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FLQ leaders humans, not heroes: More lessons of 1970 | Julius Grey

Thursday, January 14, 2021 @ 1:11 PM | By Julius Grey


Julius Grey %>
Julius Grey
The documentary about the FLQ crisis titled The Roses by Felix Rose is a film of paradoxes. Good and bad qualities mingle in it and it is difficult to pull them apart.

First one should speak of the good. The film is well made and well paced. There is no chance that the viewers will be bored. Some of the photography both of our times and of the earlier Quebec against which the Roses rebelled is quite stunning.

As a testimonial to the director’s late father, Paul Rose, to his uncle Jacques and to his grandmother, this documentary is at times particularly moving. We are touched by Mme. Rose’s tireless efforts to free her sons or at least to ameliorate their treatment. We sympathize with Paul’s slow rebuilding of his life, his late-life romance and family and his continued devotion to unionism and to working men and women. However, the message of the film becomes more problematic as the Rose brothers’ political ideas are explored.

We can readily assent to the depiction of the terrible working conditions in the 1930s and the 1940s, of the injustice of the imposition of English at work, to the police brutality and the dreadful conditions of detention in the 1970s. In fact, police brutality is still a major issue and the solitary confinement meted out to the Rose brothers has only been recognized as cruel and unusual in the last three years. But can this justify a series of bank robberies followed by two kidnappings of innocent men resulting in the death of one of them?

What is surprising is not that Jacques Rose, whose reminiscences form the backbone of the film, is unrepentant, but that the film accepts that as reasonable. The Roses claimed to believe in democracy in principle, but the Canada and the Quebec of the 1970s were such tyrannies that they had no choice but to take up arms.

At first sight, it is difficult to see the logic of this analysis. In 1970, Quebec was in the final stages of adopting universal medicare; it had just created a pension plan for everyone who worked, had reformed education to make it more accessible and more French, and was in the process of overhauling its family law so as to give women equality. None of these reforms is mentioned in the film. No doubt much was still wrong in Quebec and remains wrong to this day, but it was surely absurd to depict such a society as a cruel tyranny.

It was also totally unreasonable to view the Quebec courts as illegitimate and tributary of the English and the bourgeoisie. We must remember that they were dealing with accusations of kidnapping and murder which are not normally viewed as political. Jacques Rose maintained that the FLQ cell had not meant to kill Pierre Laporte, but he was very vague about this. Even if we took him at his word, the accused were still undeniably guilty of kidnapping and some form of homicide. Who, other than the courts of the land was to try such matters?

The film also exhibited considerable incoherence and hypocrisy. The incoherence is seen in the fact that rational, left-wing arguments about labour and social justice are frequently seasoned by incongruous anti-English remarks. The hypocrisy is more serious. The bank robberies prior to the events of October are presented as very “nice.” The Roses meant no harm and reassured the tellers and guards that they were only after the money for the nation. The same niceness is invoked with respect to Laporte — they treated him humanely and felt sorry for him because he was deserted by all his friends. But despite their niceness and humanity he died, did he not? These elements leave a very bad taste.

What could Felix Rose have done to keep the good but avoid the bad? There was no reason for him to denounce his family or to suppress their positive traits. I do not believe the theory, repeated numerous times in the film, that October 1970 helped Quebec to progress, but he could have maintained that, as it is not a totally incredible position. He was right to insist on the abuses committed during the War Measures Act and on the harshness of the solitary confinement in prison. But he should have stopped short of justifying the crimes. The Roses can be portrayed as humans, but not as heroes.

Les Roses: The Rose Family, was released by the National Film Board 50 years after the FLQ crisis of 1970. You can view the two-hour film here.

Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey is founder and senior partner of Grey Casgrain which he founded in 1976. In 2004, he was awarded the Médaille du Barreau du Québec, the highest distinction of the Quebec bar.

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