40 Years Later and the media still has not aged a bit

The October Crisis of 1970 marked one of the most intense political situations in Canadian history: it was this moment that for the first time in Canadian history that The War Measures Act was used during peace time. Every moment of this situation was televised and reported across the nation and the globe for millions to view, but not the same story was reported for all. The facts are only as good as the news that presented it, in order to understand dissent, the media that presented the story are just as important as the protestors that are on the streets. What this post will do is examine various news reports that all cover the kidnapping of Pierre Laporte, which led to the enacting of The War Measures Act. These articles cover a span of decades and narratives from before during and after the bill was used; what this will allow this post to do is analyse how the narrative has either changed or remained the same about the dissenters as the media presents the story. What must be noted is the very particular language and narrative that the various news outlets utilize in order to describe the same event. These narratives that the mainstream media presents can very much change what are the ‘facts’ of the event and alter the public perception, thus leading to various responses. This post does not intend to show the FLQ in a positive light or try to downplay their crimes, it simply shows where the media frameworks appear and how this establishes the norm of all media presentations for dissent.

The first piece to examine is the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) interview between Tim Ralfe and Pierre Trudeau about the deployment of soldiers in Ottawa and Montreal; this was before the use of The War Measures Act. To begin, notice how the violence frame has already been established as the main focus of the interview, but not necessarily only the violence of the FLQ, but the violence that could rise as a potential from the Canadian’s governments response to the situation. “They are not political prisoners, they are outlaws, criminals. They are bandits” (CBC, 1970). The point here is that the coverage of what the FLQ objective is immediately lost from the news. Another note to mention is Trudeau’s broad threat of kidnapping, as he states in the interview that kidnapping is the main threat (CBC, 1970). Although it was an issue that did happen, it was from a splinter group that operated outside the FLQ’s main command (Smith, 2013), but it has lead to the painting of the entire FLQ organization as kidnappers.

Another aspect to note in this interview as well as the FLQ Backgrounder report is the lack of background coverage as to why the FLQ is doing what they are doing. The closest explanation was “years of frustration”, but frustrated from what? The reporter simply addresses them as radical ultranationalists and frustrated violent Quebecers, but he offers little to no explanation as to why they may be frustrated. Again it is noted that the violence frame is the dominate narrative of describing the situation, as the reporter goes into detail of one of the victims during the protests, focusing on the travesty of the crimes and not the context. One article even goes so much as to praise the neglect of context and supports the use of force against the ‘terrorists’ (Goldstein, 2013). The article mentions how it does not matter why or what these terrorists want, what matter is their complete defeat (Goldstein, 2013). The article was written in 2013, but it demonstrates how the narrative established nearly 40 years ago still remains within mainstream media.

An interesting note to mention is that in the Tim Ralfe interview with Trudeau the reporter is seen condemning the Prime Minister for using the term ‘bandits'(CBC, 1970), yet every single article that I have analysed referred to all the members of the FLQ as ‘terrorists’. It demonstrates how the ‘hot’ terms are what is acceptable and other terms serve as solid attack pieces for news worthy discussion. In the Johnson article, FLQ pair appeal to Canadians: Forgive ex-terrorists it discusses how ‘ex-terrorists’ are wishing to appeal their sentences and the title of the article alone establishes the narrative. It is also noted in the article how the author mentions the kidnapping of Pierre Laporte and James Cross and how the FLQ members represented a larger initiative or master plan. (Johnson, 1978). What is being omitted again from the news is how the kidnappers were a splinter group, and not representative of the FLQ as a whole. In Trudeau’s speech for the War Measures Act he clearly states that anyone who is associated with the FLQ as a mere member will be subject to arrest. The two people pleading for release in the Johnson article may very well be the people swept up by the mass arrests, but the article insists on mentioning the violent and horrendous crimes and painting all members as contributors to the crimes.

While most of the articles maintain a consistent theme of the violence framework and negligence of the background context, there is an interesting debate within the mass media over the use of The War Measures Act. Some articles support the use of it while others condemn, even decades after the October Crisis. One article examines how it may have been unnecessary to use the act, exposing British documents that reveal that the FLQ was not that large of a threat and that the Trudeau Government was aware of this (Blanchfield, 2001). While another article from the Toronto Sun praises the use of The War Measures Act and states that this is the mentality that should remain when it comes to handling ‘terrorists’ (Goldstein, 2013), this mentality definitely carried a long lasting effect in how Canada conducts its self in the handling of terrorist situations.

What this analysis has noticed from the multiple mainstream news outlets is the consistent theme of violence and neglect for context. Even articles that condemn The War Measures Act only discussed how the potential for violence and  was too great or too excessive. No article discussed the context as to why there was dissent in Quebec, or how there was massive grouping of people caught up in a movement. Those people may not be terrorists, just those who believe in a political movement. This is extremely important because there are numerous parallels seen today such as teenagers who are requesting to return to Canada after attempting to join ISIS and they realized it was not what they thought it was. Or how the main discourse for the media still remains within the violence framework and has zero context about the background of the situation. As well as the massive grouping of peoples under the  same violent umbrella.

Work Cited

Blanchfield, M. (2001, January 7). Reaction to crisis defended War Measures Act was necessary: Ex-        ministers. The Gazette. Retrieved December 10, 2014, from                 http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/canadiannewsmajor/docview/433685891/                abstract/CA0DBFD569B54E71PQ/8?accountid=15182

FLQ backgrounder [News Broadcast]. (1970). Canada: CBC News.

Goldstein, L. (2013, April 20). Trudeau right on terrorism. Toronto Sun. Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://www.torontosun.com/2013/04/19/trudeau-right-on-terrorism

Johnson, W. (1978, January 4). FLQ pair appeal to Canadians: Forgive ex-terrorists. The Globe and Mail.  Retrieved December 9, 2014, from                 http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/canadiannewsmajor/docview/1238298671 /abstract/C9230BE0AD0428FPQ/1?accountid=15182

October Crisis: Trudeau’s War Measures Act Speech [News Broadcast]. (1970). Canada: CBC News.

CBC. (1970, October 1). 1970: Pierre Trudeau says ‘Just watch me’ during October Crisis. CBC News.  Retrieved December 10, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/politics/civil- unrest/the-october-crisis-civil-liberties-suspended/just-watch-me.html

Smith, D. (2013, August 13). October Crisis. Canadian Encyclopedia Retrieved October 13, 2014, from              http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/october-crisis/

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