The Decade of the 1960s in Canada [Part 3]

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For many Canadians, the 1960s are the times of the FLQ in Quebec …  the rest of the Sixties being mostly fluff and fashion, unimportant Student Protest and noise ….  That is, perhaps, “flash memory”, but it is not wholly incorrect.  Of course, the fight for universal medicare (for instance) from 1962 to 1968 was important to almost every Canadian life … and has continued to be so … but it was not as (literally) ‘flashy’ as the bombs going off in francophone Canada.

The destruction of the Canadian Seaman’s Union in 1964 (and from then on the erasure of a Canadian Merchant Fleet – fourth largest in the world) is hugely important … but the subject has, somehow, escaped the attention of the major body of professional historians in Canada. (Indeed, a catalogue of major events in Canada that have escaped the attention of  might prove … revealing.)

In a conversation with Mrs. Diefenbaker she reminded me that a campaign train she and John Diefenbaker (Progressive Conservative Party leader) were using in the 1963 election had to be slowed to a few miles an hour while police officers walked ahead, examining the track, to make sure there were no FLQ bombs planted!

The Canadian government was not inactive.  The Pearson Liberal government, in 1963, created what came to be known as the “Bi and Bi Commission”, (“the Laurendeau/Dunton Commission), the federal Commission to examine all aspects of bilingualism and bi-culturalism in Canada and to make far-reaching recommendations, leading to the declaration that Canada is a bilingual nation … and, of course, much more.

The story of the FLQ and the battle for recognition (and Quebec independence) that unfolded from the early 1960s to the early 1970s is told in many colours, in many versions … but – surprisingly … it has never been taken up as a major group work by the professional historians of Canada – francophone and anglophone. What I would call a heavy weight of Liberal historiography has prevailed … and deep digging and honest reporting by such a body has never happened. (Just incidentally: in his Canada’s 1960s Professor Bryan D. Palmer pretty well follows the Pierre Elliot Trudeau version of the matter.)

With a Canadian public asking many, many questions, Pierre Trudeau struck a Royal Commission (the McDonald Royal Commission Inquiry into some activities of the RCMP) (1976).  David McDonald was a Liberal, and a friend of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.  He was appointed about a week after the Quebec government appointed the Keable Commission to inquire into RCMP activities in Quebec during the FLQ crisis. The federal government harassed the Keable Commission … and the McDonald Inquiry held almost all significant hearings behind closed doors…. The one thing achieved was that the McDonald Commission was the most expensive Royal Commission in Canadian history to that date….

Claude Jean Devirieux, (long-time radio Canada journalist) in his memoir Derriere l’information officielle 1950-2000 (Septentrion) reports the close connection Pierre Trudeau kept with the RCMP. He also writes (in French) of the RCMP: ”Acting without control, without mandate, multiplying acts of provocation, in the most perfect illegality, before, during, and after the October Crisis, 1970” (p.110)  And he goes on to report that those activities put them before the tribunals: The McDonald Commission and the Keable Inquiry.

As a result, he reports, he met some of the RCMP involved. One, the former top officer, John Starnes, reported the RCMP furious at the treatment, saying  “they had only acted under orders coming from very high up”. Such a report was not ever made public from the Inquiries. Most of the important transactions of the McDonald Commission were never made public.  Justice was done.

There is another scenario … that has slowly shaped … partly from individual writers in Quebec (untranslated). In fact, the failure to translate important works on the subject from Quebec may not be accidental….

That scenario suggests the Trudeau/RCMP allegiance knew very early about the kidnap of British Trade Commissioner James Cross, and occupied the adjoining apartment for the full time of “the kidnap”. Indeed, Devirieux reports going to the dwelling of the couple removed by the RCMP so that police could occupy the apartment.  The ex-occupant of the apartment adjoining the kidnap apartment of Cross … went pale when he answered the door … and slammed it shut in Devirieux’s face.

As to the murder of Pierre Laporte, acting Premier of Quebec, when he was kidnapped, Madam Laporte was of the opinion that he was murdered by the State. Whether that would be the Army, the RCMP, or a less identifiable actor is impossible to say.  Whatever the case, one of the doctors called to conduct the first post mortem examination of Pierre Laporte’s body would not sign the post mortem report. Months later, when interviewed about the matter, he brushed questions aside by referring to the highly dubious investigation into the murder of John F. Kennedy in the U.S.A. in order to make his point.

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