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1969: Montreal's 'night of terror'

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Montreal is in a state of shock. A police officer is dead and 108 people have been arrested following 16 hours of chaos during which police and firefighters refused to work. At first, the strike's impact was limited to more bank robberies than normal. But as night fell, a taxi drivers' union seized upon the police absence to violently protest a competitor's exclusive right to airport pickups. The result, according to this CBC Television special, was a "night of terror."

Shattered shop windows and a trail of broken glass are evidence of looting that erupted in the downtown core. With no one to stop them, students and separatists joined the rampage. Shop owners, some of them armed, struggled to fend off looters. Restaurants and hotels were also targeted. A corporal with the Quebec provincial police was shot and killed at the garage of the Murray Hill limousine company as taxi drivers tried to burn it down.
• According to a 1999 Montreal Gazette retrospective, the 3,700 members of the Montreal Policemen's Brotherhood walked off the job over pay issues. They were asking for higher salaries in line with those earned by police in Toronto.

• The late 1960s was an especially demanding period for Montreal police, who were regularly called upon to disarm bombs planted by separatists and patrol over 100 protests yearly.

• On Oct. 7, 1969, the police officers congregated at an east-end arena for a day-long "study session." As the number of robberies and break-ins mounted, the RCMP and the Quebec provincial police were called in to combat crime.

• The Montreal police attempted to block their colleagues' enforcement efforts. They hijacked provincial squad cars, jammed radio frequencies used by police and ushered other officers to the study session.

• A radical union of cab drivers, the Mouvement de libération du taxi (MLT), had long held a grievance against the Murray Hill limousine company. They were angry that Murray Hill's buses and cars had the exclusive right to pick up passengers at the city's Dorval airport.

• About a year earlier, the MLT had protested in the airport's parking lot and set several Murray Hill vehicles on fire.

• With the police off the job, the MLT took the opportunity to step up their grievance with Murray Hill. According to the Montreal Gazette, about 800 demonstrators - not all of them cabbies - descended on the Murray Hill garage. Gunfire erupted between armed protesters and security guards, and four buses were set on fire. As seen in this clip, one of those flaming buses ploughed through a garage door.

• It was during this melee that a Quebec provincial police plainclothes corporal, Robert Dumas, was killed by an unknown shooter. Another 30 people were injured.

• Striking police were aware the taxi drivers were headed to Murray Hill, but did nothing to stop them. When a convoy of taxis headed to the Murray Hill garage, Montreal police stopped a provincial police car that was trailing them.

• That evening, Quebec's National Assembly held an emergency session to legislate the Montreal police back to work. The police agreed to respect the law, and members went back to their duties after midnight on Oct. 8.

• About 2,400 Montreal firefighters had also joined the walkout in support of the police.

• Guy Marcil, president of the union, said the city refused to take the police demands seriously before the strike. He said the action was the impetus for the Montreal Urban Community (MUC), an amalgamation of urban municipalities with a greater tax base to pay the police.

• Under the MUC, the island of Montreal's 24 police forces merged. By 1974 the average salary had doubled to $14,000 annually (about $56,000 in 2005 dollars).

• A police commission report on the strike blamed it on the "deep frustration of members of the brotherhood, resulting from the imbroglio of management-union relations."

• Murray Hill limousines no longer holds exclusive rights to pickups at Montreal airports.

• In 1987 Montreal journalist and city councillor Nick Auf der Maur recalled the riot in Saturday Night magazine: "The bunch of us had thrown in our lot with something called the Mouvement de libération de taxi, a group dedicated to ridding the airport of its Murray Hill limousine monopoly... It seems that all it took back then to organize a full-scale riot in Montreal was a suggestion, and lots of beer."
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Oct. 8, 1969
Host: David Knapp
Duration: 5:44

Last updated: September 26, 2014

Page consulted on September 26, 2014

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