MONTREAL — Former Quebec justice minister Jerome Choquette, who helped navigate the province through the October Crisis, has died at the age of 89.
His former press secretary Jean-Claude Gobe said Choquette died Friday in Montreal after a long illness.
Gobe described his friend as a “political giant” who helped to shape modern Quebec.
“He was a humanist, a man who wanted to help people and who wasn’t guided by partisan lines or narrow-mindedness,” he said in a phone interview.
Choquette was known for his role during the 1970 October crisis, when he served as justice minister under then-premier Robert Bourassa.
In that role, he held the first government news conference after the abduction of British diplomat James Cross.
He was also the one to announce that the government would not meet the kidnappers’ demands to release 23 jailed members of the nationalist Front du Liberation du Quebec, or FLQ.
Choquette took to carrying a revolver at his side during the crisis, which he later explained was so he wouldn’t be intimidated.
But despite his tough image, he also tried to calm things down by suggesting that Bourassa name a minister of social peace.
When the federal government eventually invoked the War Measures Act, Choquette tried to act to limit the mass arrests that followed, he told the French language CBC years after the fact.
“When I saw these arrests were massive and, in some cases, with little justification, I told (then-provincial police head Maurice Saint-Pierre) that I didn’t want a single additional arrest without my personal authorization,” he told the CBC in 1980.
Years later, Choquette said he was “perfectly at peace” with his actions during the crisis.
“I did what I had to do,” he said in 2010. “Had I acted differently, I would have failed in my duties.”
Despite Choquette’s public statements, Gobe says it was painful for his justice-minded friend, who was a lawyer by training, to suspend people’s liberties.
“He believed in liberty, he truly believed in it, so having to suspend freedoms with the War Measures Act, he was not happy about it,” Gobe said.
Several years after the crisis, Choquette introduced a bill to establish the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
He is also credited with setting up Quebec’s legal aid system.
Choquette was born in Montreal in 1928 and was elected to Quebec’s legislature three times beginning in 1966.
After leaving provincial politics, he served as mayor of Outremont from 1983 to 1991 before resuming his legal career.