Thomas Laporte Aust is the founder of a corporate law firm with offices in Montreal and Toronto.
In the 1960s, some Quebeckers chose to express themselves politically through violence, injuring and traumatizing other Quebeckers in the name of their cause. Among their many victims, one stands out in particular: Pierre Laporte, whose name now often conjures up a bridge near Quebec City more often than a person of flesh and blood. On the 50th anniversary of his death and at a time of ever increasing political polarization and violence directed at our elected officials, allow me to give Pierre Laporte back his humanity, starting with this simple fact: he was my grandfather.
The man who was assassinated was not merely a central figure in Quebec politics. What gets forgotten is that he was a beloved father, husband and uncle, whose warmth and love are still remembered today and whose sudden and public death have left only a painful absence. This is especially true during commemorations of the events of October, 1970, where, above all, it is his death that is remembered. My mother, his daughter, will never overcome this pain, but his love for her remains evident in his words. In an article that I found particularly touching, my grandfather recounts with palpable tenderness the birthdays of his children and the fact that my mother, three years old at the time, found that her birthday party did not last long enough, nor did it happen often enough.
In public, he was honourable and principled. As a journalist in the 1940s and 1950s, Mr. Laporte was one of the leading critics of corruption in the Maurice Duplessis government, and his work required immense courage considering the climate of the time. One year, all reporters covering the National Assembly of Quebec received from Mr. Duplessis a set of English china with a fleur-de-lis painted on the plates. The following year, while all of his colleagues received silverware to accompany the china, he did not. We can only assume that the premier did not appreciate the contents of Mr. Laporte’s reporting on his government. Our family remembers this fondly as a testament to my grandfather’s character. In 1960, Mr. Laporte joined Jean Lesage’s government and became an important player in the Quiet Revolution. In his last days, he was at the centre of Robert Bourassa’s cabinet team and was deputy premier of the province as well as the minister of labour.
Unfortunately, a few have sought to undermine his record of service and achievement. From snippets of recorded conversations and unsubstantiated assertions, some have created a fable in which it is Mr. Bourassa himself who could have plotted Mr. Laporte’s assassination. One would laugh at such conspiracy theories were they not so hurtful and untrue.
Those who knew my grandfather speak of his integrity, his defence of the French language, his mastery of the rules of the National Assembly and his ability to bring together divergent interests to advance complex issues, such as the reform of municipalities in the province during the 1960s. These are just some of the stories of Mr. Laporte’s life. He was a public servant, a proud francophone Quebecker and family man. I am proud to be his grandson.
And then one day four of my grandfather’s fellow citizens decided that he would make a legitimate kidnapping target, turning him into an instrument for their cause and stripping him of his humanity in the process. A week later, he was dead, at the hands of these same kidnappers.
Today, let us renounce all violence toward our elected officials and denounce it as it was denounced by Mr. Bourassa, René Lévesque and Pierre Trudeau in October, 1970. If elected officials were kidnapped in the past, today the threat of assault frequently begins with insults on social media. To tolerate the latter is certainly to invite the former.
Those who seek to revise history should consider the price being paid by both struggling and established democracies around the world, where violence against politicians and fellow citizens has become the norm. I am not just talking about places such as Lebanon, Russia or even our U.S. friends who continue to deal with open hostility and violence toward their elected officials – I am talking about right here in Canada where elected officials have been subject to threats online, in their offices and on the street. We must never allow intolerance and hatred to silence constructive debate, regardless of its perceived historical context. We must remain vigilant.
Twenty years ago, on the 30th anniversary of my grandfather’s death, my father and mother invited James Richard Cross to visit us. My brother and I had never met this Anglo-Irishman and he had not known my French-Canadian grandfather, yet circumstances had dictated that they were victims of the same criminals. He told us about his ordeal, explaining how he felt, his conditions of confinement, everything to bring us closer to Mr. Laporte through their shared humanity. This shared humanity is, I am sure, still with Mr. Cross today. Sitting there in front of us, in the flesh, it became impossible to deny it: here was not a bridge, an idea, a flag or a monument, here was a human being. Like Pierre Laporte.
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