Quebec’s Labor Minister Kidnapped and Killed

A separatist terror group in Canada, the Front de Liberation du Quebec, kidnapped James Cross, a British trade commissioner, on October 5, 1970. Their demands included $500,000 to be paid in gold and safe passage for 23 FLQ members to Cuba or Algeria, plus reinstatement of their jobs to several postal workers who had been recently fired.

The government read parts of the manifesto on television on October 8, but later came accusations through attorney Robert Lemieux on behalf of the terrorists of acting in bad faith, and threats that Cross would be killed if the prisoners were not freed by the next evening. The FLQ then kidnapped, on October 10, Quebec’s minister of labor, Pierre Laporte. Two masked men with submachine guns took him from his home while he played ball with his son and nephews.

Life or death

In captivity Laporte wrote to Robert Bourassa, Quebec’s premier, saying, “We are confronted by a well-organized escalation which will only end with the freeing of the political prisoners,” and asked that the demands of the separatists be met. Laporte wrote, “You … have the power to decide on my life or death.” Bourassa appeared again on television to say that the government must have assurances that the men would be released unharmed before they met any demands.

Lemieux was arrested on October 11, accused of obstructing the police investigation into the kidnapping. While University of Quebec students demonstrated in favor of the FLQ’s demands, at Premier Bourassa’s request the federal government sent troops to guard public buildings and the prime minister’s home. By October 16, a state of “apprehended insurrection” had been declared, putting into action emergency powers, and the government offered the kidnappers immunity from arrest in exchange for the two hostages.

Shot and strangled

However, while following up on a tip on October 17, police found Laporte’s bullet-riddled and strangled corpse in the trunk of a car at St. Hubert’s airport near Montreal. It was the first political slaying in Canada in more than 100 years.

On November 6, police arrested Bernard Lortie, who admitted participating in the kidnapping but denied taking part in either the killing of Laporte or the kidnapping of Cross. On December 2, police surrounded the house where Cross was held captive and successfully negotiated for his release. Charged and convicted of slaying the labor minister, between January and May 1971, were Lortie, Paul Rose, and brothers Jacques Simard and Francis Simard. Rose and Francis Simard were sentenced to life imprisonment, Lortie was given 20 years, and Jacques Simard won acquittal.

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