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Canadian History


That doleful October, 40 years later − 1: Voices of dissent, in English

by Pierre Joncas

Trudeau’s Darkest Hour was published last autumn to mark the 40th anniversary of what came to be labelled the October Crisis. It is impossible for me to review this anthology without a sense of embarrassment. Readers are entitled to know why.

At the time of the crisis, I was in my mid-thirties. For nearly two decades, I had admired Pierre Trudeau for his public stands on a number of important, but controversial, issues. In my eyes, his courageous defence of causes such as civil liberties and personal rights was as praiseworthy as it was unpopular. I trusted him. Accordingly, while I winced at his patronizing “bleeding hearts … weak-kneed … just watch me” remarks to CBC journalist Tim Ralfe, I nevertheless accepted his judgement that extreme measures were required to halt what struck me as escalating terror. Of course, I entertain no retrospective sympathy for the Front de Libération du Québec. In the sixties, its home-made bombs concealed in mailboxes and elsewhere maimed and killed innocent people, some of whose names (Walter Leja, Thérèse Morin) will remain forever etched in my mind. The FLQ’s surreptitious attacks imperilled all Montrealers, including my parents and friends.

Although I, and others, may not have fully appreciated our good fortune, and notwithstanding the 1955 Maurice Richard riots, Quebec society had been, on the whole, peaceable, and FLQ violence was particularly disquieting. I therefore welcomed vigorous action to put an end to its unwonted savagery. As it turned out, in defending the government’s indiscriminate counteroffensive, I was wrong.

One last observation with a bearing on what will follow. The federalist perspective from which my views have evolved is quite different from that of the editors of this collection of speeches, articles and other documents. Both retired university professors of political science, Guy Bouthillier and Édouard Cloutier are committed sovereigntists of long standing. They explain that their purpose is to dispel an “objectionable notion [that] hampers our ability to establish good neighbourly relations and continues to isolate Quebecers” − that notion being that “‘they’ [the English] stood united against Quebec.” I never shared this perception, but acknowledge it is held firmly by some: I therefore applaud the editors’ determination to lay it to rest.

In their introduction, Bouthillier and Cloutier write,

We believed that there were people in Parliament, in the media, and among the population at large in English Canada who refused to march to the Trudeau drum. Some may not have stood up in October 1970, but they spoke out later to set the record straight. Our hypothesis was well founded. Many English Canadians spoke up, acted, reflected, and above all wrote, with much less unanimity, with nuance, and sometimes in strong opposition to the official truth.

Their anthology proves it.

The excerpt from Peter Newman’s

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About the Author

Pierre Joncas
Pierre Joncas is a retired federal civil servant and the author of Les accommodements raisonnables: Entre Hérouxville et Outremont.


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