Vancouver Sun



- JIM BRONSKILL Politics · Quebec · Montreal · England · Steve Hewitt · Birmingham (England) · United Kingdom · Royal Canadian Mounted Police · University of Cambridge · Cambridge · London · Government of the United Kingdom · Cuba · Algeria · Pierre Trudeau · Pierre Laporte

Just two days af­ter he was freed, a Bri­tish diplo­mat kid­napped by Que­bec na­tion­al­ists told Cana­dian of­fi­cials he did not fear be­ing killed in cap­tiv­ity.

Rather, James Cross wor­ried what would be­come of his wife should he be mur­dered by mem­bers of the Front de lib­er­a­tion du Que­bec.

Cross, a trade com­mis­sioner based in Mon­treal, was ab­ducted by an FLQ cell 50 years ago Mon­day, one of the key events in the episode known as the Oc­to­ber Cri­sis.

A lit­tle-no­ticed transcript of re­marks Cross made in re­sponse to ques­tions on a Dec. 5, 1970, flight back to Eng­land pro­vides a can­did glimpse into his mind­set.

Steve He­witt, a Cana­dian-born lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham, came across the transcript in the U.K. Na­tional Archives dur­ing re­search for a book on the his­tory of ter­ror­ism in Canada.

“This is as close as we will get to Cross's pri­vate thoughts lit­er­ally 48 hours af­ter he was freed from his nearly two-month or­deal,” He­witt said.

Cross and his daughter Su­san were ac­com­pa­nied on the flight by Cana­dian for­eign-af­fairs of­fi­cials, an RCMP se­cu­rity ser­vice of­fi­cer and Jim Davey, an aide to Pierre Trudeau, prime min­is­ter at the time.

In a 1998 recorded mem­oir, part of a Cam­bridge Univer­sity diplo­matic his­tory project, Cross men­tioned the transat­lantic in­ter­view, but said Davey had ne­glected to turn his tape recorder on.

It turns out the con­ver­sa­tion was recorded, though the qual­ity is poor due to noise from the air­craft.

“An at­tempt has been made to tran­scribe, as faith­fully as pos­si­ble, the recorded re­marks, but in one or two cases it has been nec­es­sary to make an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what was ac­tu­ally said,” says an ac­com­pa­ny­ing note.

Cross was seized at gun­point in his home on Oct. 5, 1970, as wife Bar­bara and their Dal­ma­tian looked on. He was bun­dled into a car and taken to a house where he spent his days in hand­cuffs, al­lowed to read and watch TV but not see the faces of his cap­tors.

The FLQ made sev­eral de­mands, in­clud­ing the re­lease of “po­lit­i­cal prison­ers” and pub­li­ca­tion of the group's man­i­festo.

Within days, an­other cell kid­napped Que­bec cabi­net min­is­ter Pierre La­porte. Trudeau in­voked the War Mea­sures Act, which sus­pended civil lib­er­ties and led to the ar­rests of more than 250 peo­ple.

Soon af­ter, La­porte's body was found in the trunk of a car.

Cross “ra­tio­nal­ized and thought out” the con­se­quences of death, he told Davey, who asked most of the ques­tions on the air­plane.

“And fun­nily enough came to the con­clu­sion I wasn't afraid of death. I was wor­ried later on that they might stran­gle me, I didn't want to be stran­gled. I didn't seem to mind be­ing shot. But I didn't re­ally want to have a bit of wire around my neck and have it pulled tight,” Cross said.

“But what I was wor­ried all the time was about my wife be­cause what I was then par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about was her fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion. And I com­posed two letters, in my mind only, one was a fi­nal tes­ta­ment to my wife say­ing you know, how much I loved her and ev­ery­thing, the other was a let­ter to Mr. Trudeau ap­peal­ing to him to do some­thing for her.”

Cross said the ab­duc­tors had told him from the be­gin­ning that “they weren't go­ing to kill me but I didn't be­lieve them.”

The diplo­mat thought he would be mur­dered if he ceased to be of value to the cell “be­cause it was much eas­ier to dis­pose of a dead body than a live one.” He also sur­mised he might get killed in the cross­fire of a po­lice raid on the house.

He­witt notes that de­spite the har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Cross did not seem bit­ter to­ward his cap­tors and said most of them had been “very kind to me.”

Hu­mor­ous mo­ments with the kid­nap­pers helped keep Cross sane.

“I made jokes about meet­ing them when they were min­is­ters and re­ceiv­ing them in London and giv­ing them diplo­matic ban­quets, be­cause I know very well the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment would shake hands with any­body. All we need is time.”

Af­ter La­porte's death, Cross didn't re­ally want to talk to his cap­tors. And in the 1998 mem­oir, he made it clear he had no sym­pa­thy for the FLQ mem­bers.

“I hated the lot of them and would have cheer­fully killed them if the op­por­tu­nity arose. This does not mean that I could not main­tain friendly re­la­tions on the sur­face. I was op­er­at­ing on two lev­els. One, my real thoughts and two, a su­per­fi­cial cor­re­spon­dence with them.”

Early in De­cem­ber, au­thor­i­ties found out where Cross was be­ing held. He was re­leased and some FLQ mem­bers were al­lowed pas­sage to Cuba.

He­witt notes that Cross of­fered a so­phis­ti­cated take on the mo­ti­va­tion of the FLQ upon his re­lease, rec­og­niz­ing the role of the English dom­i­na­tion of Que­bec but also the in­spi­ra­tion drawn from anti-colo­nial move­ments in places such as Al­ge­ria.

Cross found the Que­bec rad­i­cals “ab­so­lutely ded­i­cated.”

“And in some ways I think they would have been happy to have been killed in the cause of be­ing sort of mar­tyrs of the rev­o­lu­tion.”

The FLQ mem­bers had not an­tic­i­pated im­po­si­tion of the War Mea­sures Act, Cross said.

“Their re­sponse to al­most ev­ery re­ac­tion of the gov­ern­ment in a le­gal sense, ev­ery po­lice ac­tion, was fas­ci­nat­ing.

“It was to claim that this was con­trary to Bri­tish justice. And I found this the most amaz­ing state­ment and I kept on point­ing it out to them. But they were most in­dig­nant about what they re­garded as retroac­tive leg­is­la­tion which they re­garded as con­trary to Bri­tish justice.”

Cross, now in his late 90s, has spo­ken to the me­dia over the years and at­tended a me­mo­rial mass at the in­vi­ta­tion of La­porte's fam­ily.

The key to sur­viv­ing a kid­nap­ping? Co-op­er­ate, Cross told Davey.

“Write what­ever the kid­nap­pers want you to write and never think that it will be held against you. Be­cause I think the first duty of the kid­nappee is to stay alive. He can only do this by co-op­er­a­tion be­cause his only value is as a co-op­er­at­ing hostage.”

 ?? THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ?? James Cross, a senior Bri­tish trade com­mis­sioner, ges­tures af­ter his re­lease from the hands of FLQ ter­ror­ists on Dec. 3, 1970. His kid­nap­ping was one of the key events in the Oc­to­ber Cri­sis.
THE CANA­DIAN PRESS James Cross, a senior Bri­tish trade com­mis­sioner, ges­tures af­ter his re­lease from the hands of FLQ ter­ror­ists on Dec. 3, 1970. His kid­nap­ping was one of the key events in the Oc­to­ber Cri­sis.

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