The Front de libération du Québec (FLQ; lit. "Quebec Liberation Front") was a separatist paramilitary group in Quebec. Founded in the early 1960s, it militantly supported the Quebec sovereignty movement. It was active between 1963 and 1970, and was regarded as a terrorist organisation for its violent methods of action, although a few historians additionally regard a few of its members as "idealists" while the provincial police considered them "amateurs". It was responsible for over 160 violent incidents which killed eight people and injured a large number of more, including the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969. These attacks culminated in 1970 with what's known as the October Crisis, in which British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte were kidnapped, with Laporte being killed.
FLQ members practised propaganda of the deed and issued declarations that called for a socialist insurrection against oppressors identified with "Anglo-Saxon" imperialism, the overthrow of the Quebec government, the independence of Quebec from Canada and the establishment of a French-speaking Quebecer "workers' society". The organisation was additionally influenced by additional movements, such as leftist groups in countries such as Algeria, Vietnam and Cuba.
Members and sympathisers of the group were called "Felquistes" (French pronunciation: [fɛlˈkist]), a word coined from the French pronunciation of the letters FLQ. Some of the members were organised and trained by Georges Schoeters, a Belgian revolutionary. FLQ members Normand Roy and Michel Lambert received guerrilla training from the Palestine Liberation Organization in Jordan. The FLQ was a loose association operating as a clandestine cell system. Various cells emerged over time: the Viger Cell founded by Robert Comeau, history professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal; the Dieppe Cell; the Louis Riel Cell; the Nelson Cell; the Saint-Denis Cell; the Liberation Cell; and the Chénier Cell. The last two of these cells were involved in what became known as the October Crisis. From 1963 to 1970, the FLQ committed over 160 violent actions, including bombings, bank hold-ups, kidnappings, at least three killings by FLQ bombs and two killings by gunfire. In 1966 Revolutionary Strategy and the Role of the Avant-Garde was prepared by the FLQ, outlining their long-term strategy of successive waves of robberies, violence, bombings, and kidnappings, culminating in revolution. The history of the FLQ is at times described as a series of "waves".
The First Wave
The first formation of the FLQ was composed of members of the Rassemblement pour l'Indépendance Nationale, a few of whom wished for faster action. This group formed the "Réseau de Résistance", or Resistance Network. This group eventually broke up, forming the FLQ. The group was recruited among various sources, eventually recruiting one Mario Bachand. The FLQ commenced their attacks on March 7, 1963. Some of their more notable crimes include bombing a railway (by which then–Prime Minister of Canada John Diefenbaker had arranged to travel within the week).
March seventh 1963
- 3 molotov cocktails planted at Victoria Rifles Armory, the Royal Montreal Regiment, and at the fourth Battalion Royal twenty-second Regiment (in Châteauguay). Little to no damage done.
- Leaflets with the aims of the FLQ were distributed widely throughout the city of Montreal. On the 9-by-12-inch (230 mm × 300 mm) documents can be found a crude crayon coloured drawing of the resistance flag along with the following inscription:
Suicide-commandos of the Quebec Liberation Front have as their mission to completely destroy, by systematic sabotage:
- All the symbols and colonial institutions (federal), in particular the RCMP and the armed forces.
- All the information media of the colonial language (English) which holds us in contempt.
- All enterprises and commercial establishments which practise discrimination against Quebec people, which don't use French as their primary language, which have signs in the colonial language (English).
- All the factories that discriminate against French-speaking workers 
April 1, 1963
- A saboteur with a bomb caused minor damage to a 25-inch section of rail line between Montreal and Quebec City in the town of Lemieux. It appeared to go unnoticed as traffic continued on the rail line. An engineer eventually called in a "rough spot" that needed repair and a maintenance crew was immediately dispatched for repairs in time for Prime Minister Diefenbaker to travel through shortly after.
- A bomb is detonated in the ventilation system of the Department of National Revenue. No one is injured.
- The words "Quebec Libre" and the letters "FLQ" are written on the official residence of Quebec Lieutenant Governor, Paul Comtois.
April 12, 1963
- In response to increased FLQ activities, 50 police officers conduct predawn raids on the homes of 15 suspected members of the FLQ.
April 20, 1963
- Shortly before 1:00am, an individual claiming to be a member of the FLQ called the Canadian Press and announced "Operation Jean Lesage has started." Soon thereafter a stick of dynamite exploded outside the RCMP headquarters. No one was injured.
- At approximately 11:45pm a bomb detonated at the Canadian Army Recruiting Centre in Montreal. Furnaceman, William Vincent O'Neill (aged 65) was killed instantly.
May 17, 1963
- In the early morning 11 mailboxes in Westmount were planted with time bombs. Five exploded at 3am. Nine of the remaining ten bombs were successfully dismantled. One bomb, planted by Jean-Denis Lamoureux critically wounded a Canadian military bomb disposal expert - Walter Leja.
May 20, 1963
- One car was completely destroyed and three others severely damaged when a car bomb detonated outside the RCEME building in what was the largest explosion at the hands of the FLQ. No one was injured.
- Multiple harmless bomb threats are received throughout the province of Quebec. Only one threat resulted in finding sticks of dynamite.
By June 1, 1963, eight members of the FLQ were arrested in a surprise raid. In 1963, Gabriel Hudon and Raymond Villeneuve were sentenced to 12 years in prison after their bomb killed Wilfred O'Neill, a watchman at Montreal's Canadian Army Recruitment Centre. Their targets additionally included English-owned businesses, banks, McGill University, Loyola College and the Black Watch Armoury.
The Second Wave
A group of six individuals, two of whom were brothers of FLQ members arrested in 1963 (Robert Hudon and Jean Gagnon), commenced a series of crimes in Quebec over a period between September 26, 1963, and April 9, 1964. They called themselves the "Quebec Liberation Army" (L’Armée de Libération du Québec), and stole approximately C$100,000 (C$763,414.63 when adjusted for inflation as of June 2014) in goods and money. Most of these individuals were additionally released by 1967.
The Third Wave
A larger group of revolutionaries became known as the "Revolutionary Army of Quebec" (L’Armée Révolutionnaire du Québec). This group attempted to focus on training, particularly in St. Boniface. A botched gun robbery August 29, 1964, resulted in two deaths. Cyr Delisle, Gilles Brunet, Marcel Tardif, François Schirm, and Edmond Guenette, the five members arrested in connexion with the deaths of Leslie MacWilliams and Alfred Pinisch, workers at the store, were sentenced to life in prison. A number of additional members of the FLQ were arrested as well.
The Fourth Wave
Charles Gagnon and Pierre Vallières combined their "Popular Liberation Movement" with the FLQ in July 1965. This additionally combined several additional pro-sovereignty groups. This might have led to a more socialist FLQ attitude. This new group robbed a New Democratic Party office and a radio station for supplies, a large number of of which were used to write La Cognée, the revolutionary paper published by the FLQ throughout the a large number of years of activity. It translates to "The Hit". The fourth wave saw the increasing use of explosives, the production styles of which were at times detailed in La Cognée. An FLQ member, Jean Corbo, was killed by his own explosive, and a 64-year-old female office worker died throughout the FLQ bombing of the shoe factory Lagrenade.
By August 1966, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had arrested a large number of FLQ members. Gagnon and Vallières had fled to the United States, where they protested in front of the United Nations and were later arrested. It was throughout his incarceration that Vallières wrote his book White Niggers of America. In September 1967, the pair were extradited to Canada.
In 1968, after various riots within Quebec and in Europe, a new group of FLQ was formed. Within a year, this group of Felquistes had exploded 52 bombs. Rather than La Cognée, they wrote La Victoire, or Victory. The various members of the group were arrested by May 2, 1969.
Various attacks and the sixth wave
On February 13, 1969, the Front de libération du Québec set off a powerful bomb that ripped through the Montreal Stock Exchange causing massive destruction and seriously injuring 27 people. After another series of bombings, on September 28, 1969, they bombed the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. After the bombing, police concluded that the bomb was placed in the toilet so inspectors couldn't find it.
1969 additionally saw a large number of riots, including one against McGill University. The RCMP had intercepted intelligence relating to the planned riots, and prevented excessive damage. This failed riot led to Mario Bachand leaving Canada, and another group of FLQ forming, which would become responsible for the October Crisis. This group, formed of Paul Rose, Jacques Rose, Francis Simard, and Nigel Hamer became known as the "South Shore Gang".
During the police strike of 1969, the "Taxi Liberation Front", a creation of the "Popular Liberation Front", which was itself the creation of Jacques Lanctôt and Marc Carbonneau, killed a police officer. Jacques Lanctôt is credited by Michael McLoughlin, author of Last Stop, Paris: The Assassination of Mario Bachand and the Death of the FLQ, with writing the FLQ Manifesto throughout the prelude to the October Crisis.
The South Shore Gang bought a house, which they named "The Little Free Quebec", and it quickly became a den of the FLQ. Jacques Lanctôt was charged in connexion with a failed FLQ kidnapping attempt of an Israeli diplomat, and in 1970, while a member of the FLQ, likely took refuge at "The Little Free Quebec". These new FLQ members bought two additional houses, prepared their plans, and stocked sufficient equipment for their upcoming actions.
Disinformation about the FLQ
The KGB was concerned that the FLQ's terrorist attacks can be linked to the Soviet Union. It designed a disinformation campaign and forged documents to portray the FLQ as a CIA false flag operation. A photocopy of the forged "CIA document" was "leaked" to the Montreal Star in September 1971. The operation was so successful that Canada's prime minister believed that the CIA had conducted operations in Canada. The storey was still quoted in the 1990s, even among academic authors.
On October 5, 1970, members of the FLQ's Liberation cell kidnapped James Richard Cross, the British Trade Commissioner as he was leaving his home for work. Shortly afterwards, on October 10, the Chénier Cell kidnapped the Minister of Labour and Vice-Premier of Quebec, Pierre Laporte. Laporte was coming from a meeting with others, discussing the demands of the FLQ. After the demands were denied, Pierre Laporte was immediately killed by the FLQ (although it is still not known how the FLQ knew of the decision so quickly).
In the following days, FLQ leaders held meetings to increase public support for the cause. Consequently, a general strike involving students, teachers and professors resulted in the closure of most French-language secondary and post-secondary academic institutions. On October 15, 1970, more than 3,000 students attended a protest rally in favour of the FLQ. Demonstrations of public support influenced subsequent government actions.
On October 17, callers to a radio station announced that Laporte had been murdered and divulged the location of a map which led to the discovery of his body.
The FLQ released a list of demands for Cross's release:
- The release of 23 "political prisoners" (including: Cyriaque Delisle, Edmond Guenette and François Schirm, Serge Demers, Marcel Faulkner, Gérard Laquerre, Robert Lévesque, Réal Mathieu, and Claude Simard; Pierre-Paul Geoffroy, Michel Loriot, Pierre Demers, Gabriel Hudon, Robert Hudon, Marc-André Gagné, François Lanctôt, Claude Morency, and André Roy; Pierre Boucher and André Ouellette)
- The FLQ members André Lessard, Pierre Marcil, and Réjean Tremblay, who were out on bail at the time of the kidnappings, would be allowed to leave Quebec if they wanted.
- All family members of the "political prisoners" and those out on bail would be able to join them outside of Quebec.
- $500,000 in gold
- The broadcast and publication of the FLQ Manifesto
- The publication of the name of a police informant
- A helicopter to take the kidnappers to Cuba or Algeria and while doing so they would be accompanied by their lawyers
- The rehiring of about 450 Lapalme postal workers who had been laid off because of their support of the FLQ
- The cessation of all police search activities
The FLQ additionally stipulated how the above demands would be carried out:
- The prisoners were to be taken to the Montreal airport and supplied a copy of the FLQ Manifesto. They were to be allowed to communicate with each additional and become familiar with the Manifesto.
- They weren't to be dealt with in a harsh or brutal manner.
- They must be able to communicate with their lawyers to discuss the best course of action, whether to leave Quebec or not. As well, these lawyers must receive passage back to Quebec.
Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, in his statement to the press throughout the October Crisis, admitted that the radicalism occurring in Quebec at this time had bred out of social unease due to imperfect legislation. “The government has pledged that it will introduce legislation which deals not only with the symptoms but with the social causes which often underlie or serve as an excuse for crime and disorder.” (Pierre Trudeau, CBC interview). Notwithstanding notwithstanding this admission, Trudeau declared in his statement to the press that in order to deal with the unruly radicals or "revolutionaries," the federal government would invoke the War Measures Act, the only time the country used these powers throughout peacetime.
Invoking the War Measures Act was a politically risky move for Trudeau because the Act overrode fundamental rights and privileges enumerated in the common law and in the Canadian Bill of Rights; therefore, there was a strong possibility that Trudeau might have lost popular support among Quebec voters; however, this didn't occur.
In an impromptu interview with Tim Ralfe and Peter Reilly on the steps of Parliament, Pierre Trudeau, responding to a question of how extreme his implementation of the War Measures Act would be, Trudeau answered, “Well, just watch me.” This line has become a part of Trudeau’s legacy.
Early in December 1970, police discovered the location of the kidnappers holding James Cross. His release was negotiated and on December 3, 1970, five of the FLQ members were granted their request for safe passage to Cuba by the Government of Canada after approval by Fidel Castro.
As a result of the invocation of the War Measures Act, civil liberties were suspended. By December 29, 1970, police had arrested 453 persons with suspected ties to the FLQ. Some detainees were released within hours, while others were held for up to 21 days. Several persons who were detained were initially denied access to legal counsel. Of the 453 people who were arrested, 435 were eventually released without being charged.
On December 13, 1970, Pierre Vallières announced in Le Journal that he had terminated his association with the FLQ. As well, Vallières renounced the use of terrorism as a means of political reform and instead advocated the use of standard political action.
In late December, four weeks after the kidnappers of James Cross were found, Paul Rose and the kidnappers and murderers of Pierre Laporte were found hiding in a country farmhouse. They were tried and convicted for kidnapping and murder.
The events of October 1970 contributed to the loss of support for violent means to attain Quebec independence, and increased support for a political party, the Parti Québécois, which took power in 1976.
In July 1980, police arrested and charged a sixth person in connexion with the Cross kidnapping. Nigel Barry Hamer, a British radical socialist and FLQ sympathizer, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
Police deterrence and flagging public support contributed to the decline of the FLQ. By 1971, the Montreal Police antiterrorist unit had highly-placed informants within the FLQ organization, and on October 4 and 5 1971, the first anniversary of the October Crisis, the Montreal Police arrested four FLQ members. The antiterrorism unit arrested nearly two dozen FLQ operatives in 13 months. The waves of arrests undoubtedly had a deterring effect on any would-be FLQ supporters.
The support and political capacity of the FLQ changed drastically throughout the 1970s. The FLQ immediately lost public support after the October crisis and the murder of Laporte. The general public overwhelmingly supported the emergency powers and the presence of the military in Quebec. The Parti Québécois (PQ) warned young activists against joining "childish cells in a fruitless revolutionary adventurism which might cost them their future and even their lives". Laporte's murder marked a crossroads in the political history of the FLQ. It helped sway public opinion towards more conventional forms of political participation and drove up popular support for the PQ.
The rise of the PQ attracted both active and would-be participants away from the dangerous activities of the FLQ. In December 1971, Pierre Vallières emerged after three years in hiding to announce that he was joining the PQ. In justifying his decision he described the FLQ as a "shock group" whose continued activities would only play into the hands of the forces of repression against which they were no match. Those members of the FLQ who had fled began returning to Canada from late 1971 until 1982, and most received light sentences for their offences.