Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Guys, remember Pastagate?!

Did you hear that double thud? It’s the one-two punch that just landed on the face of the Franco-Ontarian community. The fist belongs to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has just cancelled plans to build the province’s first francophone university and eviscerated the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner.

Yes, I am outraged, as a lot of francophones from coast to coast are. Of course, to know about that outrage, you would have to check the French media. The anglo media outside Quebec are doing the bare minimum in terms of coverage.

Hence, this column in English. I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, if you read about the outrage going on in your province from a guy in Montreal – but in English – maybe you’ll pay attention and start giving a damn. I’m not holding my breath, mind you.

The near-silence from the Toronto press on these bigoted cutbacks targeting the Franco-Ontarian community is quite ironic. Usually, outlets like the National Post, the Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail, to name a few, offer a pugnacious coverage of language issues and spats… when they happen in Quebec and when the (real or perceived) villain is the Quebec government.

But when francophobe cutbacks – yes, dear comrades in the Toronto commentariat, francophobe, say it, it won’t hurt your tongue – target the francophone minority in Ontario, the forceful columns and editorials are nowhere to be found.

It’s ironic, as I said, because through the years, I’ve sometimes had the impression, reading the Toronto press, that it is very, very, very concerned with the fate of minorities in Quebec. In fact, you could think, reading some pieces, that the anglo minority in Quebec is enslaved.

No, I am not conjuring up the slavery metaphor in vain. I actually read it in The Globe and Mail at the height of Pastagate… Remember Pastagate? To recap: an inspector from the Office québécois de la langue française, in a ridiculous bout of zeal, was going to fine a restaurant for having Italian words on its menu. Granted, it was dumb. I said so at the time. So did many others in Quebec, in the winter of 2013.

Pastagate was heavily covered in the Toronto press. Columns, editorials: the hot takes were piling up. So, a piece published in the Globe on February 26th 2013 started with a lengthy quote from Frederick Douglass, the famous African-American former slave who fought against the infamy of slavery…

The second paragraph of the piece authored by Sandy White stated this: “That was Frederick Douglass writing about the fight against slavery in the United States prior to the American Civil War.


Caps are mine and serve to emphasize the sheer stupidity of linking the crimes against humanity that was slavery and the fate of the anglophone minority in Quebec. But it was written. And it was published. Not in a xenophobic rag like the Toronto SUN, mind you: in Canada’s National Newspaper.

Let’s stay on Pastagate, if you will. It is a great prism through which one can analyze the double standard at work when the media from English Canada step to the plate for the rights of linguistic minorities…

On March 1st 2013, at the height of Pastagate coverage, a National Post editorial stated this: “In short, Quebec’s language laws are an international embarrassment because they deserve to be – only they are really no laughing matter. CANADIANS WOULD BE APPALLED IF A FOREIGN GOVERNMENT IN A DEVELOPED COUNTRY TREATED A MINORITY THE WAY QUEBEC’S GOVERNMENT TREATS ITS ANGLOPHONES AND ALLOPHONES.”

Caps are mine, again…

I’ll be clear: there is always room for improvement in the treatment of Quebec minorities.

But inferring that anglophones and allophones in Quebec are so ill-treated that it should warrant international outrage is both incredibly dishonest and a gross exaggeration. Still, it was published.

As a Quebecker I am proud of the fact that the anglophone community has institutions that are publicly funded by the Quebec government. It has three universities, McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s. When Quebec built the francophone Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), it also built the anglophone McGill University Health Center (MUHC), in the same spirit: that these hospitals be world-class hospitals. Nothing is perfect, of course, but this is one way to respect minorities: by funding their institutions.

So, tell me, fellow columnists in the Toronto papers, where is the world-class, francophone hospital in Ontario?

There is Montfort, yes. Great hospital. Not “world-class” like the MUHC, I’d say, though. And the francophone community had to go to court a generation ago to ensure that the Conservative (again) government of Mike Harris could not kill Montfort Hospital, like it tried to.

And where is the francophone university in Ontario? If you answered Ottawa U, wrong you are: it’s a bilingual university, like Laurentian in Sudbury. There was at long last going to be a francophone university in Toronto, after decades of dreaming about it and planning for it, and…

And, well, Doug Ford just killed it.

So I am asking you, my fellow comrades-in-arms in the commentariat, yes, you, the editorial and opinion writers based in Toronto…

Where is the outrage?

Nowhere, I gather: Étienne Fortin-Gauthier, a reporter for the public broadcaster TFO, tweeted yesterday that his daily press brief from Queen’s Park included NOT A SINGLE WORD ABOUT THE FRANCOPHONES’ MOBILISATION (caps mine, again) in the Toronto press. Repeat: NOT A SINGLE WORD.

Francophones across Canada are aghast at this frontal attack on francophones’ institutions and rights led by Doug Ford and (sigh) Caroline Mulroney, who is exceptionally gifted in the role of the token francophone in Mr. Ford’s Cabinet. This outrage is echoed in Ottawa by Prime Minister Trudeau and Mélanie Joly, the Cabinet minister responsible for Official Languages. It is echoed by francophone media and the Montreal Gazette, which lambasted Ford in an editorial.

But what about the Toronto press, which is so influential in setting the agenda in this country? All I’ve seen is a bare minimum coverage, a 5W-type coverage since the announcement last Thursday.

As far as I can tell, Chantal Hébert, in the Star, is the only opinion writer in the Toronto press who has given a voice to the grievances of French-speaking Ontarians.

Where are the pugnacious columns denouncing this mistreatment of a linguistic minority in Ontario? Where are the sanctimonious editorials? I am not even asking for a slavery metaphor ! You know, just the same concerns that propelled your Pastagate coverage from 2013…

I know that I’m gonna die waiting for you guys to care about francophones in Ontario. I have to come to terms with the fact that when it comes to linguistic minority rights, the Toronto press cares only about anglos in Quebec.

As for the Frogs in Ontario, well, as this delicious English expression goes: you don’t give a shit.

By Patrick Lagacé, La Presse, November 20, 2018

Monday, January 1, 2018

Papineau and his Political Testament

 Louis-Joseph Papineau
As some have sought to commemorate many anniversaries in 2017, the most notable of which is the 150th anniversary of the passing into law of the British North America Act (today known as the constitutional law of 1867, of which only the title is official in French!) and the creation of the Dominion of Canada, it is of interest to recall another great event of 1867: the speech given by Louis-Joseph Papineau before the Institut Canadien on December 17 1867.

Often described as his “political testament” and revealing “the measure of the man and the breadth of his thinking”, as Prof. Marc Chevrier so aptly put it, the allocution of the former head of the Parti canadien and the Parti patriote looked upon the creation the new Canadian federation with a critical eye.

The following passage is very revealing of Papineau’s views on the men at the origin of the British North America Act and on the process leading to its adoption: “It is not the rushed acceptance of the bungled confederation act in Quebec City that proves the wisdom of British statesmen. It was not their doing; It was prepared in the shadows, without the authorization of their constituents, by a few colonists eager to hold on to a power that was slipping away. This sinister project belongs to a few disreputable men with a vested interest, and to a duped British parliament, inattentive to what it was doing. At first sight, the confederation act is not worthy of the approbation of those who believe in the wisdom and the fairness of Parliament, in the excellence of the English constitution, since it violates its fundamental principles by appropriating money belonging to the colonists alone and not to the metropolis. It is more culpable than any other previous act. It has the same old faults, along with some new ones that are peculiar to it, and more exorbitant against the colonists than were those of parliamentary charters either granted or imposed.

In this speech Papineau added: “The true sociological doctrines of modern times can be summarized in a few words: recognize that in the temporal and political order of things, there is no legitimate authority other than that which has the consent of the majority of the nation; that the only wise and benevolent constitutions are those for which the people were consulted and the majority of whom gave their free consent.

The population will not be consulted

As for the “free consent”, it is pertinent to recall that the resolutions of the Quebec Conference, which were essentially the same as those in the British North America Act, were put to a vote in the Parliament of the United Canada on the 10th of March 1865, and that 62 of the 65 MPs from Canada-East, which was to become the Province of Quebec, participated in the vote. Of the 62 votes cast, 37 were favorable and 25 unfavorable. Among the Francophone MPs who made up 49 of the 62 votes, 27 voted for and 22 voted against. The final version of the British north America Act was never approved by the legislative assembly of the United-Canada, after its adoption by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the royal assent by the Queen on the 29th of March 1867. And the population of Lower-Canada was never consulted on the contents of this new fundamental law.

The constitutional law of 1867 is one of the pillars on which Canada is built and continues to develop itself. By applying this law, the Parliament of Canada has considerably expanded its powers thanks to the courts, whether that be the Judicial committee of the Privy Council in London, who granted it powers in the field of radio-communications, telecommunications and cable services, and that are now used to regulate the Internet.

It is also this law that the federal authorities use to exercise a presumed spending power and to interfere in many powers under Quebec’s jurisdiction with respect to health care, post-secondary education, welfare and social services, child development and daycare. This presumed power is also behind the willingness of the Federal State to interfere in municipal and urban affairs and to formulate, as it recently did, a National Strategy on housing in Canada.

Without consent

This was the first pillar in the edifice of the Canadian constitutional order which was completed by multiple other laws, among which we find the constitutional law of 1982. The adoption of this law, which resulted from a repatriation procedure brought to term without the consent of the government, the parliament or the people of Quebec, did not obtain, in the words of Papineau, the consent of the majority of the nation. Nor can it be described as one of the “wise and benevolent constitutions for which the people were consulted and the majority of whom gave their free consent,” in particular with respect to the principles of bilingualism and multiculturalism that it embodies. And yet, it is this law that the courts used to prevent Quebec from enacting, with the Charter of the French language, a policy aiming to make French the common language of Quebec. And it is evidently by virtue of this same constitutional law that the desire to affirm the religious neutrality of the Quebec state, not to mention its secularism, will also be blocked.

In order to honor Papineau’s memory, shouldn’t Quebec start a conversation with its own citizens about establishing a fundamental law of its own? Shouldn’t we prepare, not “in the shadows,” but in all transparency, a first Quebec constitution with “the authorization of its constituents”? Isn’t it time to create a Movement for the Constitution of Quebec? 

By Daniel Turp, Professor at the Faculty of Law of the Université de Montréal, December 16 2017.

Related posts:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Canada of 2017 is as Francophobic as ever

Last July 1st, in Ottawa, the celebrations turned into a spirit of mea culpa. In a gesture of suspicious benevolence, the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We must recognize the errors of the past, accept our responsibilities, and strive so that every Canadian has a bright future.” He was, rightfully, referring to the Native peoples.

The day has not yet come when Ottawa will say similar things about francophones. Perhaps at the Dominion’s 200th anniversary, when Durham’s project will be sufficiently accomplished.

In linguistic matters the British North America Act, of which we are remembering the 150th anniversary of its enactment into law, served mainly to protect English schools in Quebec. On the other hand, the other provinces, all of them without exception, adopted between 1870 to 1912 laws banning French instruction over a period of decades. But why be spoil sports when francophones can celebrate the Canada that exists today? All right then, what about present day Canada?

The Rose-des-Vents school

Many moons ago, parents of the Rose-des-Vents primary French school in Vancouver got tired of sending their kids to a school made of rickety mobile homes with noisy classrooms, often without windows, and much smaller than those of an English school.

The school has no gymnasium or green spaces, not enough lockers, a miniscule library and only nine toilets for 350 kids and their teachers, and the school was meant for 200 students. The province seemed to think that if francophones didn’t like their decrepit, cramped and out of the way schools, they could go to an English school and face assimilation…

In May of 2010, the parents filled a lawsuit based on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the same time, the French School Board launched its own class action concerning the larger question of public funding of French education. And so began the provincial government’s monumental obstinacy to deny the 70 000 francophones of a “just and equitable” financing for their schools.

In October of 2015, the supreme court of British Colombia ruled in favor of Rose-des-Vents. Determined, the province immediately appealed the decision. Multiplying obstructionist motions in the other lawsuit against the Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF), British Colombia invoked – successfully – an English colonial law dating back to 1731 to declare inadmissible the thousands of pages submitted as evidence by the CSF because they were written… in French.

Meanwhile, in April of 2015, after ten years of demands, the separate cause of the miserable Rose-des-Vents school won another victory, this time in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

As for the case involving the CSF, in 2016, after a six year long mega-trial among the longest in the history of the Supreme Court of British Colombia, the francophones won a very partial victory.

While they were demanding reparations for 17 communities with little or no access to French educational services, the Court effectively only conceded to them 4 communities. In short, the Court concluded that the province violated the Charter with regard to only three existing schools, one of them being Rose-des-Vents. And of the 22 new schools demanded (415 million dollars), the ruling guarantees only one of them. As for the four other communities where it seemed obvious that the requirements of article 23 of the Charter were not respected, the Court ruled that such violations of the rights of francophones were nonetheless “reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society.


In addition, the government was made to pay 6 million dollars as compensation for past under-funding of school transportation. “In the end, concluded Rémy Léger, a political scientist at Simon-Fraser University, we demanded 400 million for everything and we got 6 million for transportation.” And that doesn’t take into account the fact that on the day of the ruling the CSF had spent more than 17 million since the start of the proceedings.

No sooner that the ruling was given did hostilities flare up again, this time before the Supreme Court of Canada. The province wasted no time in launching an appeal aimed at overturning the ruling regarding transportation. Clearly, this minuscule gain on the part of francophones was too much for the provincial government, for whom it is better to spend lavish sums in lawyer’s fees rather than offering decent French schools to its linguistic minority.

Ironically, justice Loryl Russell even offered us this pearl of wisdom: “Schools for the minority may slow down the process of assimilation, but that would only prolong the inevitable.” In other words, “you are all doomed, so hurry up and go straight to hell!” Canadian Charter of Rights or not, the per generation assimilation rate of 75% among francophones in British Colombia is here to stay (and increase).

Howls of protest

The Fransaskois are also before the courts to force their government to respect article 23. The Franco-Newfoundlander were also fighting before the courts, before accepting last May to move some students to an English school.

And while some 800 000 Anglo-Quebecers have three universities financed at a level well beyond the proportion of anglophones, we are still waiting for the construction of the first francophone university in Ontario. Already, the Ontario government is backing down by suggesting that its 650 000 francophones can make do with a virtual university…

It is easy to imaging the howls of protest that would come from the “Rest of Canada” if Anglo-Quebecers had to overcome a small fraction of the obstacles that are constantly being put up before those who speak the language of Molière. Thus, being a minority in this country, it is the lot of francophones to always be in the wrong, regardless of what the Couillards and Fourniers of this world say or do…

By Maxime Laporte & Christian Gagnon, respectively president and counselor general of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Residential Schools: So, we’re good now?

Have you heard the great news? Canada and the Fist Nations are now reconciled! The Trudeau government is renaming the Langevin block building, named after Hector-Louis Langevin, out of respect for Indigenous Peoples. Not only that, but there is also a push to rename Calgary’s Langevin bridge so as to erase the memory of the "social architect" of the hated residential school system.

Sir Hector-Louis Langevin (1826-1906), Father of Confederation
and Conservative party apparatchik.

Yes! As you can see in the picture, Langevin had a piercing charismatic gaze that kept Canada entranced long after his death. The poor Prime Ministers and Indian affairs ministers that came after him were thus powerless to alter, reform or abolish the Indian Act. What could those poor bastards do? Langevin was truly the personification of evil!

A bit of history

But enough of the “alternative historical facts” on which Canadians construct the self-validating parallel world in which they live. In the June 24th 2017 edition of Le Devoir, Emeritus Professor at UQAM Luc-Norman Tellier recounts a few historical facts that are worth summarizing here.

Namely, that Hector-Louis Langevin (1826-1906) was not the creator of the residential school system. The first residential schools were instituted long before Langevin became an MP. In fact, they were instituted as of 1820, six years before Langevin’s birth.

Furthermore, Langevin wasn’t even minister for Indian affairs when the schools were transformed into a system. Langevin was in charge of Indian affairs for only a year and a half, from May 1868 to December 1869, whereas the decision to turn the residential schools for First Nations peoples out West into a system dates from 1883 (thus 14 years after the end of Langevin’s mandate at Indian affairs).

Besides, Hector-Louis Langevin wasn’t even minister at Indian affairs when the Indian Act was adopted in 1876, nor when attendance at the residential schools was made mandatory in 1920. Finally, he is in no way responsible for the fact that the residential school system for First Nations lasted for more than a century, from 1883 to 1996 (Langevin died in 1906).

The responsibility of John A. MacDonald

Tellier then goes on to expose the responsibility of Sir John “Aryan race” MacDonald (what did you think the “A” stood for?) in this sordid affair. He does this by pointing out that in 2013, the governments of the North-West Territories and Nunavut and the foundation Legacy of Hope published a document titled “The Residential School System in Canada” where one learns (page 15):
  1. That it was Sir John A. MacDonald who, as both Prime Minister and Indian affairs minister, began the residential school system in 1883 by authorizing the construction of three such schools in the Canadian West;
  2. That it was on this occasion that Hector-Louis Langevin, in his capacity as a member of the cabinet and minister for public works, spoke out publicly to announce and support that decision, along with some of his fellow ministers;
  3. That, from 1883 to 1931, the number of federal residential schools went from 3 to 80, and that the number of residents went as high as 17000;
  4. That in 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott, the high-ranking civil servant charged with the implementation of the Indian Act, made attendance mandatory at the residential schools.
There is in fact abundant evidence of MacDonald's genocidal intent towards the First Nations, whether through the residential school system or by his manufacturing of famine.

Summing up

Looking at these facts, it is clear that Langevin had a marginal role in the creation of the residential school system and cannot be held responsible for it. In fact, his posthumous moral execution seems to be based entirely on a statement he made in Parliament in 1883, which received support from his anglophone colleagues. Anyone familiar with the Canadian system of government knows that ministers are essentially the Prime Minister’s lapdogs. Whatever policies Langevin may have drawn up during his brief tenure as Indian affairs minister was done at the behest of his Lord and Master, MacDonald.

In any case, MacDonald had made equally damming statements regarding residential schools, for example this quote from 1883:
When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages. Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence.” 
If any one man is to be held responsible for the residential school system, it can only be John A. MacDonald. And it’s not like MacDonald has nothing bearing his name. According to his Wikipedia page, a peak in the Rockies is named after him, a parkway and an airport in Ottawa carry his name, January 11th is Sir John A. MacDonald day, and of course the ten-dollar bill carries his grotesque likeness. And this is not even an exhaustive list! There are plenty of things Justin can rename or alter if he really wants to honor National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t care about Hector-Louis Langevin. As far as I am concerned, he was a Conservative party apparatchik who sided with the strong against the weak, and who sold out his people for personal gain. I couldn’t care less if a building or a bridge is no longer named after him. It’s just that there is something typically Canadian in making amends towards the First Nations by sacrificing the first francophone they see (one of the few francophone "Fathers of Confederation") while whitewashing the real history behind the residential school system. It’s typically Canadian because it’s typically cynical in a francophobic sort of way.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Canada’s 150th: A Québécois View

Each sovereign state can choose the date of its national holiday. Generally, this date recalls the accession to independence. The United States, for example, chose to emphasize each year their unilateral declaration of independence of July 4, 1776. They preferred this date to the date of the Treaty of Paris, 1783, which ended the revolutionary war they had won thanks to France’s decisive support. Their national holiday commemorates a founding act.

In France, where the origin of independence is lost in the mists of time, they remember the 14th of July, the fall of the Bastille, as the passage from monarchy to the Republic, the founding act of modern France. Unlike some other countries, the United Kingdom celebrates the birth of its sovereign as its national holiday; it is celebrated on the second Saturday in June. In Canada, they celebrate “the Queen’s birthday” in late May. In Quebec, the Parti Québécois government of Bernard Landry transformed the Queen’s birthday into its opposite, the Patriots’ Day, after the Patriotes who sought to establish the independence of Lower Canada, Quebec’s ancestor.

So Canada celebrates two national holidays: the United Kingdom’s and the one called Canada Day, referring to “Confederation,” (which was a confederation in name only), on July 1. Neither has any relation to its independence. Canada does not celebrate the date of its accession to independence, which legally occurred on December 11, 1931 through the adoption of a British law called the Statute of Westminster. Why?

Birth of Canada?

There is more than one reason for this. First, the date when Canada achieved independence is in reality uncertain. In its Patriation Reference in 1981, the Supreme Court was unable to situate it precisely, which in itself is an anomaly. At most it indicated that it had occurred in events between 1919 and 1931. This effective sovereignty was allegedly won on the battlefields of the First World War, in particular at the battle of Vimy Ridge – one of uncertain military importance but of great importance in the construction of Canadian identity, and for which its 100th anniversary has just been celebrated. This victory led to the separate signature to the Treaty of Versailles of His Majesty King George V on behalf of Canada, which conferred on Canada an international juridical personality, one of the fundamental attributes of sovereignty.

It should be noted that during the centennial ceremonies at Vimy on April 9 the Canadian prime minister stated: “It is here where Canada was born.” This statement teaches us two things. First, and this is an irony of history, Canada was born in France. Second, Canada did not exist in 1867. It was born, according to Mr. Trudeau, exactly a half-century later.

Indeed, it should be recalled that British troops were still occupying the Quebec Citadel in 1867. The Canadian armed forces did not yet exist. Canada had no international relations other than relations within the British Empire. There was no Canadian ambassador abroad, and Canada could sign no treaty because its international relations, including with the United States, were conducted in London. Canadian citizenship did not appear until 1947.

The only provision in the British North America Act, 1867 that had anything to do with international affairs was section 132, which granted the Parliament and Government of Canada “all Powers necessary or proper for performing the Obligations of Canada or of any Province thereof, as Part of the British Empire, towards Foreign Countries, arising under Treaties between the Empire and such Foreign Countries.” Moreover, the same Act provided that all federal laws could be disallowed [overruled] by London. The 1867 Act failed to respect the principle of effectiveness of core state functions, a necessary condition of independence.

Why 150 Years?

Why, then, do they want to celebrate 150 years of colonial autonomy? It can only be because in 1867 they thought they had found the final solution to an event that had occurred thirty years earlier and had been a political earthquake. This was, of course, the rebellion of the Patriotes of Lower Canada. A parallel revolt occurred in Upper Canada, but it concerned only the distribution of powers among Anglophones, namely the British governor and the local élite. That was remedied by the advent of responsible government which turned power over to the elected representatives of the population. In Lower Canada, in contrast, responsible government aggravated the fundamental problem which was the co-existence of two nations – the more vigorous one, demographically, being the French-Canadian nation.

The Act of Union in 1840, which merged Upper and Lower Canada, had been designed to dilute the power of the Francophone majority of Lower Canada at a time when responsible government was becoming inevitable. However, the Act of Union was a failure since the political and national realities were obvious: in effect, there were two co-premiers and two attorneys general in United Canada; two parliamentary majorities were required if laws were to be adopted. The fait francophone continued to weigh heavily in the functioning of the Union, too heavily in the eyes of certain Anglophone politicians.

The solution was colonial federalism, that is, Quebec’s imprisonment in a federal framework in which it was to become increasingly a minority. This imprisonment, which was an attempt at more definitive appropriation and neutralization of Québécois identity, is the precondition to the existence of Canada. This existential condition found its logical follow-up in the negation of the Quebec nation in the constitutional renewal of 1982. Canada was built on the weakening of Quebec. On July 1st each year the Canadian nation celebrates its domination over the Quebec nation. The choice of a founding act that is to be collectively celebrated is never innocent and is always revealing.

By André Binette, a prominent constitutional lawyer in Quebec.

This article originally appeared in L’Aut’journal, translated in English by Canadian Dimension.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bill 99: To be or not to be a nation

In 1998, the Government of Canada put three questions on Quebec's right to unilateral secession to the Supreme Court of Canada, one of which referred to the right of peoples to self-determination. The questions read as follows:

Question 1: Under the Constitution of Canada, can the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

Question 2: Does international law give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally? In this regard, is there a right to self-determination under international law that would give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?

Question 3: In the event of a conflict between domestic and international law on the right of the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally, which would take precedence in Canada?

These questions were severely criticized by the former head of the International Law Commission of the United Nations in a legal opinion. The renowned international French scholar Alain Pellet stated:

I am profoundly distressed and upset by the partisan manner in which the questions are put and I take the liberty of suggesting that a court of justice has the duty to react to what appears to be a blatant attempt at political manipulation.

Yet, contrary to all expectations and as constitutional experts have pointed out, the Court refused, in its August 28th 1998 Reference re Secession of Quebec to answer YES or NO to the questions put to it. And, rather than simply denying Quebec's right to declare independence unilaterally and state that international law on the self-determination of peoples did not recognize the right to unilateral secession, it noted that the federal and provincial governments had a constitutional and mandatory duty to negotiate should Quebec vote in favor of sovereignty. It also considered the question of the international community's recognition of Quebec's sovereignty, linking the two questions. It said:

The corollary of a legitimate attempt by one participant in Confederation to seek an amendment to the Constitution is an obligation on all parties to come to the negotiating table. The clear repudiation by the people of Quebec of the existing constitutional order would confer legitimacy on demands for secession, and place an obligation on the other provinces and the federal government to acknowledge and respect that expression of democratic will by entering into negotiations and conducting them in accordance with the underlying constitutional principles already discussed.

The advisory opinion of the Supreme Court hurt the federalists especially because it recognized that Quebec could turn to the international community if Canadian governments failed in their obligation to negotiate in good faith.

In order to circumvent the obligation to negotiate set out in the advisory opinion by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Parliament of Canada tabled on December 10th, 1999 an Act to Give Effect to the Requirement for Clarity as Set Out in the Opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference (Bill C-20). This federal initiative led to the passing of the Clarity Act on June 29, 2000 which purports to impose conditions on Quebec before the federal government fulfills its obligation to negotiate with Quebec.

The intent of the Clarity Act is to give the House of Commons the power to decide that a majority of 50% + 1 of valid votes cast is not enough to oblige the federal government to assume its constitutional and mandatory duty to negotiate. It also gives the federal government the possibility to shirk its constitutional obligation to negotiate if it feels that the question asked was not "clear enough" It's a masterpiece of legal sophistry, open to almost any interpretation.

Fundamental Rights

In reaction to such a serious threat to the freedom of the people of Quebec to determine their future, the Government of Quebec tabled, on December 15, 1999, a bill entitled An Act respecting the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Quebec people and of the Quebec State (Bill 99). With this bill, the government called on the National Assembly of Quebec to reaffirm Quebec's freedom to determine its own future.

The first chapter of the Fundamental Rights Act affirms, as no other Quebec legislation had ever done before, the concept of a Quebec people. It stats certain rights that belong to the Quebec people: the right of self-determination, the right to freely decide the political regime and legal status of Quebec, the right to determine alone the mode of exercise of its right to choose the political regime and legal status of Quebec.

In 2001, Keith Henderson of the Equality Party filed a motion in the Superior Court to strike down six sections of Bill 99. He alleges that Quebec, by passing these provisions, exceeded its powers and that Bill 99 caused Mr Henderson personal injury as a Canadian citizen. He argues that Bill 99 sets the stage for a possible unilateral declaration of independence, in violation of the Canadian Constitution.

For more than ten years the progress of this motion was hampered by judgments on inadmissibility in the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal. But these judgments were finally settled, so in May 2013 the Government of Quebec presented its defense.

In the fall of 2013, it was the turn of the Government of Canada to intervene in this dispute by presenting a position similar to Henderson's and arguing that Bill 99 must be invalidated. On October 23, 2013, the National Assembly adopted a unanimous motion denouncing the federal government's intervention in this matter, and reiterated its support for Bill 99. After some more delays, a Quebec court has finally begun hearings in this case.

What is being put on trial is the very notion of a distinct Quebec nation. Canada's position is clear. It wants to reduce the French-speaking nation to a simple ethnic minority, one among many in a multicultural Canada. There is no such thing as a Quebec people according to the Canadian Constitution. Keith Henderson wants assurances that our self-proclaimed right to self-determination will be crushed and that his "right" to be Canadian in Quebec will always prevail.

However, if Mr Henderson can't have our right to self-determination suppressed, and Quebecers choose independence, then he is in favor of granting this right to every neighborhood and street corner as he is a strong proponent of the partitioning of an independent Quebec. This partitioning, of course, would be done unilaterally. I'm sure Mr Henderson dreams of his own version of the Republic of Serbian Krajina somewhere out in the West Island.


We are often told that support for Quebec independence is low these days, and it is then inferred that this means a majority of Quebecers are content with being a part of Canada. However, a majority of Quebecers also believe that Quebec is a distinct nation with a right to self-determination. Canada has made it quite clear that it rejects this idea and it has gone to great length to undermine it.

One day, I believe the cognitive dissonance that many Quebecers live with will prove too great and something will snap. In the end, we will either have to affirm ourselves and declare that we are a sovereign nation, equal to all the other nations of the world, or we will have accept being nothing more than an ethnic group in Canada, and accept the slow assimilation that comes with this reality. The in-between position that many Quebec federalists try to hold is simply untenable.

Based on a speech by Daniel Turp from February 2, 2001 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Corruption, racism and a railway: The making of Canada

John A. Macdonald dreamed of an Aryan Canada

Confederation: A political coup by crony-capitalists and power-hungry politicians

Not many merchants, lumbermen, manufacturers or bankers were particularly enthusiastic about the creation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The plan to make a new nation out of squabbling, debt-ridden colonies injected new instability into British North America’s economic climate. Confederation would probably bring more government, more debt, more taxes, more friction with the United States and more wildly visionary schemes by impractical politicians. Why upset the business status quo?

But suppose you were a failing businessman, longing to be bailed out. Suppose the only choice for your enterprise was to go big or go broke. Suppose your best hopes lay in wild visionary schemes for expansion.

The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada was by far the biggest enterprise in all of British North America. By 1861, its main lines ran about 1,800 kilometres from Sarnia in Canada West to Quebec City and Portland, Maine, in the east. It claimed to be the greatest railway in the world, and the greatest foreign project ever financed from Britain. The investors who had poured almost $5 billion in today’s purchasing power into building the Grand Trunk had vitalized the colonial economy as they anticipated fabulous returns. In their first golden age, railways were expected to be everybody’s gravy train.

The reality was very different. The Grand Trunk’s promoters, like most early railway entrepreneurs, had grossly underestimated their costs of construction and overestimated the traffic their line would generate. They had trouble competing with waterways and trouble with the harsh Canadian climate, and had foolishly built their line to a gauge that would not allow for connections with U.S. railways. In an ethically challenged business climate, insider trading, bribery and political chicanery drained off money and credibility.

A committee of the Grand Trunk’s debt holders described it in 1861 as “an undertaking which is overwhelmed with debt, wholly destitute of credit and in imminent danger of lapsing into utter insolvency and confusion.

There seemed to be two routes to salvation: Build more track and get more government help. Early in the 1860s, the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada began lobbying for railway expansion eastward to the Maritime colonies, railway expansion westward through “Indian” and fur-trader country to the Pacific, and all the help of any kind it could get from the government of the Province of Canada.

These hopes coincided almost exactly with the grandiose vision of the coalition of Canadian politicians led by John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier (a solicitor for the Grand Trunk) and George Brown, who wanted to create a new country by uniting with the Maritime provinces, annexing the Hudson’s Bay Company lands in the west and tying it all together with an intercolonial railway running to Halifax and a transcontinental line to British Columbia.

The Grand Trunk did everything it could to promote Confederation. We don’t know what “everything” involved because so much power and cash circulated in backrooms and under tables in those days. It is known that in 1866 the general manager of the Grand Trunk, C.J. Brydges, was the conduit for supplying what John A. Macdonald called “the needful” (cash worth more than $2 million today) to help overthrow an anti-Confederate government in New Brunswick in 1866. We can assume that pro-Confederate politicians got free rides on the Grand Trunk, while their opponents had to pay their way. And the possibility of serious opposition to Canadian expansion by the Hudson’s Bay Company was neutralized when key Grand Trunk shareholders purchased control of the historic enterprise in 1863.

Except in New Brunswick, the Confederation plan was never put to a popular vote. It might have had trouble passing. Its opponents loudly proclaimed the whole idea to be nothing more than a great Grand Trunk railway “job” – a swindle mainly for the benefit of its shareholders and their political henchmen. The muddy waters of Confederation’s paternity were not clarified by the claim of Edward Watkin, Britain’s leading spokesman for the Grand Trunk, that he was the true Father of Confederation.

Regardless of who Canada's real daddy is, one thing is certain, Confederation had nothing to do with "independence" as the British colonies of North America didn't acquire any new powers at the expense of the British Empire. In fact, they actually found themselves with less freedom following 1867 as many powers designated under provincial jurisdiction were reassigned to the newly created federal government. This new government had unlimited authority over provincial jurisdiction, all matters not explicitly outlined in the Constitution and all forms of taxation and regulation. No, Confederation was not about any kind of "national" independence, it was essentially a coup performed by British crony-capitalists and power-hungry politicians.

Ethnic cleansing

Sir John A. Macdonald deliberately starved thousands of aboriginal people to clear a path for the Canadian Pacific Railroad and open the prairies to white settlement. His “National Dream” cost them their health, their independence and – in many cases – their lives.

In March of 1882, John A. Macdonald said in the House of Commons that the Indigenous people south of the proposed railway tracks in the territory of Assiniboine or south-western Saskatchewan would be removed by force if necessary. What he wanted to do was eliminate any threat to the construction of the railway. So when the Europeans showed up over the next couple of decades, the land was literally cleared of people. 

Despite guarantees of food aid in times of famine in Treaty No. 6, Canadian officials used food, or rather denied food, as a means to ethnically cleanse a vast region from Regina to the Alberta border as the Canadian Pacific Railway took shape. Acting as both prime minister and minister of Indian affairs during the darkest days of the famine, Macdonald even boasted that the indigenous population was kept on the “verge of actual starvation.” 

For years, government officials withheld food from aboriginal people until they moved to their appointed reserves, forcing them to trade freedom for rations. Once on reserves, food placed in ration houses was withheld for so long that much of it rotted while the people it was intended to feed fell into a decades-long cycle of malnutrition, suppressed immunity and sickness from tuberculosis and other diseases. Thousands died.

Asian exclusion

From 1880, thousands of Chinese workers were imported to build Canada's national railway and were paid starvation wages for performing the most dangerous tasks. Right after the last spike was driven, the Canadian government thanked them by imposing a unique and racist law, the head tax of 1885, which forced all Chinese immigrants to pay a $50 tax. This was increased to $100 in 1900 and $500 in 1903. Between 1885 and 1923, the Canadian government collected an estimated $23 million from 81,000 Chinese immigrants. (This would be worth $1 billion today.)

The head tax imposed a crushing burden on the impoverished new immigrants. At the time, $500 was the equivalent of two years' wages. Many paid off the unwieldy debts incurred by the tax through long, painful years of hard labour. At the same time, the Canadian government was paying many European immigrants to settle on land that had been seized from Aboriginal peoples. The Chinese were the only immigrants ever forced to pay a head tax.

In 1885, the Electoral Franchise Act explicitly denied Chinese Canadians the right to vote; but, in 1898, new legislation extended the franchise to Asian voters. This lasted until 1920 when the Dominion Elections Act said that if a province discriminated against a group by reason of race, that group would also be excluded from the federal franchise, meaning that British Columbia residents of Chinese, Japanese and South Asian background lost their right to vote in national elections. Saskatchewan also disenfranchised the Chinese. 

The suppression of French

In the aftermath of Confederation, francophones from several English-speaking provinces watched helplessly as their rights were systematically eroded. Throughout Canada, French-Catholic minorities were attacked one after the other in an attempt to make them conform to the White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant mold. 

In Manitoba and the North West francophone rights were curtailed. The anglophones of these provinces took advantage of their majority in the legislature to declare war on what they called the French-Canadian “threat” in an attempt to “Keep Canada British!

In 1890 Manitoba's Official Language Act banned French, formerly an official language in the province. It diminished the rights of French school and abolished the use of French in the Parliament and in the Courts of the province. In 1916, the Thornton Act abolished bilingual schools and completely ended the teaching of French in the province in spite of these rights being explicitly guaranteed in the federal Manitoba Act.

In 1905, the Alberta School Act imposed English as the only language of instruction and in 1909, Saskatchewan follows suit with its own School Act which made English the only language of instruction but allowed limited use of French in primary classes. In 1929, a different Saskatchewan law completely abolished French in public education. 

It's no coincidence that in the early 20th century, the Ku Klux Klan was one of the largest organizations in Saskatchewan, with only the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool accounting for more members. Although the Klan itself was an American import, the Saskatchewan branch must to be situated in this decades long battle against Catholic and francophone rights. The Saskatchewan KKK's driving motivation was not specifically against Blacks, as in the US, but it was rather about preserving a narrow, religious and ethnic based notion of Britishness in Canada. And this goal fit very well with official government policy at the time.


Canadians like to portray the Fathers of Confederation as god-like men and exalt Confederation to biblical proportions. According to the usual narrative, Confederation was all about putting aside differences and working together to build something great. This story is almost always a complete whitewash of history. The ugly side of that story is rarely told. 

The reason is that Canadians have a pathological need to see themselves as the good guys of the universe, a need that stems from a deep seated insecurity. Canada is basically a relic of empire, which means it has no inherent legitimacy. The good guy fantasy provides a means of dealing with that unpleasant reality. It also provides a means of feeling superior to both Quebecers and Americans.

People can live in whatever fantasyland they like. I don't know what Mexicans tell themselves about their origins. It may be factual or it may not. It's not really something that concerns me. However, what Canadians tell themselves does concern me as it often leads to hypocritical fingers being pointed at me, like when some jackass from British Columbia, the Canadian jurisdiction that has passed the most racist laws by far, accuses me and all Quebecers of being horrible racists. That type of ignorance and hypocrisy is a byproduct of Canadian myth-making.

This is what compels me to tear down the fantasy. People should see Canada for what it really is. English-Canadians just reinvented themselves in the 1960s as this kind, forward-looking, progressive country without ever really coming to terms with their dark past. They seemed more fixated on America's past and flattered themselves that they were somehow better. It's the fantasy of a caring, sharing Canada whose beloved Mounties settled the west without America's violence and lawlessness. It's a Canada sanitized of its real history.

So, the same patterns of dominance remain but with new and more acceptable window dressing. The same assimilationist attitudes persist but they're now coated with a veneer of "multiculturalism." The same feelings of superiority persists but they are no long presented as racial or cultural superiority, they're now about Canadian moral superiority over "racist" Quebec. Independence for Quebec will not only liberate Quebec, but it will also free Canadians from the mental straitjacket needed to keep their empire together. It will not only lead to a better, freer, and more just Quebec, but it will probably lead to a better English Canada as well.

Based on an article by Michael Bliss in the Globe and Mail, July 1st, 2016