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Paul Rose, a former member of the Front de liberation du Quebec terrorist group that sparked Canada’s 1970 October Crisis, is shown speaking to students in 1988 in Montreal. (The Canadian Press)
Paul Rose, a former member of the Front de liberation du Quebec terrorist group that sparked Canada’s 1970 October Crisis, is shown speaking to students in 1988 in Montreal. (The Canadian Press)

OBITUARY

Paul Rose, 69, FLQ leader and a separatist to the end Add to ...

In the autumn of life, most of the former members of the Front de libération du Québec brushed off their terrorist past as a naïve, misguided phase of their youth.

Not Paul Rose. While he had renounced violence, the passage of time didn’t mellow his views, which still rang with revolutionary fervour.

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“Quebec nationalism, I regret to say, is a liberation nationalism. It’s a people being denied its existence that is trying to find its place in the sun, in the same way as Palestine and Ireland,” he said a few years ago in an interview with the socialist paper Unité ouvrière.

“These are long battles of liberation waged by the popular classes.”

Mr. Rose, who led the FLQ cell that kidnapped and killed Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte during the 1970 October Crisis, died Thursday.

The 69-year-old suffered a stroke at Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal, the magazine L’Aut’Journal, where he was a contributor, announced on its website.

Mr. Rose was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Mr. Laporte and spent 13 years behind bars before being granted parole.

To most people, the shaggy-haired, crooked-eyed Mr. Rose was the epitome of the dangerous radical, a notorious member of a terrorist group that conducted several waves of bombings and robberies before turning to kidnappings.

In fact, Mr. Rose was the more cautious of the group of late-joiners who plotted the 1970 kidnappings. It was almost by accident that Mr. Laporte was held hostage. And they never anticipated the ensuing crackdown. “We expected a storm and we got a hurricane,” he said at his trial.

Still, as L’Aut’Journal editor Pierre Dubuc wrote in his paper’s death notice, within some circles in Quebec, Mr. Rose was seen as a seminal figure of the left following his actions in the turbulent 1960s.

“His many friends and all labour and nationalist activists are grieving the loss of a great Quebec patriot,” Mr. Dubuc wrote.

While other former FLQ members kept a low profile after their release from jail, Mr. Rose was involved in journalism and politics and worked as a union adviser.

The eldest son of a Montreal factory worker and a seamstress, Mr. Rose was born Oct. 16, 1943, and grew up in the St-Henri and Ville-Émard blue-collar neighbourhoods of Montreal.

Reputedly, he took part in his first protest at 12, as a striking strawberry picker. By the mid-1960s, he was a teacher and worked with disabled children.

He joined the first major separatist party, the Rassemblement pour l’indépendence nationale, and took part in many protests, including the McGill Français movement.

He was among 290 demonstrators arrested at the infamous 1968 St. Jean Baptiste Day parade riot, later known as Lundi de la matraque (Truncheon Monday), where stick-wielding police charged the crowd after protesters burned cars and threw rocks and bottles at the grandstand where prime minister Pierre Trudeau sat.

The following summer, with his brother Jacques, Mr. Rose started La Maison du Pêcheur, a hangout in the coastal town of Gaspé that became a magnet for young people. It was there that the Rose brothers befriended Francis Simard and Bernard Lortie and formed the future core of the FLQ’s Chénier cell.

In a jailhouse interview with journalist Marc Laurendeau, Mr. Rose said that they turned to violence and kidnappings by 1970 because other forms of dissents weren’t possible anymore. “By that time, the democratic means were blocked,” he said.

The abduction of Mr. Laporte wasn’t part of the group’s initial plot, Mr. Rose told Mr. Laurendeau.

They had planned to kidnap an American diplomat at the same time as British trade commissioner James Cross.

However, Mr. Rose felt they weren’t ready to proceed in the fall of 1970, so he left on a car trip to the U.S. with his mother, brother and Mr. Simard.

While they were in Texas, they heard on the radio that another FLQ cell, Libération, had gone ahead and kidnapped Mr. Cross, on Oct. 5. They hurried back home.

The Libération cell demanded the release of 23 FLQ prisoners. When the Quebec government refused to comply, Mr. Rose and the Chénier cell decided to act.

Instead of an American diplomat, they abducted Mr. Laporte, the provincial labour minister, because he lived close to their hideout, on Montreal’s South Shore. Armed with rifles and a sawed-off shotgun, they grabbed him as he played football with a nephew outside his house.

Seven days later, Mr. Laporte was strangled and his body left in the trunk of the Chevrolet used to kidnap him.

The manhunt for the killers came close to catching the Rose brothers in November, when they successfully hid in a closet while police raided a Montreal apartment. After being followed and wiretapped for days, they were eventually caught hiding in a tunnel under the concrete floor of a farmhouse.

Mr. Rose’s responsibility in Mr. Laporte’s death has always been contested.

At his trial, the police produced an interrogation transcript in which Mr. Rose said the two brothers and Mr. Simard were present when their hostage was strangled.

However, citing “political reasons,” Mr. Rose had refused to sign the document.

A 1980 Quebec government investigation concluded he wasn’t present during the killing. However, a police wiretap of a conversation between Mr. Rose and his lawyer caught him saying that after Mr. Laporte tried to escape, “I finished him with the chain he had around his neck.” The police officer who recorded the conversation told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Rose may have made the statement to cover up for another cell member.

At his trial, Mr. Rose got into shouting matches with the judge. “My interpretation is that this is a farce. I am playing the role of actor,” he said in court.

In a famous photo, Mr. Rose raised his arm in a defiant closed-fist salute as he was being led from the courthouse.

The jury found Mr. Rose guilty on March 13, 1971.

“There will always be a Front de libération du Québec as long as Quebec has not been liberated,” he said in a 90-minute address to the jury.

“Long live people’s power. We shall win,” he said as he was led away, flashing a V-sign with his fingers.

A decade after his trial, in January, 1981, Mr. Rose, who had been accepted for a master’s degree program in sociology at the University of Quebec in Montreal, was denied any form of parole. Three weeks later, his mother, Rosa, died.

Granted a 12-hour release to attend the funeral, he showed up in a lumberjack shirt and turned the event into a rally-like gathering, earning a standing ovation when he described her as “the mother of the political prisoners.”

The following year, Mr. Rose was granted full parole.

He wrote for l’Aut’Journal and worked as an adviser for the Confédération des syndicats nationaux trade union.

He also joined the provincial New Democrats, which had split from the federal party over the issue of Quebec independence.

When Mr. Rose tried to run for a provincial seat in 1991, mortified federal NDP officials considered legal actions to force the Quebec party to drop New Democratic from its name.

The controversy became moot when the Quebec chief electoral officer ruled that Mr. Rose couldn’t run for office because of his murder conviction.

In his most recent notable activity, Mr. Rose gave a speech at a rally in support of last year’s student protests against increasing tuition fees. He was the leader of a fringe leftist party, the Parti de la démocratie socialiste.

L’Aut’Journal said Mr. Rose died in hospital while his son and daughter read him nationalist poems by Gaston Miron and Gérald Godin and lyrics from Un Canadien errant, a folk song about the plight of French-Canadians exiled after the 1837 rebellions.

He leaves his wife, Andrée Bergeron, his son Félix, his daughter Rosalie and three siblings, including his brother Jacques.

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