Re: Dayan Jayatilleka replies to Mahinda Gunasekara on "Ju ly '83"

Asoka Weerasinghe Canada

Dear Dayan Jayathilleka:

In your response to Mahinda Gunasekera’s critique you said, “Gunasekara may have noticed that no mobs descended on French Canadians and beat, hacked or burnt them to death as a result of such “provocation”. You are absolutely right. But not that they were not capable of such shenanigans, except that any such intention was dampened by the War Measures Act. That indeed was the rub.

The Canadians had little opportunity to go at each other, due to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Government’s preemptive action, unlike what happened in Sri Lanka. If not for invoking the “War Measures Act” in October 1970, the world, very likely, would have witnessed a different scenario between the separatists and the sovereignists and, perhaps, plenty of spilled blood too.

To a CBC reporter in the famous interview on Parliament Hill in the midst of the October Crisis, Pierre Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada said, “But it is more important to keep law and order in society than be worried about weak-kneed people.” Is this where Sri Lanka went wrong where as you said, “…however unpalatable, must never result in a violent response.”?

Now that you have brought in Canada into your response, perhaps I should explain to the readers of your post why Canadians had little opportunity to go at each other due to French Quebecois separatists’ provocations.

It was just after 8:00 on the brilliant autumn morning on Monday, October 5th, 1970, four members of the separatists Cell of the Front de Liberations du Quebec (FLQ) abducted British Trade Commissioner James Cross from his home in Montreal. In exchange of his release these four made seven demands, and among them: $500,000 in gold bullion and the release of 23 political prisoners who were their FLQ members who had been jailed for terrorist acts.

This was the first real test of Canada’s new Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, at 50, just two years into the job. Premier Robert Bourassa’s Provincial Quebec government wanted to appease the kidnappers by releasing the prisoners. But Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau intervened and convinced Premier Bourassa to offer only safe passage out of the country to the FLQ separatists. Within the hour of this announcement of a safe passage on Saturday, October 10, Pierre Laporte, Quebec Labour Minister was kidnapped while playing touch football outside his home on Montréal’s South Shore by the FLQ.

The no nonsense Prime Minister Trudeau had the federal Parliament invoke the War Measures Act on October 16, 1970, which sent the police and army into the streets of Montreal to arrest, to interrogate and detain more than 400 separatist sympathizers. Two days after invoking the War Measures Act, Pierre Laporte was dead, strangled with his own gold chain and snuffed into the trunk of an old car. This killing sparked revulsion against political terrorism in Quebec as well as all across Canada. Laporte’s killers were found and convicted. Cross’s abductors gave up by December and released him and went into exile in Cuba and later France.

It was this decisiveness by Prime Minister Trudeau that nipped in the bud any nasty shenanigans which would have blossomed into another bunch of terrorists like the Tamil Tigers. As a tough leader he did not back down to his national, international and Human Rights critics for invoking the War Measures Act, by saying “All I can say is, go and bleed”.

From 1963 and 1970, the FLQ committed over 200 violent actions; including bombings, bank hold-ups, kidnappings, and at least three killings from bombs and two by gunfire.

But what should be noted here is that the FLQ terrorist’s arsenal was an armoury of weapons of a grand total of 33 fire arms, and 21 other offensive weapons including 3 smoke grenades, 9 hand knives and 1 saber. And for all this it was the War Measures Act that dowsed the mutation of this arsenal of weapons into 100s if not 1000s of other weapons, with them more killings, assassinations and blood shed.

The War Measures Act was about violence, revolution, an apprehended armed rising, and about the alleged presence in the land of a parallel power which threatened the social order, and not just in Quebec, but all of Canada.

Asoka Weerasinghe

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