white posters.

There’s a sketch comedy series in Quebec called Bye-Bye. It’s a year-end New Year’s Eve round up of funny skits that summarize events of the previous year. Bye Bye 1970 is memorable for the sublime bit, Olivier Guimond a Westmount – I’ll post it on the website. Guimond was a tremendously gifted physical comedian – think Charlie Chaplin.

The sketch opens outside an affluent home on New Years Eve, Guimond dressed as an army officer standing watch on the front entrance. It’s snowing… he’s cold, he’s bored. Glancing at his watch he calls into his supervisor.

“Hello Chef? It’s Corporal Olivier. Yes, I’m still at Westmount. Chef? Can you call my family and wish them happy new year? And my little ones two, eh… Merci Chef. “

Then out stumbles the rich, english owner of the manor, drunk and dressed in a dishevelled tuxedo. His wife urges him to come back inside, it’s too cold:

“No, no… I want a chat with him”

“With HIM??? Oohhh!”

In very bad french he offers Guimond a nip from his bottle of scotch. Some physical comedy follows, some funny stumbling from getting drunk. The english millionaire asks the french soldier guarding his home where he’s from:

“Saint Henri.”

“Where is it?”

“just en bas. Direct en bas” ( he points down)

“Oh yes, right down there.”

“There’s no light down there…”

At the end of the sketch Mr. English returns to his safe, warm home, and Mr. Quebecois continues his sentry – protecting Mr. English – in the evening cold. Guilmond carries the skit with such a spirit of humanity, never has the Quebecois condition in the 1970s been expressed quite so eloquently.

This is Who Killed Theresa?

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Olivier Guimond

James Cross speaks after two months in captivity:

Robin Spry’s 1973 NFB documentary – Action: The October Crisis of 1970:

Robert Charlebois et Louise Forestier – Lindburg:


2 thoughts on ““Laporte est mort” / October Crisis Part 2 – WKT4 #2”

  1. Love Robert Charlebois. This was a great episode. Last week I had nous somme les Quebecois stuck in my head.

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