1970 ‘October Crisis’ forces PM’s hand to impose War Measures Act

On today’s date in 1970, prime minister Pierre Trudeau declared “a state of apprehended insurrection” as he imposed the War Measures Act after Québec labour minister Pierre Laporte was found murdered.

Canadian troops were ordered to protect public figures, and police rounded up and interviewed 497 possible suspects, arresting 250, including Michel Chartrand, and searching 170 homes, in an attempt to break the FLQ cell structure and find British diplomat James Cross also kidnapped by the terrorists.

The Act allowed Cabinet to overrule civil rights and authority. It was the first time emergency powers had been used in peacetime, and the only use of the 1914 statute during a domestic crisis; it could be invoked when the Cabinet perceived the existence of “war, invasion or insurrection, real or apprehended.”

Chronology of the day: 04:00 am – Proclamation of the War Measures Act; 11:00 am – government issues special emergency regulations; 5:00 pm – Premier Robert Bourassa approves the proclamation of an emergency; 8:00 pm – Mayor Jean Drapeau approves the government’s action; 10:15 pm – Pierre Trudeau addresses the nation.

Trudeau was named “top Canadian newsmaker of the 20th century” in December 1999.

A souviner sheet of four stamps of Trudeau, released by Canada Post in 2000.

A souvenir sheet of four stamps of Trudeau, released by Canada Post in 2001.

He was prime minister of Canada between 1968-1979 and 1980-1984. A charismatic and controversial figure, Trudeau was arguably Canada’s best-known politician, both at home and abroad.

During his terms as prime minster, the Official Languages Act, Wage and Price controls, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were implemented. Trudeau appointed the first woman Speaker in the House of Commons and Canada’s first woman Governor-General.

On July 1, 2001, Canada Post issued a single domestic rate stamp to commemorate the life and career of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

To date, Trudeau’s image does not appear on any Royal Canadian Mint circulating or collector coins, and banknotes. He was amongst several Canadian prime ministers featured in a Shell Oil Canada collector medallion set, released in the 1970s.

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