A non-fiction murder mystery, Last Stop, Paris
is a book written for insiders. And the credibility of this courageous but convoluted exposé rests ultimately upon the reaction of those insiders-journalists, historians, government officials in Quebec City and Ottawa, senior RCMP members, former FLQ activists-to McLoughlin's claim that the RCMP Security Service collaborated with select FLQ members in the assassination of rogue FLQ terrorist Mario Bachand in the Paris suburb of St-Ouen in March of 1971. It will be difficult to ignore this book.
If McLoughlin is correct in asserting that the RCMP "hit" Bachand to ensure the safety of Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa during an April 1971 tour of Europe, then Bachand's murder warrants a much more strenuous investigation than it has received so far. To date, Bachand's killing has been attributed to FLQ infighting, a conclusion supported most recently by an investigative report which aired on the Radio-Canada television program, Enjeux, in March 1997. So far, at least, the publication of Last Stop, Paris has been met with a blanket of silence by those who will ultimately write its most consequential review.
McLoughlin recounts two stories: that of Bachand and that of the Front de libération du Québec between 1959 and 1971. Bachand joined the FLQ in 1963 and spent two and a half years in prison for his part in the Westmount letterbox bombings and the (unsuccessful) bombing of the telecommunications tower on Mount Royal. Paroled in May 1966, Bachand resumed his activism on behalf of the Jeunes socialistes du Québec and the Comité d'indépendence sociale. But fearing a return to prison following a protest he organized at McGill University in March 1969, Bachand left for Paris and remained in exile for the rest of his short life.
Even by the fractious standards of the FLQ, Bachand was perceived as a poor team player. He was a leftist rather than a nationalist, and he spoke his mind a bit too freely. He became a target of RCMP surveillance as early as November 1962 because of his revolutionary boasting in Montreal cafés, and he earned the FLQ leadership's distrust for his reckless comments to news media interviewers wherever he travelled. McLoughlin suggests that the RCMP and the FLQ found common cause in the desire to "neutralize" Bachand.
Because of Bachand's exile, he is little more than a background figure in the middle chapters of the book, which describe in considerable detail the bombing campaigns in the 1960s and the October Crisis of 1970. He becomes a central figure again only when he is joined in exile by some of the FLQ's more prominent players.
Last Stop, Paris is an incredible story, and its credibility will be a central issue if it is to become more than a sensational curiosity. The author names names and most of those he names are walking the streets of Montreal and Ottawa with impunity, including the two people McLoughlin identifies as Bachand's assassins.
The ingredients in the RCMP's plot to kill Bachand include: Security Service cooperation with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Britain's Security Intelligence Service, and France's Service de documentation extérieure et de contre-espionage; the planting of newspaper articles in Quebec and abroad; the recruiting of FLQ activists as Security Service operatives; and the establishment of the Délégation extérieure du FLQ as a Security Service front in Algiers. McLoughlin spent five years researching this story and he supports his allegations with evidence gathered from archival sources, RCMP files, interviews with confidential sources, and interviews with, among others, Bachand's Paris roommate, Pierre Barral, Bachand's wife, Michèle, Bachand's Paris editor, Anne Legaré, Eldon Black, who was minister-consul at the Canadian embassy in Paris at the time of Bachand's killing, Robert Demers, the Quebec government negotiator with the FLQ during the October Crisis, freelance journalist Pierre Nadeau, who interviewed Normand Roy at a guerrilla training camp in Jordan in 1970, and FLQ members Pierre Charette and Jacques Lanctôt.
In spite of these efforts and the pains McLoughlin takes to detail the tangled connections among this cast of sordid characters, Last Stop, Paris often overreaches the evidence he provides. For one thing, McLoughlin too frequently resorts to innuendo when the empirical evidence is not forthcoming. He suggests to the reader, for example, that FLQ cell leader Jacques Lanciault was a police informer, but he never makes or supports the accusation. He notes that the commencement of a Security Service counter-terrorism program called Operation Tent Peg "coincided" with a meeting between French government bureaucrat Philippe Rossillon and FLQ operatives Michèle Duclos and François Dorlot, implying that Duclos and Dorlot had something to do with the operation. McLoughlin also hints that Journal de Montréal reporter Colette Duhaime was, wittingly or unwittingly, part of the Paris murder plot. But the reader is left to read between the lines. The gravity of such accusations warrants harder evidence than McLoughlin provides.
At other times, McLoughlin implies links between simultaneous events, but provides no evidence or explanation to show how they are related. The most blatant example of this is a paragraph describing a February 11, 1969 protest in the computing centre at Montreal's Sir George Williams University. With no explanation, it is simply inserted in a longer section which describes McGill University's efforts to prevent FLQ sabotage of its mainframe. Are we supposed to conclude from this awkward juxtaposition that the FLQ had a hand in the Sir George Williams University demonstration? If so, McLoughlin should say so.
The general-interest reader will often be confused by the story's meandering progress and frustrated by the vague hints McLoughlin drops along the way. Last Stop, Paris would have been a more compelling read as a magazine-length article. Still, the final two chapters of the book pack a wallop, and the book will be hard for Canadian officialdom to ignore.
Mike Gasher is a lecturer in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal.