'Just watch me': When Pierre Trudeau confronted the October Crisis

After a British diplomat and a Quebec cabinet minister were kidnapped by a Quebec separatist group in October 1970, the prime minister debated reporters on the steps of Parliament about tanks and armed soldiers in Canadian cities.

Reporter asked how far will the prime minister would go to keep people safe

Pierre Trudeau: "Just watch me"

53 years ago
Duration 1:54
Canada looks more like a police state than a democracy eight days after the kidnapping of British Trade Commissioner James Cross.

Canada looked more like a police state than a democracy on Oct. 13, 1970.

Eight days earlier, a Quebec separatist group, the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), had kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. 

By calling in army tanks and men in full gear, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's aim was to boost national security. But the military's presence made some Canadians feel a whole lot less secure.

"What is it with all these men and guns around here?" CBC reporter Tim Ralfe had asked Trudeau, amid a crowd of journalists waiting for him outside Parliament, in raw CBC footage showing Trudeau's discussion with reporters that day. 

'Go on and bleed'

Canadian soldiers guard a street corner in Montreal after Prime Minister Trudeau called out troops during the October Crisis of 1970. (The Associated Press)

"Haven't you noticed?" Trudeau responded. "What's your worry?"

The exchange lasted several minutes more, with Trudeau defending his refusal to allow government ministers to be used as "tools of this blackmail" by the FLQ.

He said measures like soldiers on the streets would prevent further kidnappings, but Ralfe pushed back about "the kind of society that you live in." 

"There's a lots of bleeding hearts around that don't like to see people with helmets and guns," said Trudeau. "All I can say is, go on and bleed. It's more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of a soldier's helmet."

'How far would you go?'

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau jokingly knocks on the roof of his bullet-proof car as he talks with reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., Oct. 13, 1970. Trudeau had recently switched to the National Defence department Cadillac in the wake of kidnapping activity by the FLQ in Montreal and reported threat on Mr. Trudeau's life. (Chuck Mitchell/Canadian Press)

Ralfe then asked Trudeau how far he would go to protect Canadians' safety during the crisis.

With a shrug, Trudeau replied: "Just watch me." 

Three days later Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, giving police the right to arrest and detain people on suspicion alone. The act was created in 1914 for cases of war or national emergency.

Trudeau also outlawed the FLQ and told police to arrest those with "extreme-left" literature, posters, stickers or pamphlets.

A newsboy in Ottawa holds up a newspaper
A newsboy in Ottawa holds up a newspaper with a headline reporting the invoking of the War Measures Act on Oct. 16, 1970. It was the first time Canada had invoked the act in peacetime, put into effect following the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte by the FLQ. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)