Few people personified Quebec's political turmoil of the late 1960s and early '70s better than lawyer Robert Lemieux. In a troubled time, he had an almost unerring instinct for finding the most troubled spots.
Lemieux, who died in Sept Îles this week at the age of 66, was a fervent disciple of revolutionary ideologues Pierre Vallières and Charles Gagnon. Committed to the cause of Quebec independence, Lemieux wasn't fastidious about the means used to achieve it. For him, as for his mentors, independence was just a first step toward a "socialist workers' state."
He seems never to have engaged in any violent actions himself, but was what his friend, Marxist lawyer Bernard Mergler, called a "judicial guerrilla." His favourite citations were the habeus corpus provisions of Magna Carta and the more recent Drybones Case of 1970, which chucked out great chunks of the Indian Act on the grounds they were racist. Armed with these two legal weapons - one British, the other Canadian - the separatist Lemieux could hold a court hostage for hours.
His client list was a who's who of radical politics - Vallières and Gagnon, labour leader Michel Chartrand, and most notoriously brothers Paul and Jacques Rose, charged with the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte in 1970.
The October Crisis made Lemieux a national figure. Jailed under the War Measures Act he still negotiated for the FLQ cell that kidnapped Laporte. Released from prison to handle talks with the provincial government, he became a nightly fixture on news broadcasts.
Lemieux's views and associates were and are repugnant. But no one can doubt the sincerity of his beliefs. He abandoned the advantages of a richly bicultural education - a collège classique followed by law school at McGill University - to further his cause. After the heady days of the 1970s, he faded into obscurity, moving to Sept Îles to escape his notoriety and to enjoy the outdoor life. But he continued to defend unpopular cases for little money. At one point he even had to work as a gas jockey.
Lemieux's death reminds us just how dated his "revolutionary ideas" have become, and how hollow their promise always was. Few are the fools who yearn for a return to those tumultuous and violent times, and fortunately, they grow fewer every year.
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