Terrorism in Quebec: Motivated by Catholicism/Islam?

By J. Stewart Cook

Lest we forget, or perhaps we always wanted to do so. Terrorism in Canada, in Quebec, surely not. Oh, but, may I remind you of the year 1970, remind you of the FLQ (The Front de libération du Québec/ Quebec Liberation Front) and remind you of the subsequent separatist political party, Le Parti Québécois (PQ).

Recently, a reminder of past terrorist activities in Quebec came to light with the deadly attack at a mosque in Sainte-Foy, Quebec. It was a mass shooting on the evening of January 29, 2017, at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, a mosque in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood of Quebec City, Canada. Six people were killed and nineteen others injured when a lone gunman opened fire just  shortly after the end of evening prayers. Fifty-three people were reported present at the time of the shooting.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, “we condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims.” Indeed, a terrorist attack according to our Prime Minister, not simply a “mass shooting.”

Terrorism in Quebec. It was back in October 1970 when it began. First with the kidnapping of James CROSS, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ). “It rapidly devolved into the most serious terrorist act carried out on Canadian soil after another official, Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, was kidnapped and killed.”

“Fed by nationalist discontent and rising unemployment, and by the example of colonial states rising against foreign imperialism, the FLQ emerged in 1963 to further the creation of an independent Québécois state. It vowed to use any means necessary, including violence, and carried out almost 200 crimes, including robberies and bombings, from its inception to its last days.”

The Prime Minister of the day, Pierre Trudeau (Justin Trudeau’s father) wasted no time invoking the War Measures Act. As CBC reporter Tim Ralfe questioned the Prime Minister concerning the armed soldiers on Parliament Hill, Trudeau responded with a now-famous diatribe: “Well, there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed. But 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…” Ralfe interrupted: “At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?” Trudeau replied with a sentence that became a catchphrase of North American politics: “Well, just watch me.”

In contrast to his father, Justin Trudeau said of the January attack, “we will grieve with you. We will defend you. We will love you and we will stand with you.”

Two different reactions, two different situations? Perhaps, but when all is said and done, they were both acts of “terrorism” according to the Trudeau’s.

Why Quebec? It is my belief that much of this type of activity did occur due, in part (and perhaps to a greater extent than just in part), to the role and influence of the Catholic Church in Quebec. Ironically, the many terrorist attacks on those who adhere to the Islamic faith (Muslims, in this instance) are due to this particular religion.

The FLQ Manifesto was a key document of the FLQ group. It criticised big business, including the Catholic Church. It was responsible for 8 deaths with approximately 160 violent attacks on civilians. This terrorist organization endorsed the Quebec Sovereignty Movement. This movement was essentially a political movement that wanted Quebec to separate from the rest of Canada and become an independent nation. In addition, it declared that the members of the FLQ would rebel against anyone that were considered “Anglo-saxon” imperialism. It also wanted to overthrow the current Quebec government, and along with the separation from Canada, it wanted a French-speaking society with only Francophones.

The Catholic Church, which had an immense amount of power, had a stronghold on its members, Quebecers. It also had a firm grip on the educational system in Quebec, something the FLQ despised. Over time, however, the Church began losing its grip on power. In fact, health and education affairs was now dealt with the Canadian government; the Church was relieved of this power. By doing so, the education and health system of Quebec expanded unbelievably. The Church would purposely deny teaching students about critical thinking, in fear they might grow to question whether God was real or not. However, the government expanded education, and thus more intelligent people were in society. Society in Quebec was slowly transforming from a conservative province to a nationalist during this revolution.

The fall of the FLQ occurred after the cell members responsible for Laporte’s death were arrested and charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder. Now that the FLQ had disappeared, terrorism was no longer a continuing threat. But the decolonization theory still exerted its influence on Quebec’s public life. It’s expressed in the conviction that Quebec can secede unilaterally, regardless of the onstitutional order, on the mere strength of a majority Yes in an equivocal referendum. This was to be the purpose of the new Quebec political party, “The Parti Québécois.” In brief, The Parti Quebecois tried on more than one occasion, by means of a referendum, to separate from Canada. It was not successful. It remains a political party and continues to seek succession.

Was the Catholic Church the cause of such acts of terrorism committed by the FLQ?  Was Islam the cause of the terrorist activity in Sainte-Foy, Quebec? Responding to both questions, perhaps. They were two different scenarios. The first, FLQ members having committed the terrorist attacks. The second instance, a terrorist outside the Islamic faith attacking the faithful members, the Muslims. Were the FLQ members perhaps “jihadists”…a person who believes that an Islamic state (independent Quebec state, in this instance) governing the entire community of Muslims (Quebecers, in this instance) must be created and that this necessity justifies violent conflict with those who stand in its way. Too close for comfort? A touch too close!

Catholicism and Islam do not promulgate violence. It is ignorance and misinterpretation that leads extremists to act according to their interpretation of the “teachings.” The extremists have a set goal and let nothing stand in their way.

Looking at present world affairs one would think that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe. Writer, Eric Brahm once wrote, “although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. To note, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas “extremists” are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition. Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes.”

He goes on to say, “in the eyes of many, religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths. Communicating in a spirit of humility and engaging in self-criticism would also be helpful.”

Without hesitation, religions do cause conflict. Each individual may interpret religious teachings in his/her own way. Unfortunately, the wrong interpretation may be the cause of great conflict and lead to the death of innocents. Be it Catholicism, Islam, or any other world religion, they cannot be used for the sake of conducting terrorist activities.

Professor Mark Juergensmeyer stated that “religion is not innocent. But it does not ordinarily lead to violence. That happens only with the coalescence of a peculiar set of circumstances – political, social, and ideological – when religion becomes fused with violent expressions of social aspirations, personal pride, and movements for political change.”

Should religions be motivational, let them motivate the goodness found within every “soul” and not the “terrorism” found in the deep recesses of one’s mind.