Skip to main content

Canada Long-time Quebec Liberal John Ciaccia, who was native affairs minister during Oka Crisis, dies at 85

RYAN REMIORZ/The Canadian Press

Long-time Quebec Liberal John Ciaccia, whose quarter century in provincial politics was marked by a stint as native affairs minister during the explosive Oka Crisis in 1990, has died.

Mr. Ciaccia passed away on Tuesday in Beaconsfield, Que., at the age of 85.

News of his death was first reported by Cittadino Canadese, an Italian-Canadian publication.

Story continues below advertisement

Premier Philippe Couillard took to Twitter on Wednesday to pay tribute to Mr. Ciaccia, who was first elected in 1973, in Mont-Royal and won the riding five more times before bowing out prior to the 1998 election.

“He greatly contributed to moving Quebec forward,” Mr. Couillard said.

The federalist politician was an influential minister under Liberal premiers Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson Jr., holding various portfolios over the years and actively campaigning on the “No” side in both the 1980 and 1995 referendums.

Giambattista Nicola Ciaccia was born in Jelsi in Italy on March 4, 1933, and arrived in Canada via Ellis Island when he was 4.

He studied at McGill University and was admitted to the Quebec bar in 1957. He practised law before becoming a senior federal civil servant in 1971, serving as Jean Chrétien’s deputy minister when the future prime minister headed the federal Indian Affairs Department in the early 1970s.

Not long after he was first elected to the Quebec National Assembly, Mr. Ciaccia was suspended from the Liberal caucus for nearly two months in 1974 – the year the Bourassa government passed Bill 22 enshrining French as the official language of Quebec.

In July of that year, Mr. Ciaccia and fellow Liberal George Springate joined the Opposition in voting against the bill, which passed by a 92-10 margin.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Ciaccia was known for his involvement in native affairs: in 1975, he was Mr. Bourassa’s representative in the negotiations for what would become known as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which was signed with the Cree and the Inuit.

Later, he found himself at the centre of the storm during the Oka Crisis in 1990 when, on July 11, gunfire between provincial police and natives defending a small stand of pine trees resulted in the death of officer Marcel Lemay and sparked a 78-day showdown.

Mr. Ciaccia was at odds with his own government and provincial police as he scrambled to broker a deal and prevent further bloodshed. That breakthrough would come in September, at the end of a tense summer with the Canadian Forces also involved.

Mr. Ciaccia was shuffled out of his portfolio the following month.

A decade after the Oka Crisis, Mr. Ciaccia published a personal memoir called The Oka Crisis: A Mirror of the Soul.

”The Oka Crisis was probably the most difficult moment that I went through, and the referendum of 1995 was a close call,” he recalled upon announcing his retirement in 1998, as the longest-tenured National Assembly member at the time.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2015, he published a memoir describing what drew him into politics: Call Me Giambattista: A Personal and Political Journey.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter