Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The FLQ and the Quebec October Crisis

Seeds of Discontent

Montreal, Quebec
Montreal, Quebec

French-Canadians were a national minority, constituting a quarter of the Canada's overall population. But eight in 10 citizens of Quebec province were French speakers.

Conflicts over language and cultural identity had persisted for two centuries between the French, the traditional occupants of the Quebec region, and the Anglos who began moving there in greater numbers following the American Revolution.

As an appeasement, Britain approved the Quebec Act of 1774, which authorized the colony to retain its language, religion, legal system and customs. When Canada was created in 1867, special constitutional provisions preserved the French language and traditions in Quebec. The country was officially declared bilingual, and a dual school system was established in Quebec.

But by the 1950s, many Quebecois believed their language and ethnic heritage were being absorbed by the ever-growing Anglo majority in Canada. English had become the de facto language of the federal government, and some French-speakers began to see themselves as second-class citizens.

A North American recession that took hold in the late 1950s was particularly profound in Quebec. Unemployment reached 25 percent in the province's big cities -- Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivieres. But it soared even higher in the hundreds of French-dominated small cities and towns that dot the outlying areas of the vast province, which is slightly larger than Alaska. In some of those places, half of the able-bodied French-Canadian men were unemployed.

The Quebecois probably were feeling a bit downtrodden, if not oppressed. But it would be an exaggeration to say that a majority supported revolution, even given the economic conditions and the notion that their language was being co-opted by English.

The government was not unresponsive to the language concerns. In 1963, a specially appointed Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism began a detailed study of conflicts between French- and English-speaking Canadians. But a federal commission was not viewed as a potential solution by radical activists.

Georges Schoeters made his appeal attracted a small but motivated collection of supporters, and this Belgian Che Guevara donned his beret and led the Quebecois toward the ramparts of revolution against the Anglo economic dynasty.

Schoeters fashioned his revolution after that of the Algerian freedom fighters. So he and his French-Canadian comrades began by making bombs.


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