National Geographic : 1971 Mar
In the muffled serenity of the Hotel-Dieu's choir, Augustinian nuns of the 332-year-old hospital find moments of quiet for reading and prayer. The Roman Catholic Church, though less influential in Canada today than during the country's early years, still wields a potent voice and claims the allegiance of more than 90 percent of all Quebecois. A growing minority of Quebecois think so. A young professional, cultured, soft-spoken, had told me: "We have only two choices: assimilation or separation. Assimilation hasn't begun yet, but only because we pros titute ourselves-at least in the commercial centers-to be English at work and French only at home; to be second-class citizens in our own country. "But we can't go on like this. We must get out regardless of the cost." TWO OR THREE YEARS AGO my unhappy young friend was one of per haps five percent of the city's residents who believed deeply in independence. By 1970 that percentage had risen sharply: A quarter of the provincial population voted for the thoroughly legitimate independantiste Parti Quebecois. And there had developed an extremist group called the FLQ-Front de Liberation du Quebec. Its few hundred active members-hard-core Maoists for the most part-won a small measure of admiration from some emotional independantistes by calling for separation in louder voices than anyone else and punctuating their rhetoric with acts of violence. . Then, in early October, the FLQ kidnaped Quebec's Provincial Minister of Labor and Manpower, Pierre Laporte, and British Trade Commissioner James Cross. In true terrorist fashion they demanded $500,000 in gold and the release of 23 of their jailed as sociates, several convicted of major crimes, as ransom for their hostages. The federal government not only refused, but invoked the War Measures Act, which suspended civil rights and gave the police and military almost limitless powers. These powers were used sparingly, and al most entirely within the Province of Quebec. Manhunts were launched. Several hundred people-most of them said to be FLQ mem bers and sympathizers-were arrested. On the night of October 17 Pierre Laporte was strangled and left dead in the trunk of a car near Montreal's airport. The killers sent word of their action to the press, and vanished.* 430 Next morning, as the news flooded through Quebec City (and the world), I walked the chill sunlit streets to see how the provincial capital was reacting to brutal political murder. To the eye, Quebec was a picture of perfect calm. A few soldiers, mostly French Canadians, mostly embarrassed-looking, stood outside government buildings (page 422). Curious citizens glanced at them in passing. A few girls flirted with them. People walked to church in their Sunday best. In the Lower Town children played stickball in the streets. *On December 3, the kidnapers released Cross in exchange for sanctuary in Cuba.