One couldn’t think of people more on opposite ends of the political spectrum than the Trudeau family and the former members of the Front de libération du Québec. Yet both share an affection and respect for Fidel Castro, a sign of how the rhetoric around Cuba and Mr. Castro has never been quite as charged in Quebec.
That bond could be seen again this weekend when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s reaction to the death of Mr. Castro raised eyebrows, much in the same way that his father once irked Americans by chumming with the Cuban leader.
Here are three historical episodes illustrating the dynamics between Mr. Castro, the Trudeaus and Quebec.
Pierre Trudeau visits Cuba in 1976
On a hot sunny day four decades ago, the father of the current Prime Minister stood before thousands of cheering Cubans in the port city of Cienfuegos and famously concluded a speech with the words “Viva el Primer Ministro Commandante Fidel Castro!”
It was January 28, 1976. Pierre Trudeau was the first leader of a NATO country to visit Cuba and he easily bonded with his counterpart.
Both Mr. Castro and Pierre Trudeau had been educated by Jesuits and, according to the late journalist John Harbron, who knew them both, even had a teacher in common, Father Jean Chadwick who taught in Montreal before moving to Havana.
By the 1950s, Mr. Trudeau was among the reform-minded Quebeckers who were fighting the staunchly conservative, anti-Communist government of Premier Maurice Duplessis. In an early display of anti-conformism, he and a friend, Jacques Hébert, visited China in the midst of Mao’s Great Leap Forward.
Writing in La Presse to mark Mr. Castro’s 80th birthday in 2006, Mr. Trudeau’s second son, Alexandre, said he grew up in a house where l’ami Fidel was among the family intimates. The article, which showered praise on Mr. Castro, recalled how Mr. Trudeau told his sons about the pleasures of diving and fishing for urchins with the Cuban leader.
At Mr. Trudeau’s funeral in 2000, Mr. Castro sat in the pew behind the Trudeau family, giving Justin and Alexandre big bear hugs before the ceremony.
Castro and the Montreal toy drive
Mr. Trudeau’s funeral was the second occasion that Mr. Castro was in Montreal. He had also visited just a few months after taking power in 1959.
Claude Dupras was then-president of the Montreal junior chamber of commerce. On his blog, he recalled that his group wanted to organize a toy drive for Cuban children when, on a lark, they invited Mr. Castro, who was scheduled to give a speech in Washington. To their surprise, he accepted.
Mr. Dupras was at Dorval airport on the afternoon of April 26 when Mr. Castro’s plane landed. An enthusiastic crowd broke through the police cordon and ran to Mr. Castro, who shook a few hands before boarding a limousine. More than a thousand others lined the streets to see the motorcade and Mr. Castro asked the driver to stop so he could wave at “my people, my people,” Mr. Dupras wrote.
Mr. Dupras recalled that at a press conference, where one of the journalists was the future premier René Lévesque, then working at Radio-Canada, Mr. Castro was playful, puffed on a cigar and denied that he was a communist. His government did not kill or persecute people for their political views, Mr. Castro insisted.
The FLQ in exile
By the 1960s, Cuba’s communist credentials were firmly established. Among the left-leaning separatist Quebeckers who would eventually turn to violence as members of the FLQ, Cuba, along with Algeria and North Vietnam, was cited as inspiration.
Raymond Villeneuve, who was sentenced to 12 years for a series of FLQ bombings, fled to Cuba while on parole in 1968. He was later joined by another Felquiste, Mario Bachand.
Another wave of FLQ bombings erupted in 1969, including a blast at the Montreal stock exchange that injured 27 people. Fleeing the ensuing crackdown, two FLQ members, Pierre Charette and Alain Allard hijacked an American plane to Cuba.
Those exiles were joined in December of 1970 by seven others, linked to an FLQ cell that had kidnapped the British diplomat James Richard Cross and negotiated the flight to Cuba in return for his safe release.
One of the seven was Jacques Lanctôt. Within hours of landing in Havana, his wife, Suzanne, gave birth to their daughter Olga. They didn’t register her birth with the Canadian embassy, thinking that Quebec would become independent soon. Four years later, when they moved to Paris, they needed French officials to help obtain papers for her because she was stateless.
Mr. Lanctôt now writes a column for a Quebecor website and often speaks with fondness about Cuba, its people. He argues that Mr. Castro had to be ruthless because Cuba was threatened by the United States.
“It is there that I saw the true solidarity of a small underdeveloped country struggling with an economic blockade with no precedent in human history,” he wrote earlier this month.Report Typo/Error