The problem with the declaration of an insurrection
, real or apprehended
under the War Measures Act
, was not primarily the actions of the federal government of Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau
I remember leaving Ottawa the night before the troops arrived, returning to school at the University of Toronto. In the neighbourhood where my family lived, lived also several Trudeau cabinet ministers, including the current prime minister, Jean Chretien.
The troops were stationed in these ministers', and senior government employees' garages, with their weapons at the ready. The risk of an accidental shooting of children, or others, was always present. Stories were later told of near accidents, though to my knowledge no tragedy ever occurred.
In theory, police powers were expanded all over Canada, but no actions, though technically legal, were taken west of Ottawa.
The real problems happened in Quebec and Montreal. Under the color of the authority of the War Measures Act, the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau were unrestrained in their use of police powers.
Pierre Trudeau, and the federal policing ministers--the Minister of National Defense, who nominally controlled the Army, and the Solicitor-General, who was nominally in charge of the RCMP--later claimed they had no control over the use of the Quebec Provincial Police and the Montreal Urban Community Police acting under the expanded powers the War Measures Act gave them.
And if my memory serves, even the Army, under its expanded powers, was not under full federal control.
Over 400 people were arrested, all the usual suspects: artists, intellectuals, musicians, university professors, actors, a huge chunk of the Quebec intelligensia. And in the end, few were actually even charged--just 'rounded up.'
The measure of a country, as of a person, is taken not during ordinary times, but extrarodinary. Under this test, my country did not pass with flying colors.
There is a fine documentary about this period by Michel Brault called Les Ordres--Orders--as in I am only following orders.