Quebec’s Labour and Immigration Minister, Pierre Laporte, has been kidnapped.
He was seized from his home in Montreal by two men armed with machineguns.
The kidnappers are thought to be part of the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), whose goal is independence for French Quebec from Canada.
The militant separatists are also holding captive British diplomat James Cross, kidnapped last week.
The latest kidnapping took place after the Quebec Government rejected demands from the separatists to release 23 ‘political’ prisoners and a ransom of £208,000.
Quebec’s Justice Minister Jerome Choquette, speaking on behalf of both the federal and provincial government, addressed the militants in a special radio and TV broadcast.
But he also made the unprecedented step of offering the kidnappers safe conduct to any country of their choice in exchange for the safe return of Mr Cross.
He added: “Terrorists cannot impose their will by violence or murder. The Government of Quebec is dedicated to reform. We will make an intensive effort to listen to all social groups.”
The offer came 20 minutes before the 1800 local time (2300 BST) deadline set by the kidnappers on the life of Mr Cross.
Mr Laporte’s abduction appears to be an instant reprisal for the government’s refusal to give in to the FLQ’s demands.
Within an hour of the broadcast he was seized at gunpoint from the garden of his home as he played football with his nephew.
Pierre Laporte was once a strong Quebec nationalist but is considered now to be more pro-federalist.
He entered politics after a career as a newspaper reporter and a lawyer.
Courtesy BBC News
The ‘October Crisis’ as it became known, prompted the federal government to introduce temporary martial law to arrest and detain terror suspects without warrant.
The news of Pierre Laporte’s death by strangling on 18 October shocked Canada.
Members of the FLQ ‘Chenier’ cell were eventually caught and received sentences for his murder. The leader, Paul Rose was freed in 1982.
James Cross was freed after 60 days in a deal with the LFQ ‘Liberation’ cell. His kidnappers were exiled but eventually returned and faced charges.
Québec’s more than seven million inhabitants make up a mainly French-speaking society.
A referendum on Quebec independence was narrowly lost in 1995.