Jérôme Choquette, Quebec's justice minister during October Crisis, dead at 89

The former politician and lawyer served in the cabinet during the October Crisis.

The former politician and lawyer served in the cabinet during the October Crisis

Quebec's then justice minister Jerôme Choquette on Oct. 10, 1970 announcing the government was not giving in to the demands of the FLQ kidnappers. (Radio-Canada)

Jérôme Choquette, who as Quebec's justice minister helped guide the province through the October Crisis, died Friday of pneumonia, his family said. He was 89. 

Choquette had only held the justice portfolio for a few months when on Oct. 5, 1970, James Cross, the British trade commissioner, was kidnapped from his Montreal home by members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).

As police raids began rounding up suspects, Choquette declared he was willing to negotiate with the FLQ "at any time." 

Several days after the kidnapping, Choquette gave a news conference announcing the government was not giving in to the demands of the kidnappers. 

In the minutes after his announcement, the FLQ kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the provincial minister of labour.

Choquette liked to project a tough-guy image of himself during the crisis, and boasted of carrying a revolver. He called for the Canadian army to be sent in to reinforce Quebec police. 

Jérôme Choquette heads to the funeral of colleague Pierre Laporte on Oct. 20, 1970. (The Canadian Press)

But when the War Measures Act was finally implemented, Choquette tried to reign in its use by authorities. 

"When I saw there were a massive number of arrests and, in many cases, they were unjustified, I said to Mr. (Maurice) Saint-Pierre (the chief of the Sûreté du Québec at the time) that I didn't want to see a single arrest without my personal authorization," he told Radio-Canada in 1980. 

Reflecting on the crisis in 2010, Choquette said he was "perfectly at peace" with his actions.

"I did what I did. If I had acted otherwise, I would have failed in my duties," he said.

From storied career to scandal 

Choquette, who studied law at McGill University and held a PhD in economics from the Sorbonne, was later instrumental in the creation of Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Commission.

Born in Montreal on Jan. 25, 1928, Choquette was first called to the bar in 1948.

He is also credited for setting up legal aid in Quebec as well as the province's Small Claims Court. 

In 2009, Montreal's Bar Association awarded Choquette with the Médaille du Barreau, calling him "one of the greatest justice ministers Quebec has known."

After leaving provincial politics, he became mayor of Outremont, a position he held between 1983 and 1991. He made an unsuccessful bid in 1994 for Montreal's mayoralty. 

Choquette died in Montreal at the age of 89. (Radio-Canada)

​Choquette practiced law well into his 80s, but ended his legal career amid controversy.

He was temporarily disbarred in 2012 and was eventually found guilty by the Quebec Bar Association of seven counts of professional misconduct, including failing to uphold the authority of the courts.

The charges stemmed from his stubborn defence of the owners of a textile plant who the courts later accused of trying to defraud an insurance company.

Choquette had filed motions alleging judges in the case met secretly to conspire against him and that opposing lawyers had a witness killed.

With files from The Canadian Press