Plains of Abraham

9 09 2009

The National Battlefield Commission, the federal agency responsible for the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, has decided to allow a controversial event to proceed. The event, which has been organized by a group of Quebec nationalists, will include a reading of the FLQ 1970 manifesto. (For the benefit of non-Canadian readers, I should point out that the FLQ was a terrorist organization whose antics resulted in the imposition of martial law in Canada for a brief period in 1970).  Some critics regard the forthcoming event as glorifying terrorism. (See here as well).

I have two thoughts about the decision of the Commission to allow the event to go ahead. First, I’m struck by the tremendous symbolic importance that Canadians, particularly Quebeckers, still attach to the Plains of Abraham. Earlier this year, there was a media firestorm in both English- and French-speaking Canada over the issue of whether or not a re-enactment of the famous battle should be allowed to take place. (See here, here, and here).

Second, the decision of a federal agency to allow an event that appears to commemorate the FLQ to take place on federal property illustrates that the October Crisis has now become just another historical event. The majority of Canadians now alive were born after 1970, and the major protagonists involved in the crisis (Trudeau, Bourassa, Cross) are now dead.  Not a single member of the House of Commons that voted in favour of imposing the War Measures Act in 1970 is still in parliament. I suspect that in 1990, just twenty years after the October Crisis, it would have unthinkable for a federal agency to have allowed this event of this sort of go ahead. But memories and passions appear to have faded enough for the October Crisis to no longer be a painful memory. Indeed, for most Canadians, it is not a memory, simply something learned about in history books.