Born in the Montreal neighborhood of Outremont, he studied at Collge Jean-de-Brbeuf secondary school and collge Sainte-Thrse. In 1933, he trained to be a Trappist monk, but left after two years and worked with a Roman Catholic Church youth movement. In the 1939 Quebec election, he campaigned for the Action librale nationale (ALN) party. In 1940, he enrolled in a history course at the Universit de Montral taught by Lionel Groulx, a Quebec nationalist Roman Catholic priest.
Chartrand is reported to have joined the Canadian Officer Training Corps in 1941 following the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. This program, conducted across Canada, allowed university students to be credited with military service while continuing their studies without being posted to active duty. Chartrand protested that the Canadian Army documents were only in the English language, and returned to the Trappists' monastery in the village of Oka, Quebec.
Following the federal government's 1942 announcement of a national plebiscite on military conscription, Michel Chartrand became an outspoken opponent and joined the Bloc populaire canadien movement to campaign against conscription.
In February 1942, he was married to Simonne Monet by Father Lionel Groulx at the Notre-Dame Basilica. By the time the Parliament of Canada put the military draft in place in November 1944, Chartrand was the father of seven children.
In 1948, his fifth child was born, and the following year he went to the Asbestos Region to participate in the Asbestos Strike by local mine workers. In 1950, he became active with the executive committee of the Catholic Workers Confederation of Canada (CTCC). Involved with a number of union operations, in 1953 Chartrand became a salaried member of the union's executive committee. After internal disputes, he was fired from his job. However, after appealing the decision, a tribunal under Pierre Trudeau reinstated him.
In 1954, Chartrand stood for election to the post of secretary-general of the union but was defeated by Jean Marchand. In 1956, he joined the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a social democratic federal political party headed in Quebec by Thrse Casgrain. Chartrand was appointed a Quebec delegate to the party's convention in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As a result, a Quebec branch of the party was organized under the name Parti social dmocratique du Qubec. Chartrand was the party's candidate in the Chambly riding in the 1956 provincial election, but was badly defeated. His union duties involved numerous high-profile strikes, and he was seen by some as a future leader of the movement and was leader of the party from 1957 until 1960.
Chartrand ran for the CCF in the 1958 federal election as a candidate in the town of Arvida, Quebec. Despite a strong union base, he nevertheless lost by a wide margin. In 1959, Chartrand tried again for public office, running in a Quebec provincial by-election in Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec, but once again was badly defeated. His frustration became evident through his growing extremist remarks, and in 1959, the union forced him to resign from its executive committee. He was then hired to work at the printing office of the Parti social-dmocratique, and was a delegate again to the CCF's convention in Winnipeg.
In 1960, the Confederation of Catholic Workers of Canada changed its name to the Confdration des syndicats nationaux (CSN). Chartrand took part in the Peace movement, participating in demonstrations and marches against nuclear proliferation and other causes. An admirer of the communist revolution in Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro, in 1963 Chartrand accompanied a group on a month-long visit to Cuba. On his return to Quebec, he called Cuba "a paradise" and held it out as a symbol of what Quebec should become. Chartrand then helped found the Parti socialiste du Qubec (Socialist Party of Quebec), and, as its president, soon began supporting the Quebec sovereignty movement, the Rassemblement pour l'indpendance nationale (RIN).
In 1968, Michel Chartrand was elected president of the Montral Central Council of the Confdration des syndicats nationaux, serving in that position until 1978. By the end of the 1960s, his views had radicalized. As a member of the Quebec sovereignty movement, Chartrand staunchly supported the Front de libration du Qubec (FLQ) terrorists saying, "We are going to win because there are more boys ready to shoot Members of Parliament than there are policemen."
During the October Crisis, when asked by a reporter about the ordeal the family of kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross was being put through, Chartrand stated: "I have no more sympathy for Mrs. Cross than for the wives of thousands of men without jobs in Quebec at the present time." Even after the murder of Quebec vice-premier Pierre Laporte, Chartrand remained steadfast in his beliefs. On October 15, 1975, five years after the October Crisis, FLQ and Front de rassemblement d'action populaire members and supporters met at the Paul-Sauv Centre in Montreal where Michel Chartrand addressed the crowd.
In the 1998 Quebec election, he again ran for political office. He represented the Rassemblement pour l'alternative progressiste (now Qubec solidaire) against Lucien Bouchard in Jonquire, finishing third with 14% of the votes.
Michel Chartrand and Simonne Monet's lives were the subject of a mini tv series broadcasted in 2000 and re-broadcasted in 2003 entitled Chartrand et Simonne. Chartrand was also the subject of a 1991 National Film Board of Canada documentary Un homme de parole.
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