Quebec federalists and sovereigntists are at each others throats over the significance of reading the 1970 October Crisis Front de libération du Québec manifesto as part of the spoken-word event to mark the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Former FLQ member Jacques Lanctôt says he can't understand why a public reading of the manifesto he co-authored almost 39 years ago should be interpreted as a vindication of the group's actions, which led to the death of kidnapped provincial Liberal cabinet minister Pierre Laporte.
"The manifesto was read on the public airwaves before the death of Pierre Laporte. And at the time, people interviewed on the streets said they supported what was said in the manifesto but were against violence. And that was normal. ... But it touched a lot of people," Mr. Lanctôt said in a telephone interview from his home in Havana, Cuba.
"It was written at a specific time in Quebec's history, and I can't see how today it could incite people to violence, as some critics have claimed. It is part of our history, and it is openly being taught in our colleges and universities."
The two-day event in Quebec City next weekend will mark the defeat of the French at the hands of the British in 1759 with a reading of 140 works about Quebec's history since the battle that placed Quebec under British rule.
The event includes texts from Louis Riel invoking the 1869-70 Métis Red River Rebellion, as well as texts from Louis Joseph Papineau, leader of the 1837-38 Lower Canada Rebellion.
"If you exclude the FLQ manifesto, does that mean you exclude the other two? That would amount to censorship," said historian Pierre Deschênes during an interview with the LCN news network.
"For some, the text [FLQ manifesto]was not part of our history and for others it is still alive. But nobody can deny its existence," Quebec City historian Jean-Marie Ledel told the Journal de Québec.
The marathon prose-fest was organized after the cancellation of the Plains of Abraham battle re-enactment, which sovereigntist groups claimed amounted to nothing more then a propaganda event for Canadian federalism.
But this time the spoken-word show, called Moulin à paroles, is going ahead despite a public confrontation with federalist forces. Provincial Liberal cabinet minister Sam Hamad lashed out at organizers, saying the inclusion of the FLQ manifesto was an attempt to vindicate the kidnappings of British diplomat James Richard Cross and Pierre Laporte, who was later found dead in the trunk of a car.
"The FLQ to me is assassinations, it's bombs, and we completely dissociate ourselves from this event," Mr. Hamad said on Friday. "Talking about terrorism is not history."
Premier Jean Charest defended his minister's comments and refused calls by the organizers for an apology. "We are not going to be associated with an event that trivializes the FLQ, terrorism and violence," Mr. Charest told reporters on Saturday.
One of the organizers, Brigitte Haentjens, said yesterday she was appalled by the attacks. "It is certainly an error in judgment on the part of the governments to question the content. ... It amounts to intimidation. I don't know if we can call it censorship. But what right do governments have to interfere with an event that is not publicly funded and that is an artistic event?" Ms. Haentjens said in telephone interview.
"Does it mean that the governments of Quebec and Canada will now judge the contents of plays? It's quite strange."