Campus Life

Meliorist editor nearly arrested for treason during 1970 October Crisis

When the October crisis erupted in Canada in October 1970, tensions mounted at the Meliorist office at the University of Lethbridge. Following the kidnapping of provincial cabinet minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) and shortly after the War Measures Act was declared by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, the Meliorist released that week’s edition — with the FLQ Manifesto printed on the cover.

Former Meliorist editor Allan Wilson.

“We weren't terrorists, or in sympathy with their methods, but we felt U of L students should be able to read what the FLQ believed so students could decide for themselves,” says then Contributing Editor Allan Wilson (BA '72, BEd '92, MEd '98).

The turbulent chain of events transpired as follows:

Oct. 5 – FLQ kidnaps British embassy official James Cross

Oct. 10 – FLQ kidnaps Quebec Minister of Labor Pierre Laporte

Oct. 16 – War Measures Act declared by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at 4 a.m. MST.

Oct. 16 – At 9 a.m., the Meliorist staff releases the latest edition with the FLQ Manifesto on the front page

Oct. 16 – At 1 p.m., Meliorist staff gathers up remaining copies from campus

Oct. 17 – Pierre LaPorte is found dead in the trunk of a car

Oct. 17 – Meliorist keeps remaining copies of the issue in the office while Editor Barry Poffenroth seeks advice from faculty and friends. Over the ensuing weekend, he receives a letter from the dean of the Faculty Arts & Science stating that if he is arrested and convicted under the War Measures Act, he will be expelled.  

Oct. 20 – Poffenroth resigns and the Meliorist staff votes unanimously to redistribute the paper and appoint Allan Wilson as editor.   

Oct 21 – 9 a.m., Meliorist is distributed throughout campus. Lethbridge Police Inspector Glen Michelson informs U of L Vice-President Bill Beckel that police are coming on campus to arrest Wilson and confiscate all issues of the Meliorist. Beckel calls Students’ Union President Robin Dann and the two meet Michelson at Beckel's house. Over lunch, Dann and Michelson broker a deal: no staff will be arrested if the Meliorist is pulled and the manifesto is not reprinted.

Oct 21 – 5 p.m., The agreement is announced at a special Students’ Council meeting, also attended by President Sam Smith, Vice-President Beckel and Dean of Arts & Science, Dr. Owen Holmes. Students’ Council votes in favour of accepting the deal. Dann instructs Meliorist printers not to print a second manifesto.

“I contemplated resigning at the time, but decided the matters at stake — freedom of the press, martial law, Quebec politics — were too important to ignore,” says Wilson.

Nov. 4-5 – U of L Teach-In about civil liberties and the FLQ takes place

Dec. 4 – James Cross is released and five FLQ kidnappers get safe passage to Cuba

Jan. 27 – A student vote is held on keeping the current staff of the Meliorist

Jan. 31 – The vote went against staff, however the Students’ Council decided to let the staff stay on because no one else came forward to run the paper

When asked, 47 years later, if he would make the same decision to print the FLQ Manifesto and then release the Meliorist, Wilson says simply, “Yes.”