Skip to main content

Paul Rose, who led the terrorist cell that kidnapped and killed Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte during the 1970 October Crisis, has died.

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

Mr. Rose is mostly known as a member of the pro-independence Front de libération du Québec, which conducted a campaign of bombings, robberies and kidnappings from the early 1960s until it scattered after the October crisis.

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

But, as L'Aut'Journal editor Pierre Dubuc wrote in the death notice, within some circles in Quebec, Mr. Rose was also 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," said Mr. Dubuc.

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.

Time didn't mellow his views.

"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, the same thing as Palestine and Ireland," he said in a 2005 interview with the socialist paper Unité ouvrière.

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 was a member of the first major separatist party, the Rassemblement pour l'indépendence nationale and took part in many protests.

He was, for example, one of the 290 demonstrators arrested at the infamous 1968 St. Jean Baptiste Day parade riot, later known as "Lundi de la matraque" (Truncheon Monday), where billyclub-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 hang out 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.

Mr. Rose says that the FLQ turned to kidnappings by 1970 because other forms of dissents weren't possible anymore.

However, the abduction of Mr. Laporte wasn't part of the FLQ's initial plan, Mr. Rose revealed afterward in an interview from prison.

The FLQ had planned to kidnap a U.S. 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 1970s so he left for 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. They rushed back to Quebec.

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

Instead of an American diplomat, they abducted Mr. Laporte, the provincial labour minister, because he lived close to their hideout, in a suburb on Montreal's south shore.

Seven days later, Mr. Laporte was strangled to death and his body left in a car trunk.

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 at a farmhouse.

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

A 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.

In a book released in 1982, Mr. Simard said the group was collectively responsible for Mr. Laporte's death.

Mr. Rose was tried and received a life sentence in 1971. In a famous photo, Mr. Rose raised his arm in a defiant closed-fist salute as he was being led from the courthouse.

A decade after his trial, 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 in January 1981. Three weeks later, his mother, Rosa, died.

Granted a 12-hour release to attend the funeral, Mr. Rose showed up in a lumberjack shirt and turned the event into a rally-like gathering, earning a standing ovation when he described her "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, back then a fringe party that had split from the federal party because it supported Quebec independence.

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

The controversy was mooted by a Quebec Superior Court decision that ruled that Mr. Rose couldn't run for office because of his murder conviction.

In his most recent political activity, Mr. Rose gave a speech at a rally in support of last year's student protests against increasing tuition fees.

L'Aut'Journal said Mr. Rose died in hospital while his son Felix and his daughter Rosalie read him nationalist works such as 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.