On 5 October 1970, a group of terrorists from the FLQ (Front de Libération du Québec- Quebec Liberation Front) abducted the British trade commissioner, James Cross, from his Montreal home. A second FLQ group kidnapped Quebec's minister of labour, Pierre Laporte, five days later on 10 October 1970.
Nearly a decade of small terrorist strikes in the province of Quebec and in the Ottawa area had preceded the 1970 kidnappings. No one knew whether additional attacks would follow. By 12 October, the federal government, responding to the requests of various government departments, deployed troops to protect federal property in the Ottawa-Hull area. The largest of these deployments, "Operation Ginger," extended well into the province of Quebec but remained separate from the deployments in the rest of Quebec.
In Quebec, and particularly in the Montreal area, federal, provincial, and municipal police forces spent the first 10 days of the "October Crisis" protecting the potential targets of a possible third kidnapping and trying to solve the first two kidnappings. These authorities also had to deal with a rising tide of disorder that culminated in radical calls for a general strike and mass uprising to "liberate" the province. Early in the morning of 15 October, the government of Quebec invoked the provision of the federal National Defence Act requiring the government in Ottawa to render military "aid to the civil power" in Quebec. Extensive prior consultation had been undertaken, and troops from Camp Valcartier, a base north of Quebec City, were immediately deployed to relieve police of the burden of guarding persons and property in Quebec. Orders were issued to army units outside Quebec to join "Operation Essay."
The next day, 16 October, the federal government proclaimed that a "state of apprehended insurrection" existed and promulgated a set of Public Order Regulations under the War Measures Act. In effect, membership in, or support of, the FLQ became unlawful. Persons suspected of a very broad range of activities were liable to arrest without warrant and detention for up to 21 days. On 17 October, Pierre Laporte became the first casualty of the crisis: Laporte's captors murdered him and left his body in the trunk of a car abandoned on the military airfield at St. Hubert. The sudden appearance of thousands of armed soldiers on Canadian streets was one part of a deliberate "show of force" to shock the political process back into normal bounds. But it also served a specific tactical purpose. The second part of the show of force, the mass detention of suspected FLQ members and sympathizers by the police, was only possible once the army had relieved the police of the task of protecting dozens of other possible FLQ targets.
Most of the troops involved were parcelled out in small squads to provide day and night guards for members of the provincial parliament, other Canadian civil dignitaries, members of foreign missions in the Montreal area, and vulnerable economic sites such as the Hydro Quebec power line traversing the St. Lawrence River. In addition, a few company-sized subunits took part in civil police efforts to free James Cross and capture the Laporte murderers. Typically, they contributed by providing backup support for police raids on suspected FLQ hideouts.
The size of the operation, particularly the guard tasks, grew to the point where most of the land forces and much of the transport air forces of the country were drawn into operations Essay and Ginger. Except for forces deployed outside Canada (North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Germany or troops on United Nations duties in Cyprus and elsewhere), the two operations ultimately drew upon every army unit except an infantry battalion on Vancouver Island. Within weeks, however, the crisis had passed, and, on 12 November, the operation ended.