Pierre Laporte remembered

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Pierre Laporte in April 1970, a few months before his kidnapping and assassination by members of the Québec Liberation Front (FLQ). He was one of two men kidnapped by the FLQ during the October Crisis; the other, James Cross, who was kidnapped before Laporte, was later released. Pierre Laporte was the sole fatality. His son, Jean, has written a tribute to him that I just had to translate and share:

It was 40 years ago, on October 10, that they took my father. It’s been 40 years, on October 17, that my father was taken away from me.

For me, the October Crisis is much more than an historic event that the media talk about every 10 years. October 1970 evokes above all the tragic loss of my father, a person I loved and admired. October 1970 completely turned my life upside down, has marked it forever, and the historic recalls continue to haunt the lives of my nearest and dearest.

For the majority of Québécois, Pierre Laporte is the minister who was killed in October 1970. The name might also bring to mind a bridge, a school, a highway…For my family and for me, it’s much more. Pierre Laporte was a father, a husband, an uncle, a brother. He was the pillar of the Laporte family. He was also a man much involved in his community, warm and genuine.

Today I’d like to talk about my father, since the historic crisis has had the effect of eclipsing his contribution to our society.

Pierre Laporte was a journalist at the newspaper Le Devoir for 16 years. His work contributed to the defeat of the National Union [party] and the birth of the Quiet Revolution. An ardent opponent to the head of the National Union, Maurice Duplessis, he was the one who revealed the natural-gas scandal and the dubious electoral activities of that government.

Moving from journalism to politics, he was elected four times deputy of the county of Chambly, in 1961, 1962, 1966 and 1970. In the government of Jean Lesage, he was an important member of the team of the Quiet Revolution. He was named minister of municipal affairs and later of cultural affairs.

After the defeat of the Liberal Party in 1966, he became leader of the official opposition. In 1970, he participated in the leadership convention of the Liberal party, which chose Robert Bourassa. He rallied without hesitation around his new chief. After the victory of the PLQ (Québec Liberal Party) in April, he became parliamentary leader and head of the ministry of Labour, as well as Immigration, along with the title of vice-premier.

My father was probably the most nationalistic of the Bourassa cabinet’s ministers. He was recognized as a redoubtable parliamentarian, but he was also greatly appreciated by his colleagues, in his own party as well as others.

And then came the October Crisis…

The province of Québec lost a great politician who loved Québec with all his heart, who cherished the French language, who loved action and life. A man who gave years of his life to his province, who fought against social injustices with respect for democracy and who worked tirelessly for the advancement of numerous causes.

The October Crisis led to the useless and sometimes abusive arrests of many citizens. Their families suffered for it. All the citizens touched by these arrests have been able to regain their families, their home lives. But not Pierre Laporte.

Forty years after the October Crisis, is it not time to remember Pierre Laporte as well, the journalist and the man of politics, and to recognize his support for his province and country? It is time to return Pierre Laporte to the place he deserves in history beyond his tragic end, and for that, it doesn’t matter what our political allegiances are. In so doing, we say yes to democracy, yes to our freedoms, and no to violence.

It is this which I wish for my father, for my family, and for all those who never want to live through another October 1970.

The October Crisis is uniquely tragic; it is the only time in peacetime Canadian history that the War Measures Act was invoked. The kidnappings of Laporte and Cross were what prompted it. A day after it was formally invoked in Parliament (notably, with the agreement of all opposition parties, including the separatist Parti Québécois), the FLQ announced that they had killed Pierre Laporte.

Would a more peaceful response have saved him? Possibly. But it’s hard to know for sure, since the day before the Act’s invocation, the FLQ-sympathetic union leader Michel Chartrand had boasted, “We are going to win because there are more boys ready to shoot members of Parliament than there are policemen.” The FLQ may well have been planning at least one assassination, a sacrificial murder to show that they meant business; in which case, the pro-Québec but still unity-loving Pierre Laporte’s life was probably forfeit no matter what. In an atmosphere of rising pro-FLQ sentiment, with large, well-attended demonstrations in support, it must have looked as though national unity were truly under siege, although the actions of the Parliament (and indeed, of a majority of Québécois, over time) have demonstrated the opposite.

Angry talk is often just that and nothing more. But not so the word of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who famously said “Just watch me” when a reporter asked him what he was going to do. He promised action, and he delivered it.

Unfortunately, so too did the FLQ–in direct response to those words and the actions that followed them. They delivered the body of Pierre Laporte in the trunk of a car, abandoned in the bush near an airport.

The unity of Canada has often been in doubt, but only during October 1970 was it truly in danger.

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