Quebec textbook author: FLQ victims 'collateral damage' in push for independence
Montreal - An author of Quebec's high-school history textbooks says the FLQ never intended to kill people and its bombing victims were "collateral damage" in its push for independence.
Raymond Bedard also argues that Pierre Laporte's death during the October Crisis 40 years ago this weekend was an accident -- not murder.
Many in English Canada might be surprised to hear those views expressed by an author of history textbooks and a man who has seen thousands of students pass through his class in his 30 years as a teacher.
But Bedard's take on the events of 1970 offers a glimpse into the different lessons taught in the province's history classes.
Bedard says while there's no excuse for Laporte's death, he does not believe it was intentional.
"Even if Laporte's death was really regrettable, it wasn't a death that was planned," said Bedard, who authored two editions of provincially approved textbooks with a longtime colleague who he says shares many of his views.
"It was not a kidnapping where they said, 'We will mistreat him for a while and then assassinate him.' "
On Oct. 10, 1970, members of the Front de liberation du Quebec kidnapped Laporte, the province's labour minister at the time, in Montreal.
British diplomat James Cross had been abducted five days earlier.
The kidnappings prompted then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to invoke the War Measures Act on Oct. 16, a day before Laporte's body was discovered stuffed in the trunk of a car.
Two FLQ members -- Paul Rose and Francis Simard -- were eventually convicted of murder in Laporte's death and sentenced to life behind bars.
Both men were released from prison in 1982.
The FLQ also set off about 100 bombs between 1963 and 1970, resulting in a handful of deaths.
When asked about the blasts, Bedard said the explosions were a sign of the fiery social movements of the times, referring to deadly incidents in Italy and California in the 1960s.
"Each time, there was never any intention of killing people," he said of the FLQ bombings.
"Of course, like the American army says, there was collateral damage."
Bedard said the Quebec curriculum does not put a lot of emphasis on the October Crisis, perhaps 45 minutes of class time out the entire school year.
Details of the crisis take up only one page in his textbook, roughly the same amount of space given to the event in the other half-dozen books approved by the province.
It's up to individual instructors to teach the rest, and that's where history can sometimes differ.
Bedard, who teaches Grade 10 history east of Montreal in McMasterville, says additional evidence has surfaced over the years to show that Laporte's death was likely accidental.
One take argues that Laporte was murdered. Another says he died after suffering serious injuries in a botched attempt to escape his captors.
"These are the little variables that you'll have," Bedard said.
"For sure, there's a connotation when we call it murder, but we must have proof to say that. Did they kill him? Because involuntary homicide is not the same thing."
Sam Allison, a longtime history instructor in the anglophone high-school system, disagrees with Bedard.
"The Anglos tend to think he was murdered -- I'm one of them, that's my bias," said Allison, who taught for 35 years before retiring in 2004.
"Whereas not all, but some, in the French community think it was just a mistake."
He said the approved textbooks are often "disgraceful" and riddled with mistakes, especially on the francophone side.
"They're filled with the most incredible perspectives," Allison said.
"I think ideology has replaced history in Quebec to some degree."
He even highlighted how a few years ago an approved French high-school economics textbook had to be corrected because it inaccurately said Quebec paid more into Confederation than it took out.
The book was reprinted, but only after it had been used in classrooms for about six years, reaching some 600,000 students, Allison said.
"The October Crisis is only a small part of a very big problem," he said.
Both Allison and Bedard say it's important to present different historical perspectives to students and let them reach their own conclusions.
Bedard's textbook, co-written by Jean-Francois Cardin, mentions Laporte's death and the arrests of those responsible for his capture.
But there is no information about their murder convictions or how he died.
The text also says the FLQ's bombs targeted symbols of English-Canadian domination, such as mailboxes.
It makes no mention of the several people who were killed by the blasts.
In two sentences, the textbook mentions how civil liberties were suspended with the War Measures Act and notes how close to 500 people suspected of having ties to the FLQ were arrested.
Bedard said Trudeau had a "double agenda" when he implemented the act during a time of peace.
For the most part, he believes there's unanimity among his colleagues that Trudeau's decision was extreme and created panic.
"They tried to kill a fly with a bazooka," said Bedard. "Basically, they pumped up an event to try and regulate a second problem in the federal government's political agenda -- to put an end to the rise of the independantistes."
One issue historians across the spectrum tend to agree on is that Laporte's death ended whatever public support the FLQ had drummed up.
"The people of Quebec, despite everything, were relatively peaceful," Bedard said.
"The death of a man, no, that wouldn't fly."