[an error occurred while processing this directive] FactsCanada.ca -- Friday Feature 2000-06Fr -- Pierre Elliott Trudeau
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Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

September 29, 2000.

Our apologies for being late with our Friday Feature this week. The reason for our tardiness is that we decided to pre-empt our previously scheduled story with a recap of the life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who died yesterday (September 28, 2000), just three weeks before his 81st birthday. Our condolences go to his family.


Pierre Elliott Trudeau (full name Joseph Phillippe Pierre Ives Elliott Trudeau).

Former Prime Minister Trudeau died yesterday, September 28, 2000, of prostate cancer, just three weeks before his 81st birthday.

A politician, writer and constitutional lawyer, Mr. Trudeau was born into a wealthy family on October 18, 1919. Being the son of a French father (successful businessman Charles Emile Trudeau) and an Anglo mother (Grace, of Scottish ancestry) gave him a unique perspective of the essence of Canada, allowing him to capture this nation's attention for much of the almost 16 years that he held the land's the highest political office. Trudeau served as Prime Minister from 1968-1979, then again from 1980-1984.

He went to his local school, Academie Querbes, and then to the Jesuit college, Jean-de-Brebeuf. In spite of the Great Depression, the wealthy Trudeau family travelled extensively during the pre-war years of the 1930s, touring Canada and Europe often. In 1940 Trudeau began studying law at the University of Montreal. As a student he was required to join the Canadian Officers Training Corps during the war but, like many Quebeckers, Trudeau was opposed to conscription.

After graduating in 1943, he passed his bar exams and then enrolled in a Master's program at Harvard University in Massachusetts. In 1946 he went to Paris to study at the Ecole des sciences politiques (School of political sciences) and then at the London School of Economics in Britain. By 1948 Trudeau was on a backpacking tour of eastern Europe and the Middle and Far East, areas of considerable turbulence in the post-war world. After many adventures, he arrived back in Canada the following year.

Trudeau worked in Ottawa as advisor to the Privy Council before returning to Montreal, where he began supporting labour unions. With other outspoken intellectuals, Trudeau started the journal Cit Libre (Free City) as a forum for their ideas. In 1961 he began teaching law at the University of Montreal.

In 1965, when the Liberal party was looking for potential candidates in Quebec, Trudeau and two of his colleagues, Jean Marchand and Gerard Pelletier, were invited to run for the party in the federal election that year. They won their seats, and in April 1967 Trudeau became Minister of Justice. Within a year he had reformed the divorce laws and liberalized the laws on abortion and homosexuality.

When Lester Pearson resigned as prime minister in 1968, Trudeau was invited to run as a candidate. He won the Liberal leadership convention and called an election immediately after. Capitalizing on his extraordinary popular appeal, labelled "Trudeaumania" by the press, he won a majority government in the election. Trudeau was then sworn in as Canada's fifteenth Prime Minister on April 20, 1968. This began a period in office which lasted longer than any other Prime Minister, other than MacKenzie King and Sir John A. Macdonald.

The most dramatic event of his first government was the October Crisis of 1970. This was precipitated by the kidnapping of a British diplomat, trade commissioner James Cross, and Quebec Minister of Employment Pierre LaPorte by the separatist terrorist group known as the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec). In response, Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, with its extraordinary powers of arrest, detention and censorship. Shortly thereafter LaPorte was murdered by his abductors and Cross was found alive. Controversy over the appropriateness of these emergency measures and their effect on liberal democracy continues to this day. There is more on the War Measures Act below.

Trudeau was always known for his social standings, radical ways and his political charisma. A writer once said, "Women wanted to go out with him, men wanted to be him." Perhaps that is why on March 4, 1971, in Vancouver, Trudeau, still a bachelor at 52, married Margaret Sinclair, 22, daughter of former Liberal Cabinet member James Sinclair. Their tempestuous marriage, beset by many well publicized differences, finally ended in their separation in 1977 and divorce in 1984. Trudeau retained custody of their three sons, Justin, Sacha and Michel. Only 23-years-old, Michel died tragically in an avalanche on November 13, 1998. (A story from the Ottawa Citizen can be seen at this link.) Margaret now goes by the name Margaret Trudeau Kemper and commands $5000 to $10 000 for speaking engagements.

In 1979 Trudeau and the Liberals suffered a narrow defeat at the polls. A few months later he announced his intention to resign as Liberal leader and to retire from public life. Three weeks after this announcement, the Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark was defeated in the Commons and a new general election was called. Trudeau was persuaded by the Liberal caucus to remain as leader and on February 8, 1980, less than three months after his "retirement", he returned once again as Prime Minister, this time with a parliamentary majority.

In these years Trudeau devoted more and more time to the "international stage", first encouraging a dialogue between the wealthy industrial nations and the underdeveloped countries, and then in 1983 and 1984 to a personal peace initiative in which he visited leaders in several countries in both the eastern and western blocs to persuade them to negotiate the reduction of nuclear weapons and to lower the level of "Cold War" tensions. These actions led to his being awarded the Albert Einstein Peace Prize.

On February 29, 1984, following his famous "walk in a snowstorm", he announced his intention to retire and, on June 30, 1984, he left office, succeeded by John Turner. In 1985 Trudeau became a Companion of the Order of Canada.

His retirement had been fairly low-key, except for two intervening occasions with public affairs; one dealing with the Meech Lake Accord and the other being his speech in Montreal on October 1, 1992, against the Charlottetown Accord.

In 1993 Trudeau published his book "Memoirs", based on a five-part mini-series on the CBC, and in 1996 he published a collection of his writings from 1939-1996 entitled "Against the Current".

Trudeau's career as Prime Minister was one of success, matched only by that of MacKenzie King. Moreover, he served longer than every other contemporary leader in the Western world. Trudeau was unable, however, to alleviate regional alienation or to end the conflict between federal and provincial governments. He left office much the way he entered it, a controversial figure with strong supporters and equally strong critics. That he was one of the dominant figures in Canadian history is indisputable.

Trudeau's funeral will be in Montreal. Arrangements have not yet been announced.



Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who cancelled a Caribbean summit in Jamaica so he could return home, praised Trudeau as a force for change that continues to "shape the soul of his people." He said Trudeau "dreamed of a society that afforded all of its citizens an equal opportunity to succeed in life."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Trudeau "a prime minister with vision, political courage and great personal style."

American President Bill Clinton expressed his sympathies and noted Trudeau's impact. "As prime minister for nearly a generation, Pierre Trudeau opened a dynamic new era in Canadian politics and helped establish Canada's unique imprint on the global stage," Clinton said in a statement.



What is the War Measures Act and how did Trudeau's use of it benefit Canada?

The War Measures Act was enacted on August 22, 1914, and gave the federal government full authority to do everything deemed necessary "for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada". It could be used when the government thought that Canada was about to be invaded or war would be declared in order to mobilize all segments of society to support the war effort. The Act also gave the federal government sweeping emergency powers that allowed Cabinet to administer the war effort without accountability to Parliament and without regard to existing legislation. It gave the government additional powers of media censorship, arrest without charge, deportation without trial, and the expropriation, control and disposal of property. This Act is implemented via an Order in Council, rather than by approval of the democratically elected Parliament.

As mentioned above, the last time the War Measures Act was invoked was not during war time, but during the "October Crisis" of 1970. Trudeau's invocation of the Act allowed the federal government to assume extraordinary powers and suspended the Canadian Bill of Rights. The government had the power to search and arrest without warrant, to detain suspected persons without laying specific charges, and to detain persons without bail. The Canadian Army was brought in to occupy Quebec, and the federal government used its extraordinary powers to jail 453 people without trial. Of the 453, only 20 were convicted on any charge. By 1971 the FLQ no longer existed. At the time most Canadians agreed with Trudeau but later, people who believed that individual rights and freedoms should always be respected thought that Trudeau had overreacted to the FLQ.

To read the full text of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's broadcast of October 16, 1970, click on this link.

Trudeau's use of the Act eventually led to its repeal in 1988. It was replaced with the Emergencies Act, which allows the federal government to make temporary laws in the event of a serious national emergency. The Emergencies Act differs from the War Measures Act in two important ways:

1) The invoking a declaration of an emergency by the Cabinet must be reviewed by parliament.

2) Any temporary laws made under the Act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thus any attempt by the government to suspend the civil rights of Canadians, even in an emergency, will now be subject to the "reasonable and justified" test of our Charter.


I compiled the above story from various sources. Thanks to Mike for allowing me to hijack his usual Friday spot again. He'll be back next week with a story on the DEW Line, which was featured in our subscription confirmation contest of a couple of weeks ago. Have a great weekend.



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