Canada, Our Century, Our Story
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Communities: Local, National, and Global

  • What were some of the major events that contributed to the growth of Quebec nationalism and the separatist movement in Quebec from 1967 to 1983?
  • What caused the changing relationship between English Canada and Quebec?

Citizenship and Heritage

  • What did Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque contribute to the development of Canadian identity?

Social, Economic, and Political Structures

  • How and why did the Canadian government restrict certain rights and freedoms by invoking the War Measures Act in 1970? What were the short- and long-term impact of these restrictions on the general population and on various groups in Canada?





Trudeau's invoking of the War Measures Act remains a controversial issue. Research the situation in Quebec in 1970 and today. Also review United Nations reports on terrorism. Then debate the issue of whether invoking the War Measures Act was justified.

On October 11, 1970, in a letter to Premier Robert Bourassa, Pierre Laporte told his premier, "You have the power of life and death over me, I depend on you and I thank you for it." On October 16, 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his cabinet invoked the War Measures Act. On October 17, 1970, Pierre Laporte's body was found in the trunk of an abandoned car.

In this activity, you will research the situation in Quebec in October 1970, and decide whether Trudeau was justified in declaring the War Measures Act. When considering the controversy over Trudeau's action, remember the context of that time in Canadian history.

Review, in Canada: Our Century, Our Story, The FLQ and the October Crisis (pages 314-315) and Flashpoint: The War Measures Act (pages 316-317). Then, using the primary sources on the websites listed below, travel back in time to Quebec and Ottawa in October of 1970. As you read these documents, try to put yourself in the shoes of Trudeau and his cabinet as they make their difficult decision and then face the consequences of that decision. To help you gain a perspective on terrorism in a global context, read Resolution 1269, which was adopted by the Security Council of the United Nations at its 4053rd meeting, on October 19, 1999.

After you have completed your research, write on an index card a concise summary of your argument either for or against Trudeau's decision. You only have a small space for your argument, so be sure to select the most significant and convincing points among your ideas. Plan, draft, and revise your statement carefully. Then sign and post your card on a Debate Wall on either the For or Against side.

Once everyone has posted his or her card, read through the arguments on both sides of the Debate Wall. Take notes on three of the arguments that oppose your position, and write a paragraph to refute each argument (three paragraphs in total). You should also consult your research notes as you plan, draft, and revise your paragraphs.

Use the following questions to focus your research for this activity:

  • What options did the Quebec and Canadian governments have during October 1970?
  • What problems did the governments see at the time? What threats were made in the FLQ's demands and its Manifesto?
  • What would have been the consequences (pro and con) of alternative courses of action?
  • What was the global context regarding terrorism at that time? What was the Canadian context?
  • If I had been prime minister at the time, what would I have done? What would have been the likely outcome of my decision?
  • Was the invoking of the War Measures Act justified? What reasons can I give for my judgment? How would I answer the arguments of those who take the opposite view to mine?

Visit the following Internet websites to help you in your research:






While Trudeau and Lévesque agreed on the connection between the French language and the survival of French culture in Canada, they clash on how to ensure that survival. On the Internet, read speeches of these two orators and note their arguments for and against separation. Which political leader presented the stronger arguments?

All politicians make speeches to convince audiences to agree with their policies and their actions. However, few Canadian politicians were as gifted in the arts of speaking and argument as were Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque.

In this activity, you will be reading a speech given by each of these two politicians at crucial moments in their political careers and in the history of Canada. As you read their speeches (and a series of letters between the two men), work with a partner to analyse the purpose and intended audience for each communication. What was the goal in each of the documents (speeches and letters)? How well did the speaker (or writer) communicate that goal? How successful is the communication in convincing you of the soundness of the argument?

Prepare a brief oral presentation on the politician who you believe presented the more convincing argument for or against the separation of Quebec. Explain why you have made this judgment. Be sure to use evidence from the two speeches to support your conclusion.

Review, in Canada: Our Century, Our Story, Competing Visions of Canada (pages 312-315), The Parti Québécois: A Democratic Option (starting on page 315), and The Constitution versus the Referendum (starting on page 323). Follow the process outlined in Historian at Work: Building an Effective Argument (page 275) to help you analyse the arguments in these documents.

Use the following questions as you analyse each of the primary source documents for this activity:

  • What is the purpose of this document?
  • Who was the original audience for the document?
  • What is the historical context for the document?
  • What is the main idea/thesis statement?
  • What perspective and bias is in evidence in the document?
  • What evidence does the author of the document use to support his thesis?
  • What appeal is made to history? To logic? To national interests? To emotions?
  • How is the argument organized?
  • What style and tone are used in the document?

Read and analyse the following primary documents:

  • Prime Minister Trudeau's Address to the Nation of November 24, 1976
  • Premier René Lévesque's 1968 speech "We Are Québécois"
  • Correspondence between Premier Lévesque and Prime Minister Trudeau at Claude Bélanger's (Marianopolis College) Québec History website. Select and link to the following primary documents
    1. Letter from René Lévesque to Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, November 25, 1981
    2. Response of Pierre E. Trudeau to the letter of Lévesque, December 1, 1981
    3. Telex response of Lévesque to the letter by Trudeau, December 2, 1981
    4. Reply by Trudeau to the telex by Lévesque, December 4, 1981
    5. Letter by Lévesque to Trudeau, December 17, 1981
    6. Telex from Trudeau to Lévesque responding to the letter and the resolution of December 17, written December 24, 1981