Translation and the October Crisis

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the October Crisis, an event that was sparked by the FLQ’s October 5, 1970 kidnapping of British trade commissioner James Cross and which worsened when a second FLQ cell kidnapped Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte on October 10. Although Cross was held for 59 days before being released in return for safe passage to Cuba for his kidnappers, Laporte’s lifeless body was found in the truck of a car on October 17. During the Crisis, the federal government implemented the War Measures Act, which banned the Front de libération du Québec and made membership in the association illegal. This legislation was replaced by the Public Order (Temporary Measures Act), which remained in effect until April 30, 1971.

To help commemorate the Crisis, the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa is holding a conference entitled “Just watch me!” 40th Anniversary of the October Crisis and War Measures Act in Canada next Thursday and Friday (October 14 and 15). I’ll be speaking about a specific case where translation helped make available a work that was technically banned in Canada: French copies of Pierre Vallières’ Nègres blancs d’Amérique had been seized, but the English translation was released by McClelland and Stewart in early 1971, when the Public Order (Temporary Measures) Act was still in effect.

In 1966, Pierre Vallières, an ardent supporter of Quebec independence and a member of the FLQ was being sought in connection with the deaths of Jean Corbo, a sixteen year old who was killed while planting a bomb near Dominion Textile Co., and Thérèse Morin, who was killed when an FLQ bomb exploded in the LaGrenade shoe factory. Vallières and his colleague Charles Gagnon were eventually arrested in New York, where they were protesting in front of the United Nations in an effort to help raise awareness about their belief that Quebec should become a free, socialist nation. While in prison, Vallières penned Nègres blancs d’Amérique, an autobiographic essay in which he argued that French Canadians in Quebec were like the Blacks in the United States: alienated, hated, exploited, and second-class citizens. Nègres blancs was finally published by Parti Pris in 1968, and by 1969, the Attorney General of Quebec ordered that all copies of the book be seized—including the one deposited in the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec—and that the author, publisher and distributors be accused of sedition and conspiracy to overthrow the provincial and federal governments. Vallières, however, claims this ban served only to increase the number of copies of his book that were sold in secret (1994: 9).

White Niggers of America: The Precocious Autobiography of a Quebec ‘Terrorist’, the first (and only) English translation of Nègres blancs d’Amérique, was published by New York-based Monthly Review Press, an independent socialist publishing house. The translation was republished in Canada—virtually unaltered—by McClelland and Stewart in 1971, the same year it was released by Monthly Review Press. American translator Joan Pinkham was responsible for translating Vallières’ book into English, and she corresponded with Malcolm Reid, a Canadian journalist who agreed to act as a consultant on the translation. In my presentation, I’ll be tracing the English translation’s journey from Monthly Review Press to McClelland & Stewart, exploring its effects on Canadians, and illustrating the different motivations behind its publication in Canada and the United States.

References: Vallières, Pierre. (1994). Préface (1994): Demain l’indépendance?. Nègres blancs d’Amérique. Montréal: Typo.