UCL Institute of the Americas


Canada and Quebec in turmoil - the October Crisis of 1970

27 October 2020, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

October 1970 crisis

This event marks the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis in Canada that was played out largely in Montreal in October 1970.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







UCL Institute of the Americas – UCL Institute of the Americas

Event programme:

6.00pm - Welcome and Introduction

Tony McCulloch, Senior Fellow, UCL Institute of the Americas

6.10pm - The October Crisis through the Eyes of James Cross

Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer, University of Birmingham

6.30pm - The October Crisis: The British government’s response

Patrick Holdich, Head of FCO Research Analysis and former British Consul General in Montreal

6.50pm - Writing the October Crisis

Ceri Morgan, Senior Lecturer, Keele University

7.15pm – Q and A

8.00pm - Finish


In Quebec, members of the militant FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), were calling for the overthrow of what they regarded as ‘English colonialism’ and control of the province. Since 1963 they had engaged in well over one hundred bombings, bank raids and kidnappings that had killed 8 people and injured many more. On 5 October FLQ militants kidnapped James (‘Jasper’) Cross, the British Trade Commissioner in Montreal, and a few days later, on 10 October, another group of FLQ militants kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the Minister of Labour and Vice-Premier of Quebec. In return for the safe release of these hostages the FLQ made a number of demands including the release of FLQ ‘political prisoners’ and the broadcast and publication of the FLQ Manifesto. When most of these demands were refused and Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, invoked the War Measures Act of 1914, Laporte was murdered and the crisis escalated. Troops were sent to Montreal and the police arrested about 450 people with suspected links to the FLQ, most of whom were released without being charged. Cross was eventually freed in December 1970 when the location of his kidnappers was discovered and the kidnappers and murderers of Laporte were found later in the same month. The October Crisis was over, but it had left a powerful legacy in Canadian political and cultural memory.

Panel members:

Tony McCulloch (Chair) is Senior Fellow in North American Studies at the UCL Institute of the Americas. He is the director of the Institute’s Canadian Studies programme and the editor of the London Journal of Canadian Studies, published by UCL Press.

Steve Hewitt is Senior Lecturer in American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham. In his presentation he argues that, despite considerable scholarship on the October Crisis, James Cross remains an opaque figure.  Cross did give a media interview at the time and later recorded a short memoir. In 2010, The Current interviewed him for the fortieth anniversary of his kidnapping. However, what were his private thoughts after his liberation that were unavailable to the public?  Using documents obtained at the National Archives in Kew, this paper will analyse Cross’s interpretation of the FLQ and its tactics and judge it against interpretations of the FLQ at the time and since. Of particular significance to this talk is a previously secret interview of Cross by British and Canadian officials that occurred on the flight which returned him to the United Kingdom.  Steve Hewitt’s paper argues that Cross’s interpretation captured more accurately the nature of the FLQ by viewing it not simply through Canadian domestic lens but rather as part of a transnational revolutionary milieu around the world at the time.  In doing so, Cross erased the simplistic dichotomy of domestic versus foreign that too often governs interpretations of terrorism, both in Canada and elsewhere.

Patrick Holdich is head of the Research Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a former British Consul General in Montreal. In his presentation he points out that the British government was caught off-guard by the October Crisis in Quebec and faced a double challenge in how best to respond.  On the one hand, it wanted to show full support for the provincial and federal governments in facing the terrorist threat from the FLQ, without however being seen to interfere in domestic Canadian politics.  On the other hand, the kidnapping of the Montreal-based British Trade Commissioner to Canada, James Cross, meant it was directly involved in the crisis and working with the Canadian authorities to secure his safe release. This created some bilateral tensions behind the scenes as London tried to maintain a careful balance in its response, hoping among other things to avoid comparisons to the deteriorating political situation at the time in Northern Ireland. Using released FCO and other UK papers and speaking in a personal capacity as a long-standing associate and friend of the Institute, Patrick Holdich provides a unique perspective into UK government thinking and its impact on UK-Canadian and UK-Quebec relations.

Ceri Morgan is a Senior Lecturer in Canadian Literature at Keele University. Her presentation looks at representations of James Cross in creative nonfiction. The ‘events’ of 1970 have been taken up time and again in fiction, film and life-writing in Quebec. Unlike English-language novels of the 1970s, which range from documentary realism (Moore, 1971) to pulp fiction (Ross, 1977), a clear set of conventions is identifiable in French-language novels of this decade. These tend to engage with the October Crisis in non-realist modes (Morgan 2012), representing a turn away from the realism and hyper-realism which informed much of the neo-nationalist writing of the previous decade. Well-known examples include science fantasy and magic realism, as in Gérard Étienne’s Un Ambassadeur macoute à Montréal (1979) and Jacques Ferron’s Les Confitures des coings (1977), counter-cultural novels, such as Jacques Godbout’s D’Amour, P.Q. (1972) and Victor-Lévy Beaulieu’s Un Rêve auébécois (1972), and postmodern novels, as in Pierre Turgeon’s Prochainement sur cet écran. There is a good deal of variation in the October Crisis novel produced after 1980, and it is not easy to speak of a coherent body of texts beyond their shared thematic concerns. The fictional treatments of the October Crisis are often at odds with memoirs produced by those involved in the events, which have a consciousness-raising function (Mongeau, 1970), or serve as confessionals (de Vault, 1981), or self-styled correctives of political fact (Tetley, 2007). Ceri Morgan’s paper focuses on Carl LeBlanc’s, Le personnage secondaire (2006) which, as its title suggests, centres upon James Cross, figured as somewhat forgotten by history due to his having survived the Crisis.


Pierre Laporte's funeral © Dominique Clément – Clément Consulting