While it is always shocking when some new terrorist attack occurs in Canada it is, unfortunately, nothing new. Canada has suffered various forms of terrorism for over a century. Perhaps we haven’t been subject to as much terrorist violence as some other areas of the world, but it is a concern for Canadians as much as for anyone else. A clear-eyed review of terrorism in Canada need not be alarmist or inflame prejudices; it does need to be thorough, however, and include any groups that espouse violent means, whatever their ideological goals. In our two-part series, we will begin with a focus on domestic terrorism in Canada and those home-bred groups that have resorted to extremism and violent methods over the years to achieve whatever goals they may have believed in.
Thomas D’Arcy McGee and the Fenian Raids
Thomas D'Arcy McGee by William Notman [Public Domain]
Thomas D’Arcy McGee was an Irishman and a former radical Irish nationalist, who had by the late 1850s become convinced that Canada’s future lay within the British Empire. After leaving Ireland as a 17 year old in 1842, he had lived mostly in Boston before returning to Ireland and participating in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 as a supporter of Irish Confederation. The rebellion failed in part because of a dispirited population, having recently suffered the ravages of the Irish Famine, and McGee fled to the USA again to escape a warrant for his arrest. Over the next decade he apparently became disillusioned with American Republicanism and he migrated north to Montreal in 1857. By 1863, he was a Cabinet minister in the Conservative government with several portfolios and later was a delegate to the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences. Turning on his former Irish radical nationalist roots, he denounced the Fenian Brotherhood and their attempts to forcibly invade Canada from the USA. On April 7, 1868 the Member of the newly minted Canadian Parliament was shot to death outside his boarding house in Ottawa. Patrick Whelan, a former tailor who had been suspected of Fenian sympathies in the past, was tried in a politicized and far from independent trial, and convicted on dubious circumstantial evidence amidst charges of bribery on the part of the prosecution. Whelan was hanged in February of 1869. Who killed McGee is still being debated in Canada, but at the time in Canada, it was seen as an act of terror by Irish Nationalists intent on invading Canada.
Sons of Freedom
Pilgrims leaving Yorkton by Thomas Veitch Simpson [Public Domain]
The Svobodniki or Sons of Freedom or Freedomites were, and are, a radical group from the Doukhobor community that fled Russia to escape persecution and moved to Canada around the turn of the 20th century. The Doukhobor community was and is a sect of Russian origin that espouses Spiritual Christianity that rejects authority and claims to be pacifist. The Sons of Freedom were, and are, a radical movement within that community that espouse communal living, ecstatic religious doctrine and anarchist attitudes over external authority. They have tended to live in Saskatchewan and the Kootenay area of southern B.C. During the 1920s and the 1960s their rejection of materialism in all its forms was expressed in violent arson and bombing campaigns. They often targeted the property of other Doukhobor residents, but also schools as a protest against having to send their children to schools, something they have consistently protested against. They also have attacked transportation and communications infrastructures, like a railway bridge in Nelson B.C. in 1961. Often, they perform these acts of violence in the nude. In 1962, 36 Freedomites were convicted of arson and conspiracy to commit arson and sentenced to 12 years in prison. These convictions notably reduced the number of attempts by the group from that point on.
Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ)
FLQ Flag [Public Domain]
The FLQ were a Marxist-Leninist and separatist group dedicated to the overthrow of the provincial government in Quebec and the “liberation” of the province from its imperialist Anglo Saxon conquerors. Founded in the early 60s, they began a campaign of bombings and robberies that escalated over the decade of the 1960s culminating in the October Crisis of 1970. This involved the kidnapping of British Trade Commissioner James Cross on October 5, 1970 and then Quebec Minister of Labour and Vice-Premier Pierre Laporte on October 10. A separate cell of the FLQ carried out each kidnapping. When demands made by the FLQ were not met by the Quebec Provincial Government, Pierre Laporte was strangled to death by his captors who formed the Chenier cell. Students in Quebec protested in support of the FLQ and others in the province began to join in the pro-FLQ protests until the discovery of Laporte’s killing took some of the momentum out of their cause. Then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, effectively placing Quebec, and especially Montreal, under a state of siege with the Canadian Army mobilized. Cross was released after his hiding place was discovered and his FLQ captors were allowed safe passage to Cuba. Members of the Chenier cell who had murdered Pierre Laporte were found hiding in an isolated farmhouse a few weeks later, and were arrested, tried, and jailed.
Anarchist and War Protesters
- In January of 1965, a radical left wing group protesting the Vietnam War destroyed 3 US military planes that were being serviced at Edmonton’s Industrial Airport. An unemployed German immigrant Harry Hubach was arrested and charged with killing security guard Threnton Richardson.
- In May of 1982, a radical anarchist group named “the Squamish Five”, aka the Vancouver Five, bombed a BC Hydro substation, causing millions of dollars of damage. The group were composed of activists who became radicalized and began to espouse so-called propaganda by the deed, which turned into a violent form of direct action. One member of the group was also a member of Vancouver late 70s punk group the Subhumans.
- In October 1982, The Squamish Five bombed Litton Industry’s factory north of Toronto. The plant manufactured guidance systems for cruise missiles. A truck bomb was parked in front of the plant and a warning was phoned in to the plant security people, including a stick of dynamite that was prominently displayed on the outside of the truck. The security people suspected a hoax and delayed evacuation which meant that when the bomb – made from over 500 kg of dynamite – went off, ten people were injured.
- After feeling Toronto for Vancouver after the bombing they regrouped with other radicals to form the “Wimmin’s Fire Brigade” which enacted a bombing campaign against Red Hot Video, a chain of pornography stores that had been accused of selling snuff films. In January of 1983 the group were arrested by the RCMP near Squamish on a highway heading to their training ground. They received sentences from 6 years to life. Anne Hansen who received a life sentence and is now out of jail, has been the least apologetic of the group for its violent actions.
Canada’s Unabomber: Roger Charles Bell
Roger Charles Bell is a former high school teacher convicted of a series of pipe bombs that were set off in Prince Edward Island and Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 80s and 90s. Initially the communiques that followed the bombings were attributed to a supposed group called Loki-7, Loki being the Norse God of Mischief. After his arrest and sentencing to 9 years jail, he stated at an appearance before the National Parole Board that “I think my mission was simply revenge at society.”
Rex Murphy on the Shooting in Ottawa