Mailbox bombings in Westmount during the FLQ crisis. via.
Every time terrorism hits our shores, or even when—just as we saw recently—it nearly does, it feels like an entirely new phenomenon. This conflation of shock with novelty is probably some sort of human constant, and it is definitely the reaction that people willing to commit such acts are after. Terrorism, by design and by definition, creates a space in which extreme reactions seem correct and desirable, and this is why it is so destabilizing.
We get strange and wild when we’re afraid. We look for comfort. At pretty much any price.
Terrorism in Canada, though, is not new. As shocking as it can be, it is not something that we have never had to deal with, nor is it something whose each instance requires that we turn our entire society upside-down, suspending all sorts of traditional understandings and liberties on some restless hunt for its origins. Terrorism, as a tactic, is as old as conflict itself, and in the four centuries since Europeans arrived in what is now Canada, both this country and its predecessor entities have seen a lot of it.
We have also, it must be said, participated in it. Because Canadians weren’t always a stable, peaceable, G8 power. Back in the beginning, we were a rag-tag bunch of desperate foreigners encroaching on the lands of established and alien powers. That’s the situation from which terrorism arises.
I’m going to define this thing broadly, because I don’t see who benefits from making it narrow: Terrorism is a sudden and violent action against civilian people who had no particular (based on the norms of their day-to-day existence, and not their governmental or national affiliation) reason to expect such a thing. It’s done to communicate a message of both willingness and desperation, and, like its effects, it’s probably some sort of human constant.
So here’s the history. You’ll probably note that some of these, especially the earlier ones, are arguably fragments of greater conflicts. A lot of people would argue that the later ones, up to and including the Via Rail plot, are as well. But when civilians are killed in their beds, homes, workplaces, or city streets to make a point about wars and conflicts, it’s terrorism. And it’s old as hell.
1692: French and Iroquois combatants descend on three Mohawk villages south of Montreal, killing the men and sending the women to the Quebec heartland to “populate” the settlements of New France.
1751: On May 13, 1751, a group of Miq’maq and Acadian men under the command of Thomas Broussard attack the village of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia before sunrise, killing twenty.
1771: Dene men in the employ of British explorer and fur-trader Samuel Hearne slaughter an entire village of Inuit in the middle of the night, and while they were sleeping. Hearne always maintained that the attack (known as “The Bloody Falls Massacre”) horrified him, and represented a secret plot on the part of his men, but weird discrepancies in the records (author Robin McGrath thinks that Hearne supplied the weapons and backed the massacre; others wonder whether it even happened at all) leave this one somewhat shadowy.
1868: Father of Confederation (and anti-Fenian Irish nationalist) Thomas D’Arcy McGee is shot and killed in Ottawa by Fenian Brotherhood sympathizer Patrick Whelan. Whelan is hanged for the crime.
1907: A group of “Rule Britannia”-chanting nativists in Vancouver descend on that city’s Chinatown, setting fire to Japanese- and Chinese-owned businesses and injuring dozens of local merchants and residents.
Pro FLQ graffiti. via.
1963-1969: The Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) starts a bombing campaign aimed at English-speaking Montrealers. There are bombings about every two weeks for six years; banks, McGill University, the Montreal Stock Exchange, and the homes of the sort of prominent Montreal anglos that Quebec nationalists called “Westmount Rhodesians.” At least six people are killed over this span, and dozens more injured.
1965: Croatian nationalists bomb the Yugoslav consulate in Toronto. No one is injured. Two years later, both the consulate and the embassy in Ottawa are again bombed, this time as part of a vast plan which saw bombs go off simultaneously in Toronto, Ottawa, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Consular staff suffered minor injuries, but none were killed.
1966: Organized criminals with ties to Miami’s anti-Castro Cuban community attack the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa with a bazooka. There are significant damages, but nobody is injured.
1966: Toronto rooming-house crank and vehement homophobe Paul Joseph Chartier blows himself up in a washroom at the Parliament in Ottawa. It is believed that he intended to bomb the House of Commons, but somehow got the timer part wrong.
Trudeau explaining the War Measures Act.
1970: Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross are kidnapped by the FLQ in Montreal. Two weeks later, Laporte’s body is found in the trunk of a car near Saint-Hubert. Cross was released on December 3, 1970. These attacks lead Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau to institute the War Measures Act, suspending civil liberties to the degree that 465 people were detained without charge. Troops are stationed in the streets of Montreal.
1982: Anarchist collective “The Squamish Five” bomb a Litton Industries (a military contractor, among other things) factory north of Toronto. Though they call in the threat so as to allow evacuation, the bomb fucks up and goes off early. Ten people are injured.
1984: Retired U.S. veteran Thomas Bernard Brigham sets off a bomb at Montreal’s Central Station, killing three French tourists and injuring dozens more. Brigham’s motives were weird and mysterious; though widely believed to have been protesting Pope John Paul II’s arrival in Montreal, he claimed that he had nothing against the pope. Instead, on his way to trial, he just sort of cryptically noted that: “It’s nice to be a star."
A monument to the Montreal massacre. via.
1989: Embittered men’s-rights type Marc Lépine opens fire at the Université de Montréal, killing 14 people and injuring 10 more as part of his self-proclaimed war on feminism.
1995: One day after the Oklahoma City bombing, High School chemistry teacher Roger Charles Bell sets off a pipe bomb under a wheelchair ramp leading to Prince Edward Island’s Province House. One person is injured.
2004: Slemen Elberhebi of Montreal firebombs the United Talmud Torahs of Montreal School library. A note pinned to the library door stated that the attack was in response to Israel's killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.
The Toronto 18's training video.
2006: Eighteen men (“The Toronto 18”) are arrested across Southern Ontario after having allegedly (and ambitiously) plotted to blow up trucks near crowded street corners, bomb the Peace Tower in Ottawa, and storm the CBC, CSIS, and Parliament, with the ultimate goal of beheading Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Eleven of the suspects, who were accused of having ties to Al-Qaeda, are now in prison.
2012: Two Montrealers were killed when militant, “FLQ-in-reverse”-type Anglophone Richard Bain attempted to assassinate Quebec Premier-elect Pauline Marois. Bain is now in jail awaiting his preliminary inquiry. He set his cell on fire for whatever reason two weeks ago.
2013: Chiheb Esseghaier of Montreal, and Toronto’s Raed Jaserare arrested in connection with what authorities are calling “an Al-Qaeda-inspired plan” to attack a VIA Rail train in the Toronto area.