Friday, December 25, 2015

How the West Was Won

On December 4th 2003 in Edmonton, Gilles Caron, a truck driver from Quebec but living in Alberta, turned left on a red light. Pulled over by the police, he was given a ticket written in English only. Five days later, Mr. Caron contested the validity of the ticket because it was not bilingual. He also asked for a trial in French. At the same time, a Franco-Albertan named Pierre Boutet initiated the same appeal.

They were no doubt inspired by George Forest, a Francophone Métis from Manitoba who fought right up to the Supreme Court the validity of an English-only parking ticket by appealing to the commitment made towards the Métis upon the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870. Forest convinced the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the 1890 law abolishing bilingualism in Manitoba. That 1979 ruling caused the restoration of French as an official language of Manitoba. 

Strong tensions

We shouldn’t underestimate what the impact of a victory for Caron and Boutet could have been in Alberta. The anti-French sentiment has deep roots in the West. Marie-France Kenny, the current president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada, remembers that “in the 1950’s, the KKK would burn crosses in front of our schools. The nuns would have to teach us French in secret.”

We should also remember that in 1982, when Manitoba was forced by the Supreme Court to translate into French all of its law since 1890, the provincial government tried to come to an agreement with the Société franco-manitobaine (SFM) whereas it would forego that gigantic expense in exchange for improved services in French for certain ministries. The Anglophone population was nonetheless outraged and the offices of the SFM were set on fire.

The then president of the SFM, Léo Robert, and his wife Diane received death threats, followed by an anonymous letter warning them that their children had been followed from school in order to find their address, and that something bad could happen to the kids if the SFM persisted in its demands. To ensure their security, Léo and Diane were forced to leave their home and relocate their children outside Winnipeg. 

The inherent double-standard

In the end, the defenders of French in Alberta were spared such ugliness since the Supreme Court ruled that Alberta had no constitutional obligation to translate its laws into French. It justified its ruling by saying that it cannot “create new rights” in the plaintiffs’ favor. The Court got creative by adding that “linguistic rights have always been conferred in an express manner”. On that, the Court is partly right, because while that assertion is true for francophones, it was never true for anglophones. In their case, “the silence of the law” has always been interpreted as conferring full linguistic rights. There are therefore two irreconcilable interpretations of rights built along Canada’s historic fault line, the goal of which is unquestionably the domination of one group and the inevitable subordination of the other. The Supreme Court has always had the duty to come running whenever Canada’s fundamental double-standard is threatened.

The Supreme Court’s ruling sticks our noses into the harsh reality that the Constitution of Canada is nothing but an unequal contract built on a nineteenth century assumption of Anglo-Saxon superiority. The rights of Anglos were always held to be sacred but the rights of francophones were always negotiable. Section 133.2 of the 1867 Constitution (BNAA), which is still the law today, states that "The Acts of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislature of Quebec shall be printed and published in both English and French". Quebec is therefore constitutionally obliged to write all of its laws in French and English but no such requirements were forced on to any other province until the 1980s. And these requirements, as the Supreme Court has made clear, do not apply to most of English Canada.

The country that could have been

Manitoba exemplifies the Canada that could have been, but was deliberately prevented from coming into being. Following the Red River Rebellion of 1869-1870, the Parliament of Canada enacted the Manitoba Act. The Act embodied many of the demands that had been made by Louis Riel and the Métis at the time of the rebellion. These demands had been written in a succession of Petition of Rights drafted by the Métis and their Provisional Government at the time of the rebellion.

Essentially, the Manitoba Act created a Métis province. This had been forced on the Government of Canada by the position of strength of the Métis and by support in Quebec for such a move. John A. Macdonald, felt that the creation of a province, out of a part of the North-West Territory, was premature. The territory was not sufficiently populated and the “true character” of the West had not yet been established according to him. Macdonald probably had in mind a territory populated by white immigrant farmers from Ontario and the British Isles. The idea of entrusting the government of a province to Natives was evidently foreign to nineteenth century Anglo concepts of “proper government”. The provincial status was the first, and main, concession made to the Métis. The province was given the name of Manitoba at the request of the Métis. 

Given the concession of provincial status to the Métis, the federal government insisted on two points that were incorporated into the Manitoba Act: 

  1. The new province was limited to a very small size, to an area immediately south of Lake Winnipeg and extending to the American border – hence the term of “postage stamp province” used to describe the size of Manitoba as created in 1870. It appears that by keeping the province small, the federal government was limiting the “potential damage” in having the Métis put in charge of a province. 
  2. All the “ungranted or waste lands in the Province” – essentially the Crown Lands, the natural resources and the revenue to be derived thereof – were vested in the government of Canada, rather than with the provincial government as was done elsewhere in Canada. Such lands were to be used “for the purposes of the Dominion”. Local control over land was removed from Manitoba as it was expected that the (Métis) government of Manitoba might interfere with the process of land distribution and settlement of white farmers in the province. This lack of control over its lands is what partly explains that the Métis lost control over their province by 1873-1875 as the small Métis population was rapidly submerged by the influx into the province of new settlers, primarily from Ontario. This model of withdrawing control of Crown Lands was later followed when Saskatchewan and Alberta were created in 1905. It created an anomalous situation by which an entire region (the Prairies) was treated differently than the other provinces. This lasted until 1930.
In the House of Commons, much debate took place on the model that should be followed in creating the political and social institutions of Manitoba. Many promoted the Ontario model that consisted of a simple form of government – akin to a municipal government –, a single public school system not organized around religious denominations, as well as a single language – English – in the courts and the legislature of the province. This model, popular in English-speaking Canada, was believed to foster unity. 

Others, mostly from Quebec, promoted the Quebec model. This model fostered diversity. It provided for a dual denominational school system – one that recognized both Catholic and protestant schools – as well as two languages in the courts and the legislature of the province: French and English. In this latter model, the parliamentary institutions were elaborate and followed, as in the case of Quebec, the model of the British Parliament with an upper and a lower house. It is clear that the institutions of Manitoba were shaped in the Quebec model. 

Thus, guarantees were extended to the French and the English languages. At the outset of Confederation, Canada chose the model of diversity, mostly because it matched the situation of the Métis who were French and English, Catholics and Protestants, but also because it was heavily favoured in Quebec. Consequently, in the early days of Confederation, a bilingual and bicultural country was emerging, especially if one keeps in mind that the Manitoba institutions were extended by federal legislation to the rest of the North-West in 1875. However, between 1890 and 1905, virtually all the bilingual and bicultural elements created in the West between 1870 and 1877, were abolished once anglophones had gained majority status and could impose their will over others.

Ein volk, ein reich

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the rise of nativist, racist and otherwise unenlightened movements in English Canada. Throughout Canada, French-Catholic minorities were systematically attacked one after the other in an attempt to make them conform to the White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant mold. Everywhere, outside of Quebec, minorities, racial, ethnic or linguistic, were hounded. French-Catholic minorities stood as a symbol: their presence said that difference was acceptable and good, that diversity was welcomed. Their eradication would give to all the same message: conformity was what was desired. 

In New Brunswick, in Manitoba, in the North West and in Ontario francophone rights were curtailed. Even where more justice should have been expected, such as in the federal government and parliament, French rights were openly disregarded. Only after long and protracted battles was French accepted on the stamps of Canada or on its currency, things that should have been symbols of the bicultural and bilingual nature of the country; meanwhile, few French Canadians rose in the civil service or in the army, and discrimination was rampant. Some of the laws that were passed in English Canada during this time included:

1871 - New Brunswick: The Common School Act imposes double taxation measures against French Catholic schools. 
1877 - Prince-Edward-Island: The Public School Act puts an end to the teaching of French in schools. 
1890 - Ontario: The Liberal government of Oliver Mowat adopted a law stating that English must be the language of education except when children cannot understand it. 
1890 - Manitoba: Official Language Act banning French, formerly an official language in the province. Premier Greenway diminishes the rights to French school, abolishes its use in the Parliament and in the Courts of the province.  
1891 - Ontario: The minister of education, George W. Ross, bans all French school books in Ontario. 
1905 - Alberta: The School Act of that year imposed English as the only language of instruction, while allowing some use of French in primary classes. 
1909 - Saskatchewan: The School Act makes English the only language of instruction but allowed limited use of French in primary classes. In 1929, a different Saskatchewan law abolished French in public education. 
1916 - Manitoba: The Thornton Act, by abolishing bilingual schools, completely ends the teaching of French in the province. 
1912 - Ontario: Circular of Instructions Regulation No. 17 and No. 18 Forbids the teaching of French above the first two grades of elementary school.
The Supreme Court never said a word about the rights of francophones during this time. If the linguistic rights of francophones weren’t conferred in an express manner, they did not exist according to the Court. But when Quebec enacted the Charter of the French language which limited the use of English in Quebec, the Supreme Court immediately sprang into action in order to cut it into pieces. The linguistic rights of anglophones in Quebec did not need to be explicitly defined, they were always inherent.

Before Canada’s annexation of the West in 1870, official bilingualism had been the rule when the lands were under Hudson’s Bay Company control; at the time, roughly half of the inhabitants were French-speaking. We shouldn’t forget that it was Lower-Canada (Quebec)’s money that allowed Upper-Canada (Ontario) to get out of a crippling bankruptcy in 1840. And it was in large part Lower-Canada’s money that led to the acquisition of the rights to Rupert's Land in 1870. Yet despite this, the federal government made sure that the West would be English only.

The federal government set out to recruit immigrants by the hundreds of thousands to settle the West. For that purpose, Canada eventually had hundreds of immigration officers, although nearly all of them were to be found in Great Britain, Ireland and in the United States. So while thousands of Québécois (close to one million from 1830 to 1930) emigrated to the United States, Canada recruited large numbers of British, Irish and American immigrants to fill the West. It was plain to see that the federal government did not care about the fate of the Quebecois and made no effort to repatriate them. Immigration from Europe was subsidized (each immigrant received free land and, by the 1920’s, a train ticket for the West; Quebecers who wished to go west had to buy their own tickets).

The name of the game is still empire

Canada only cleaned up its act in the 1960s when faced with a growing independence movement in Quebec. It is as it has always been. When forced to, Canada makes concessions, but when it has the upper hand, it imposes homogeneity, since this promotes unity. Today, with French declining across Canada, the federal government just needs to push for the wall-to-wall application of the “personality principle” to language and reject Quebec's attempts at establishing the “territorial principle” within Quebec, as it exists in Belgium and Switzerland. Canada is only promoting this type of “bilingualism” because it is now in its favor. The goal posts may have changed, but the game is the same. It is the domination of one nation over another i.e. empire.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Should Quebec be a country?

The book that makes you say: YES
The independence of Quebec isn’t the project of a single political party or generation; it’s the project of a people striving for its freedom. The political freedom we seek is the same that countries such as Canada, Italy, India or any other possess and will not relinquish: simply the freedom to determine for themselves their way of life on their soil and the ties that bind them to other peoples of the world.

An old question?

Political issues don’t become obsolete simply because time passes, like fashion or music. A political issue becomes obsolete when it is resolved, when the problems that created it are definitely solved.

The issue of Quebec’s independence goes all the way back to the 1830’s and still hasn’t found a solution. As we will demonstrate in this work, the problems – economic or environmental, to name just two – that we will have to face in the 21st century only exacerbate the urgency for resolving that issue.

Letting Ottawa make our political and economic decisions will always be to our disadvantage whenever our interests conflict with those of the Canadian majority. It was true in the past and it’s just as true now, and will remain true as long as we don’t make Quebec a country. Whatever the party in power in Ottawa, this dynamic is inevitable. In the Canadian system, this dynamic is normal and even legitimate; but it’s not to our advantage. In the words of Miron: “as long as independence is not accomplished, it remains to be done1

Obviously, our independence will not guarantee absolute freedom. The peoples of the world don’t live in a vacuum, but in increasingly interconnected political and economic systems. Even independent countries don’t always get to do what they want. They have to take others into account and, ideally, get along with them. They’re subject to strong pressures from external economic and political powers, multinational companies and various lobbies. However, for a people just as for an individual, greater freedom is always desirable since it opens up possibilities and frees them from the hegemony of others. Independence is the best means for standing up to global forces putting pressure on us.

What is independence?

When it comes to the independence of Quebec, we mean political independence. The political independence of a state is its capacity to make all of the laws applicable on its territory, to manage all of the taxes and revenues collected from said territory, and to negotiate all treaties binding it to other peoples of the world. Laws, taxes, treaties: these form the cornerstones of a country’s independence.

A state that does not possess these tools does not fully govern itself and is not free to institute all of the policies necessary to serve its national interests. Who would deny the legitimacy of the freedom that the Brazilians, Congolese or Germans have to determine their own fate? This freedom that we recognize as legitimate for others is legitimate for us as well.

In 1946, the UN had 55 member states2. Today it has 193. Since the 1980’s alone, around forty states have acquired their independence. Amongst all those new countries, few benefited from an economic and social context as favourable as ours and none seem to regret their newly acquired liberty. If self-determination for those peoples were possible, then ours is even more so.

A country can do everything a province can, but not the reverse3

Independent, we would keep all the powers we currently possess. But our powers and responsibilities would increase, and the proportion of taxes and revenues that we control would increase to 100%, like any other country in the world. We could therefore do everything we did before, and more.

Essentially, making Quebec a country will open up new possibilities. It means repatriating our political responsibilities, which would come entirely under the control of Quebec’s democracy. Currently, a large part of the decisions affecting us are taken by the Parliament in Ottawa, where we account for only 23%4 of the seats. This is the case most notably for decisions taken relating to defence, international relations, the banks, monetary policy, the “Indians and the lands reserved for Indians”, citizenship, criminal law, management of the unemployment insurance, telecommunications, interprovincial rail transportation, the transportation of hydrocarbons, maritime transportation, the ports, the mail, subsidies for the arts, scientific research and many more.5

Furthermore, even in areas that should be exclusively provincial, the Government of Canada has ‘spending powers’ that enables it to invest the money we send to it every year into projects chosen so as to serve the interests of the Canadian majority. This regularly happens in the sectors of healthcare and education, where the Canadian government tells us how to spend the money we send it, so as to serve priorities that have nothing to do with our reality. The example of transfer payments for education will be examined in subsequent chapters.

More centralization, less power for us

Not only does the Canadian regime enormously reduce the power we have over key aspects of our collective life, but its very structure encourages an ever increasing centralization of powers in Ottawa’s favor. Indeed, article 91 of the Constitutional law of 1867 gives to the Central Government all new powers and responsibilities that appeared since its adoption. This article attributes to Ottawa what is called residual power. For instance, it’s because of this power that laws related to the internet, a recent necessity, come under the Canadian government. All future responsibilities, those that we cannot even imagine yet, will come under the exclusive jurisdiction of a Parliament where we have an ever decreasing representation.

Independence: to the right or to the left?

When we look at the idea of independence, we tend to wonder if it’s a left-wing or right-wing project so as to know if it’s compatible with our values. Historically, the Quebec independence movement consisted of an ideologically varied coalition that, overall, tended towards the center-left.

Having said that, the independence project is essentially characterized as a democratic project whose goal is the self-determination of the nation. Quebecers will do as they wish with their freedom, like any other people of the world. One can wish for independence so as to eliminate the useless administrative structures that come with being a part of Canada, just one can wish for it so as to free up the funds necessary to finance a more accessible educational system. In any case, the independence issue doesn’t lie on the left-right axis, but on the horizon of self-determination.

Choosing independence means wanting to govern oneself. To oppose it means accepting being governed by the Canadian majority. That is the issue. The freedom of a people, like that of a person, is valuable in and of itself. Would it have been admissible to oppose suffrage for women on the grounds that they might vote more towards the left or the right? Of course not. We do not judge the value of other people’s freedom based on the use they make of it. Let us have the same respect for ourselves.

Independence isn’t going to solve all of our problems, but it will at least give us the tools necessary to solve them. Whatever kind of country one wants, whether it would be more to the left or the right, it is folly to think that we can build it without total control of all of our laws, taxes and treaties that bind us to other nations. Independence won’t be the end of history, but rather the beginning of a new chapter of it, one that this time we will write ourselves.

The book that makes you say: YES

The goal of this work is provide a rational, accessible and concise presentation of the concrete effects of our independence. It is an introductory work that doesn’t require extensive knowledge of Quebec politics. This book does not pretend to answer all questions about the subject, but will instead try to present a multitude of reasons why Quebec should become a country today.

It is our hope that after reading this work, you will, like us, want to say: YES.

Introduction to Le Livre qui fait dire oui  by Sol Zanetti, leader of Option Nationale

1 – Miron, Gaston. Un long chemin : proses 1953-1996. Montréal. Éditions L’Hexagone, 2004.
2 – United Nations Organization, “Increase in the number of member states from 1945 to today.” United Nations Organization, Member states, 2015. Internet, May 30, 2015.
3 – The quote is from Jean-Martin Aussant.
4 – That proportion was 33% in 1867 and has been decreasing ever since.
5 – Government of Canada, “The constitutional distribution of legislative powers.” Government of Canada, Ministry of intergovernmental affairs, 2015. Internet, May 28, 2015.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Trudeau’s Hero Myth: The October Crisis

Forty-five years ago, on October 16, 1970, in the middle of the night the government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau proclaimed the War Measures Act following two political kidnappings by the Front de liberation du Québec. Under the War Measures Act the Constitution and all civil liberties were suspended. 12,500 troops were sent into Quebec —7,500 in Montreal alone (For comparison, 8000 troops were sent to Dieppe in August 1942, a major Canadian operation; and a no more than 3000 Canadian troops have ever been deployed to Afghanistan.) Nearly 500 men, women, and children were arrested without charges, detained incommunicado, without bail and without the right to communicate with a lawyer.  Many of those arrested were poets, writers, artists, and grass-roots organizers. The combined police forces (RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal Police) entered and searched more than 10,000 homes without warrant. Two days after War Measures were proclaimed, one of the hostages, Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte, was found dead in the trunk of a car.

It is a wonder that Pierre Trudeau maintains the aura, internationally and domestically, of the consummate liberal and progressive. Time has come to reassess his record and the best place to start is his proclamation of War Measures in October 1970. For a starter, people should know that one of the first to congratulate Trudeau was Nixon’s National Security adviser, Henry Kissinger, the man who has admitted that he was already in the process of organizing a coup against Salvador Allende.

To justify the War Measures, the Trudeau government claimed that Quebec was in a state of “apprehended insurrection.” In the speech on television explaining the measures, Trudeau spoke of the two kidnappings, the request for help received from the government of Quebec, and “confused minds” in Quebec. However, the leading police force at the time, the RCMP, was opposed to invoking such sweeping measures as a means to free the hostages and arrest the kidnappers. In an exhaustive study based on hitherto confidential documents, security expert and political scientist Reg Whitaker pointed out that “the RCMP never asked for the War Measures Act, were not consulted as to its usefulness, and would have opposed it if they had been asked their opinion.” It has also been shown that Prime Minister Trudeau’s Principle Secretary Marc Lalonde drafted the Quebec government’s request for War Measures and personally carried the letter to Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa and oversaw its signing. The third reason, “confused minds,” does not even deserve an answer. Since when is “confusion” a reason for suspending the Constitution and all civil liberties?

War measures were devised for war, hence the name of the act introduced into Canada’s political life in August 1914. War measures were invoked in Canada during both World Wars. Under the War Measures, the federal government can use all the powers it deems useful—and it alone is judge—to achieve its goals. The government is not required to obtain authorization from anybody. The measures entitled Trudeau in 1970 to say exactly what Louis XIV said three centuries earlier, “L’État, c’est moi.”

The War Measures suspend civil liberties and judicial rights. Censorship is applied, and suspicion, distrust, and denunciations run rampant. When Montreal morning man Rod Dewar declared on October 16, 1970, “I went to bed in a democracy and awoke to find myself in a police state,” he was immediately suspended.

It becomes easy and common to arrest and detain people incommunicado simply because they have, or are suspected of having, ideas deemed to be dangerous by the government. They have no right to their day in court before a judge or to communicate with a lawyer. That was how Italians in Quebec and Ontario were interned during the Second World War. That was how the federal government settled scores with what it considered to be an ethnically closed community of Japanese on the West Coast: 22,000 Japanese Canadians were sent to camps for the entire war and more, and were never again able to reorganize as a community. The War Measures Act was also used to combat opposition to compulsory military service (conscription) in Quebec. The spectacular arrest and four-year internment without trial of Camillien Houde, the Mayor of Montreal, Canada’s largest city at that time, was a severe warning to anybody who might be tempted to oppose conscription. The War Measures Act is based on unbridled authority, fear, and the threat of violence.

With time, truth will out

Three members of Trudeau’s cabinet have stated that the government had no proof whatsoever of an “apprehended insurrection” when the War Measures Act was pushed through cabinet.

Former Trudeau minister Eric Kierans explained in his memoirs that they made a “terrible mistake” and that “their common sense went out the window.” Another minister, Don Jamieson, said in memoirs that they “did not have a compelling case” and that when they met the police just after War Measures were imposed, they were upset to learn that the police had no evidence justifying those measures. Worse yet, declassified British documents revealed that in November 1970 Canada’s External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp told his British counterpart that the government knew “there was no evidence of an extensive and coordinated FLQ conspiracy,” adding that the FLQ was known to be no more than “a small band of thugs; there was no big organization; just a gang of ‘young toughs’.” Yet at that very time, the government was still applying war measures in Canada and telling the population about the “apprehended insurrection.”

When the claim of an “apprehended insurrection” began to appear flimsy, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Principle Secretary Marc Lalonde floated a story about a revolutionary provisional government that was preparing to usurp power from the legitimately elected government of Quebec. The man used as a conduit for the story was Peter C. Newman, editor-in-chief of Canada’s most widely distributed daily, The Toronto Star. Newman, however, has provided all the details of what he described as the “meticulously concocted lie” that Trudeau and Lalonde told him. That lie continues to be repeated over forty years later.

Might makes right

Just watch me take peoples' rights away
In spite of the lies, Canadians still massively support Trudeau’s decision to invoke the War Measures Act in 1970 and at the time support for Trudeau's actions in English Canada was almost obscenely enthusiastic. Journalist Robert Fulford remarked that, “The people of Canada believe, not in civil rights, but in civil rights when they are convenient.” And historian Ramsay Cook has noted that Canadians like “peace and they like order” but that “I don’t think this has ever been a country that had an enormous interest in civil rights.

But why invoke the War Measures Act in the first place? The police didn’t ask for it and it arguably lead to the death of one of the hostages. In fact, if we look at the October Crisis as a simple hostage situation then Trudeau's actions seem heavy-handed and reckless. However, if we consider that Trudeau was elected to do battle with the separatist threat in Quebec then his actions make much more sense. The War Measures Act basically gave the FLQ two options: they could carry out their threats or run. Either outcome was a victory for Trudeau. If they chose to run, they were cowards who would never be taken seriously again, and if they carried out their threat, they were separatist murderers who could then be used to tarnish the entire sovereignist movement. Trudeau also exploited the situation to justify terrorizing his political enemies, Quebec nationalists, by rounding them up in the middle of the night and stripping them of their rights. In the end, Trudeau played politics with other people's lives as much as the FLQ did. He didn't pull the trigger but he certainly shares responsibility for Laporte's death.

What Trudeau did was wrong in every sense. It was wrong in the sense of law enforcement; in fact from that perspective, one could call his performance criminally reckless or at best dangerously incompetent. And it was wrong in a larger political sense; he violated the rights of thousands of innocent people. Rights aren't rights if they can be taken away, they are only temporary privileges.

While Trudeau is falsely praised as a champion of charter rights, his defense of the War Measures Act provides a different story: “There are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don’t like the looks of a soldier’s helmet... So long as there is a power in here which is challenging the elected representative of the people I think that power must be stopped and I think it’s only, I repeat, weak-kneed bleeding hearts who are afraid to take these measures.” A reporter asked, “At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?” His infamous answer: “Well, just watch me.

People who admire Trudeau for his handling of the October Crisis are possibly closet fascists who long for a strong man to take charge and put people in their place, but it is unlikely that they would have supported such actions had they been directed towards English Canadians. Declaring martial law in Quebec, on the other hand, was just the kind of thing Canadians were expecting from Trudeau when they hired him, and he delivered. Trudeau rocketed to the head of the Liberal party in the late 1960s because he was seen as someone who could put Quebec nationalists in their place and he used this crisis like a true Machiavellian opportunist to score political points. Unfortunately, Trudeau's martial law machismo also cost Laporte his life. 

Worse than Watergate

The events that followed the October Crisis are even more troubling. More than 400 illegal RCMP break-ins were revealed by the Vancouver Sun reporter John Sawatsky on December 7, 1976 in his front-page expose headline “Trail of break-in leads to RCMP cover-up”. Finally, on April 19, 1978, the Director of the RCMP criminal operations branch admitted that the RCMP had entered more than 400 premises without warrant since 1970. Among the over 400 admitted incidents were the following:

  • In April 1971, a team of RCMP officers broke into the storage facilities of Richelieu Explosives, and stole an unspecified amount of dynamite. A year later, in April 1972, officers hid four cases of dynamite in Mont Saint-Gregoire, in an attempt to link the explosives with the Le Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ). This was later admitted by Solicitor General Francis Fox on October 31, 1977.
  • In 1971, the RCMP chief superintendent Donald Cobb oversaw the infiltration of FLQ cells with federal agents, and the releasing of a fraudulent "Manifesto" on behalf of the La Minerve cell, calling for increased violence.
  • The issuing of 13 false FLQ press releases in 1971 from a dummy FLQ cell called André Ouimet, which claimed responsibility for the firebombing of the Brinks Company office in Montreal in January of the same year.
  • On the night of May 6, 1972 the RCMP Security Service burned down a barn owned by FLQ member Paul Rose’s mother in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Quebec. They suspected that separatists were planning to meet with members of the Black Panthers from the United States. The arson came after they failed to convince a judge to allow them to wiretap the alleged meeting place.
  • The kidnapping of André Chamard, a law intern involved in the defence of the accused FLQ members on June 7, 1972. The RCMP first attempted to recruit Chamard as an informer using a drug case he was involved in as blackmail and subjected him to beatings and death threats.
  • A break-in at the Agence de Presse Libre du Quebec office on October 6, 1972 had been the work of an RCMP investigation dubbed Operation Bricole. RCMP speculated in the media that right-wing militants were responsible. The small leftist Quebec group had reported more than a thousand significant files missing or damaged following the break-in. The RCMP eventually pleaded guilty on June 16th, 1977 to the break-in. A similar break-in occurred in late 1972, orchestrated by RCMP, at the office of the Quebec Political Prisoners Movement.
  • In 1973, more than thirty members of the RCMP Security Service committed a break-in to steal a computerized list of Parti Quebecois (PQ) members, in an investigation dubbed Operation Ham. 
  • In 1974, RCMP Security Service Corporal Robert Samson was arrested planting explosives at the house of Sam Steinberg, founder of Steinberg Foods in Montreal. While this bombing was not officially sanctioned by the RCMP, at trial he announced that he had done “much worse” on behalf of the RCMP, and admitted he had been involved in the APLQ break-in.

In June 1977, the Quebec government, headed by the Parti Québécois, decided to launch an inquiry into the RCMP activities in Quebec, the Commission d’enquête sur des opérations policières en territoire québécois (also known as the Keable Commission). Every step of the way, the Commission met with resistance and obstruction from both the RCMP and the federal government who challenged the Commission’s jurisdiction to examine the affairs of a federal agency, arguing that it was invading the prerogatives of the federal government. The Trudeau government succeeded in having Canadian courts declare the investigation unconstitutional, even though a large number of the dirty operations were directed against the people of Quebec. It charged that the Keable Commission would be violating the Official Secrets Act. Solicitor General Francis Fox, refused to hand over subpoenaed documents, using the “absolute privilege” accorded to the Solicitor General under Canada’s Federal Courts Act, a privilege without any recourse to appeal.

Trudeau immediately setup his own competing inquiry, the McDonald commission. The mandate of this commission was formulated with a view to restricting and controlling disclosures of police activities. The reasons for invoking the War Measures Act were not to be examined on Trudeau’s orders. The final report was, according to former solicitor general Allan Lawrence, a “partial whitewash” in that while there was some embarrassing revelations for the Trudeau government, such as when John Starnes, head of the RCMP Security Service, told Trudeau and some of his ministers during a cabinet meeting in December 1970 that the RCMP had been doing illegal things, there was much that didn’t make it in the report. And, unlike the Keable commission, the McDonald commission did not recommend that any charges be laid against RCMP officers involved in illegal activities. Of all the recommendations the McDonald commission did make, only one was implemented by Trudeau’s government with astounding speed: taking the security services away from the RCMP and giving it to a civilian agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). But right from the outset, some critics wondered why a civilian agency would be less prone to committing illegal acts than the RCMP? Today, CSIS is overseen, on behalf of Parliament, by the Security Intelligence Review Committee. But since we know that bozos such as the weasel-like Phillipe Couillard and his partner-in-crime Arthur Porter were members of that committee at one time, it would seem that the critics were right.

Empire and ambition

Occasionally, an ambitious politician from a peripheral nation within an empire manages to rise to the top. Stalin, for example was Georgian, not Russian, but he became the supreme ruler of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union and an important event in Stalin's rise to power was something called the Georgian Affair.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia declared independence in May of 1918, in the midst of the Russian Civil War. However, in February 1921, Georgia was attacked by the Red Army. Stalin played a decisive role in engineering the Red Army invasion of Georgia following which he adopted particularly hard-line, centralist policies towards Soviet Georgia. Stalin favored the elimination of local nationalism and insisted that all three Transcaucasian republics – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – join the Soviet Union together as one federative republic. The Georgians wanted their country to retain an individual identity and enter the union as a full member. Lenin disliked Stalin's policy towards Georgia, as he believed all Soviet states should be on equal standing with Russia rather than be absorbed and subordinated to it.

Basically, Lenin did not want the U.S.S.R. to appear as an empire as Communists were meant to be anti-imperialists. Stalin, for his part, needed to prove his loyalty to this new Russian-dominated empire or "union". Crushing his own people did the trick and having a Georgian invade Georgia deflected  accusations of imperialism. Win-win!

Like the Soviet Union, the Canadian state is an relic of empire and remains a “prison of nations.” The use of repression as an instrument of government policy is rooted in the very nature of Canada. But in an age of democracy and the end empires, it was important to get a Quebecer to implement the hard-line on the rising Quebec nationalism of the 1960s. Trudeau was just the kind of unscrupulous bastard that Canada needed.

As for Trudeau's motives for despising Quebec, we can only guess that he wanted revenge on the closed, conservative French-Canadian Catholic society he knew in his youth, not realizing that it was the product of Canadian imperialism, the net result of the collusion between the Anglo-protestant bourgeoisie and the Catholic church. The Canadian empire gave him the means to carry out his retribution against Quebec. All he needed to do was flatter the Canadians on their supposed greatness and assure them that he will take care of their Quebec problem.

Based on a text by Guy Bouthillier

Monday, September 7, 2015

The problem with Canadian federalism

Survivance versus Ambivalence

The two solitudes in Canadian society have long disagreed on a number of fundamental questions. It thus should not be surprising that Quebecers and Canadians have very different perceptions about the purpose and significance of federalism. Canadians have always had ambivalent feelings about federalism in general and antipathetic sentiments about classical federalism in particular. Canadians have tended to view federalism as a hindrance to national unity, and have thus reluctantly accepted the federal form of government, and only then on the understanding that the federal government would be superior to the provincial governments. Quebecers long promoted classical federalism as the best means to ensure cultural survival in a largely English-speaking country, but their faith in the federal form of government has been seriously undermined by the ambivalence towards federalism in the rest of Canada. Quebecers, historically at least, have always wanted more federalism while English-Canadians have generally wanted less federalism. Asymmetrical federalism has emerged as the two solitudes have pushed federalism in opposite directions. 

Sir John A. Macdonald was a reluctant federalist. In the Confederation Debates of 1865 on the proposed British North America Act, he stated a clear preference for a legislative union, and he accepted federalism only when he was satisfied that the proposed constitution empowered the general government with “all the powers which are incident to sovereignty.” Macdonald assumed that matters of national importance would be the responsibility of the federal government, while the provincial governments would be responsible for all matters of merely local importance. The leader of the opposition from Quebec, Antoine Aimé Dorion, agreed entirely with Macdonald’s characterization of the constitution and consequently rejected it. Dorion argued that “that the Federal Parliament will exercise sovereign power, inasmuch as it can always trespass upon the rights of the local governments without there being any authority to prevent it...We shall be – I speak as a Lower Canadian – we shall be at its mercy.”

While Sir Georges Cartier is largely credited with selling the proposed constitution to skeptical Quebecers, Dorion’s fears were most squarely addressed in the Confederation Debates by Joseph Cauchon, a Conservative backbencher. Cauchon endorsed the draft constitution because, contradicting Macdonald, he claimed, "There will be no absolute sovereign power, each legislature having its distinct and independent attributes, and not proceeding from one or the other by delegation, either from above or from below. The Federal Parliament will have legislative sovereign power in all questions submitted to its control in the Constitution. So also the local legislatures will be sovereign in all matters which are specifically assigned to them." In the end, the draft BNA Act was adopted by the comfortable margin of 91 to 33, but among French Canadian voters in Lower Canada the split was a much narrow 27 to 21.

Dorion and Cauchon sparred vigorously throughout the Confederation Debates in the Canadian legislature. The ferocity of this debate cannot be underestimated. It was far more than partisan politics. At issue was the survival of the French Canadian population in the province of Quebec. Dorion was obviously convinced that the proposed constitution was detrimental to French Canadian interests. On the other hand, Cauchon revealed Quebec’s conditional endorsement of confederation: Quebec could only accept the proposed constitution if it entrenched what we now call “classical” federalism. As far as Macdonald was concerned, classical federalism was the principal cause of the American Civil War, and he was adamant that Canada would have none of it. The character of Canadian federalism has changed since Macdonald’s day, but the government of Canada has never embraced the principles of classical federalism, nor have the citizens of English Canada.

It is frequently argued – at least in English-speaking Canada – that it is impossible to maintain the principles of classical federalism in an age of economic interdependence. Without questioning the merits of that argument, it would seem that the government of Canada has made very little effort to maintain the independence of the two orders of government in its pursuit of the economic and social unions, both of which have their origins in the federal government’s “Green Book Proposals” and the first Conference on Reconstruction in August 1945. Mackenzie King opened the Conference on Reconstruction with reassuring words for the provinces: "The federal government is not seeking to weaken the provinces, to centralize all the functions of government, to subordinate one government to another or to expand one government at the expense of the others....we believe that the sure road of Dominion-Provincial co-operation lies in the achievement in their own spheres of genuine autonomy for the provinces."

Later that day, however, Louis St. Laurent elaborated that the objectives of the federal government’s post-war reconstruction program were “high and stable employment and income” and he stated clearly that the “division of responsibility [in Canada’s federal system] should not be permitted to prevent any government, or governments in cooperation, from taking effective action.” On behalf of the government of Quebec, Maurice Duplessis rejected the federal proposals, saying the “complete autonomy of the Provinces constitutes the best safeguard for the protection of minorities as well as an essential condition of national unity and progress in Canada.” Once again, Quebec’s demand for classical federalism fell on deaf ears.

The conference collapsed after Duplessis’s departure, but most of the shared cost proposals made by the federal government were realized in a more piecemeal fashion in the quarter century that followed. The government of Quebec forcefully resisted most of these initiatives, and in 1953 it established a Royal Commission of Inquiry on Constitutional Problems, chaired by Thomas Tremblay, to investigate the operation of Canadian federalism. The Commission expressed the view that federalism was still the preferred option of a majority of Quebecers, but it endorsed a quintessentially classical definition of federalism as an “association between states in which the exercise of state power is shared between two orders of government, coordinate but not subordinate one to the other, each enjoying supreme power within the sphere of activity assigned to it by the constitution.

The Tremblay report, however, had no impact on the government of Canada and its relations with Quebec. On the contrary, the battles between the governments of Canada and Quebec over pension plans, medicare, and other social policies severely strained the federation over the next decade. In 1968, Lester Pearson outlined the federal government’s position in Federalism for the Future. While he was genuinely concerned with linguistic rights, he noted that “the division of powers between orders of government should be guided by principles of functionalism and not by ethnic considerations” and he proceeded to outline an extensive list of powers he deemed essential for the federal government. This list of powers was excerpted and included as an appendix by René Lévesque in his 1978 autobiography La passion du Québec under the heading “Federal Evangelism.” He offered no additional commentary but his implication was clear: if this was going to be the future of federalism in Canada, Quebec would have no part in it.

For the past forty years, the principal conflict between the governments of Canada and Quebec has been the federal spending power – which empowers to the federal government to spend money on matters that it cannot legislate, primarily matters that fall constitutionally in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Whatever the constitutionality of the spending power may be, it is not compatible with the classical conception of federalism, a point that has been acknowledged by the federal government. In 1969, Pierre Trudeau argued in Federal Provincial Grants and the Spending Power of Parliament that "It can be argued that the Constitution should be contrived so as to avoid any need for a spending power – that each government ought to have the revenue sources it needs to finance its spending requirements without federal assistance.... The difficulty with this tidy approach to federalism is that it does not accord with the realities of a Twentieth Century state." Trudeau insisted that "[t]he modern industrial state is so interdependent, particularly in technological and economic terms, and its population is so mobile, that it has become quite impossible to think of government policies and programmes as affecting the people within the jurisdiction of the particular government responsible for these policies."

Thirty years later, the federal government’s view of the spending power was embedded in the Social Union Framework Agreement, an agreement endorsed by all the governments of Canada save Quebec. So, once again, the English Canadian conception of federalism prevailed.

From the constitutional debates in 1865 through to SUFA, English and French Canadians have viewed the merits and purposes of federalism very differently. Will Kymlicka has argued that “it is almost inevitable that nationality-based units [in a federation] will seek different and more extensive powers than regional-based units.” For Kymlicka, then, asymmetrical federalism emerges as these nationality-based units acquire additional powers. But, he argues, asymmetrical federalism is resisted by English-Canadians because they understand federalism in territorial terms. The purpose of territorial federalism – following the American example – is to divide power between several governments to avoid tyranny. The territorial model of federalism assumes that there are no relevant cultural distinctions among the units in the federation.

The government of Quebec has sensed the resistance towards federalism in English Canada, and they have indicated a willingness to allow the federal government to assume a dominant role in the life of English Canadians so long as Quebec is exempt from federal initiatives in areas of provincial jurisdiction, hence opting-out provisions, footnote federalism, and various policy asymmetries in Canadian federalism. On this point, however, English-Canadians raise objections on equality grounds, as Kymlicka rightly notes. Quebec has always sought to maintain its cultural distinctiveness through classical federalism. English-Canadians, however, reject classical federalism in principle. Canadians seem to believe that once a matter reaches a certain level of importance the federal government should assume a role in its governance for all Canadians, regardless if the matter is one of provincial jurisdiction. As English-Canadians reject both classical and asymmetrical federalism, it is little wonder then that Quebec nationalists have given up on Canadian federalism.

Why sovereignty?

From the very beginning of the federation, Quebecers have accepted the fact they were a nation within a nation (or a nation within a multination state). They have accepted their multiple identities, as Quebecers and as Canadians. But Canadians have always refused to recognize the existence of a Quebec people or nation within Canada, and after the departure of Lester B. Pearson, they began to make this rejection more and more explicit.

The transformation of a French-Canadian nationalism into a Quebec nationalism took place during the 1960s. One result of this process was a series of platforms adopted by various Quebec governments. A few examples of these are the 1962 Lesage government's request that Quebec be granted special status; the position of the Daniel Johnson Union Nationale government in 1966, based on the principle of "equality or independence"; the 1967 position of the Liberal party, which proposed a framework between "Associated states"; and the position of the 1970 Robert Bourassa Liberal government which requested that Quebec be granted a "distinct society" status. All of these repeated requests for more political autonomy met with failure during constitutional negotiations and commissions of inquiry.

All of these fruitless negotiations led to the election of the (sovereignist) Parti Québécois in 1976, which promised to hold a referendum on Quebec sovereignty. This referendum, which took place in 1980, was to conclude a process of national affirmation that had begun in the 1960's. Its purpose was to give Quebec a mandate to negotiate political sovereignty and an economic association with Canada. A victory for the "yes" side would have given rise to a second referendum in which the Quebec people would be given a chance to ratify the agreement. This referendum resulted in defeat for the sovereignists.

The referendum defeat of 1980 was due in part to the promises for change made by the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Yet these changes did not materialize, quite to the contrary. In 1981, the Federal government went ahead with its plans to patriate the Constitution, which was still at that time in England. This patriation essentially enabled Canada to modify all by itself its own constitution. However, the patriation took place without reaching a preliminary agreement among the provinces concerning a new sharing of powers between the levels of government as Quebec had been requesting for many years.

The new constitutional law took effect in 1982 despite the fact that the people had not been consulted. In addition, the federal government ignored a nearly unanimous resolution put forward by Quebec's National Assembly which rejected this new constitutional order. Indeed, the new constitutional order incorporated a charter of rights that contained several new clauses severely limiting Quebec's power over matters of language and culture. It was also a document that did not reflect Quebec's interests and answered none of Quebec's historical demands. Finally, it incorporated an amending formula which is not applicable in practice. It should be noted that the constitution, which has governed Canada since 1982, was never ratified by the people of Quebec or by the successive Quebec governments (either federalist or sovereignist), and it has never been signed by Quebec.

Following this patriation, Quebec tried in vain to negotiate constitutional amendments that would enable it to sign the Canadian Constitution. It asked Canada to adopt five simple clauses, contained in the Meech Lake Accord that would fulfill the minimal conditions for Quebec's signature. This attempt at reform failed in 1990, since legislatures of two provinces refused to ratify the accord. The inclusion of Quebec in the constitution was refused despite the fact that its five conditions were minimal in nature, and would have partly helped to repair the damage done by the 1982 show of political force. Symbolically speaking, the most important of these was the clause granting Quebec a "distinct society" status, and it was this one in particular that Canada refused to accept in 1990.

At that point in time, opinion polls in Quebec indicated that popular support for sovereignty had risen to nearly 65%. Despite its federalist allegiance, the government of Quebec, in power since 1985, felt obliged to form a commission on the political and constitutional future of Quebec — the Bélanger-Campeau Commission — which heard the testimony of people from all walks of life and representatives from a wide spectrum of opinion. In 1991, the Commission recommended that the Quebec government begin preparation for a second referendum on sovereignty to be held the following year, if no formal offer was made by Canada. At the very last minute a Canada-wide referendum on the Charlottetown Accord was proposed. This accord was based on a new constitutional agreement between all the provinces, including the federalists in power in Quebec. It involved some of the points that were contained in the Meech Lake Accord and some additional considerations concerning decentralization. The referendum took the place of the one that would have occurred the same day on sovereignty, but it was also voted down (NO : 55% YES : 45%).

Between 1980 and 1995, Quebec was thus witness to the illegitimate patriation of the Constitution, the imposition of a new constitutional order, the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and the failure of the Charlottetown Accord. In addition, at the time of the 1993 federal election, the Bloc Québécois, a new federal party working to advance Quebec sovereignty, appeared. The party won 54 out of Quebec's 75 seats in Parliament. In the 1994 provincial election, the Parti Québécois regained power in the Quebec National Assembly by promising to hold a referendum on sovereignty the following year. This referendum finally took place in October 1995. The results were 50.6% for the NO side and 49.4% for the YES side but evidence that the federal government illegally funded the NO side has cast doubt on the legitimacy of this result. What is certain is that the issue is by no means resolved.

What is clear is that Canadians reject the existence of a Quebec people or nation. They have rejected the bicultural aspect of the federation underlined by the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission. They have discarded the asymmetric federalism promoted by the Pepin-Robarts Commission. They patriated the Constitution without the consent of Quebecers and against the will of its National Assembly. They have imposed a new constitutional order which does not recognize the existence of a Quebec people, does not meet the historical demands of Quebec, and does not reflect its interests. They have rejected the distinct society clause that was contained in the Meech Lake Accord. They even tried to deny the moral right of self-determination to Quebec by putting the matter in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Canadians like to portray Quebec as a petulant child, always making irrational demands and never satisfied with what it gets (which usually ends up being whatever Canada decides to impose). But in reality, Quebec's position on constitutional matters and its view of federalism has always been rational and consistent. It is the rationality of Canada's consistent rejection of Quebec's demands that we need to question.

In conclusion: Root causes and necessary effects 

No account of the problems of Canadian federalism would be complete without an explanation of the underlying motives of the protagonists in this little drama. What are the root causes behind this persistent disagreement over classical federalism? To answer this, the importance of Canada’s origins cannot be overstated. Indeed, the modern Canadian state is the end product of a long historical development that begins with conquest. The ensuing relationship between the French-speaking nation and the English-speaking nation in Canada was never a relationship between equals. One nation clearly dominated the other and at times actively sought its disappearance.

It is this unequal relationship that explains all of the acts of legal violence done by Canada against Quebec, such as the imposition of the 1982 Constitution against Quebec’s will. A Constitution that comes with a charter supposedly to protect individual rights but also, by coincidence, reduces the powers of Quebec’s National Assembly. A Constitution that undermines legislation like Bill 101, designed to protect the French language in Quebec. This undermining was upheld by the Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed, also coincidentally, by Ottawa.

The disagreement over federalism therefore comes down to questions of national identity. Quebecers want the classical form of federalism because it will guarantee them a measure of autonomy that cannot be arbitrarily abolished whenever Canada considers it inconvenient. This is the attitude of a people who care about their nation and want to protect its interests. Canadians, on the other hand, want a form of federalism that is ever more centralized, because they know this will strengthen Canadian power and identity. They are also viscerally opposed to any recognition of Quebec as a distinct society, nation or anything else, because they know that such an identity would rival and undermine the Canadian identity in Quebec. On the other hand, a system with a strong central government and the provinces reduced to mere administrative units, a system with no national distinctions, a system under the highly symmetrical but totally unrealistic official languages act, would in the long run lead to the demise of Quebec’s national identity along with the French language.

Quebec as a nation cannot exist within Canadian federalism; this should be abundantly clear by now. However, there are Quebecers who, out of fear or a sense of self-loathing, still blind themselves to this obvious fact and still cling to the idea that a compromise is possible or, as is the case with our current Primer, Phillippe Couillard, don’t seem to have any demands left. This type of complete capitulation is a road to disaster for Quebec. Quebec must declare itself to be sovereign nation in order to break free from this relationship of dominance and exist as a free people. We cannot completely melt into a centralized Canada without losing who we are as a people and assimilating. Canadians have clearly said no to any recognition of a Quebec nation within Canada, so the only logical, realistic alternative to capitulation and assimilation is independence for Quebec.

Based on articles by Hamish Telford, Department of Political Science, University College of the Fraser Valley, and Michel Seymour, Department of Philosophy, University of Montreal

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quebec's language laws and schools

Quebec’s language laws limit access to English schools for most citizens of the province. This is true...

Yet, if any other Canadian province or American state wanted to offer its linguistic minorities access to the kind of education network Quebec finances for its anglophone minority, every single one of them would have to increase dramatically the number of minority schools and the amount of money spent on them.

For example, if American states were expected to give their Spanish-speaking minority the same education rights that Quebec gives to its English-speaking minority, then New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Utah, Rhode Island, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Kansas – all states that have more Spanish-speakers than Quebec has English-speakers – would have to create a second publicly funded Spanish-language schools system.

Although all Canadian provinces have some minority education rights and schools, no other provincial minority has the vast network of schools, colleges and universities that English-speakers in Quebec have access to. There are in Quebec about 367 English public schools, 4 English public colleges called CEGEPs and 3 English universities.

In fact, if you use the standard definition of a major university as one that has both a law school and a medical school – New Brunswick’s Université de Moncton, the only autonomous French-language university outside Quebec, does not have the latter – then Quebec is the only state or province to fund a complete education system for its linguistic minority.

That’s if you accept the premise that English-speaking North Americans can be considered a minority at all…

Quebec’s dual school system is, in fact, as old as Canada. It was a compromise of sorts between the Protestant industrialists of Montreal and the all-powerful Catholic clergy who agreed that the province would have two completely separate and independently run school systems: one Protestant, one Catholic, which with time morphed into French and English-language systems. The dual school systems were constitutionalised in 1867 and, to this day, Quebec is the only Canadian province constitutionally obligated to maintain "separate but equal" schools.

Putting limits

In 1969, just a couple of years after the United States government had to send in the army to protect black students being integrated into Little Rock, Arkansas schools in spite of the violent opposition of a certain segment of the white population, the municipality of Saint-Léonard on the island of Montreal went through its own episodes of violent riots over the integration of minorities.

The only difference is that in the case of Saint-Léonard, the white, French-speaking majority was rioting against segregation, not in support of it.

Francophones in Montreal had become increasingly alarmed to see the vast majority of new immigrants to Quebec sending their children to English Schools. That situation, combined with the demographic decline of francophones in Canada and the availability of an extensive and totally free network of English schools in Quebec meant that within one generation French-speakers could have become a minority in Montreal.

Quebec’s francophones, representing about 80% of the population of Quebec but barely 2% of North Americans, were put in the position where they had to assist their neighbors in anglicizing immigrants. Not only were francophones being assimilated, but they were paying for it.

In 1977 the government of Quebec adopted the Charter of the French Language, known as bill 101, which made French the mandatory language of primary and secondary education. From that moment on, all residents of Quebec – except the anglophone minority and the First Nations – had to send their children to French schools from the 1st grade through to the end of High School.

Many people in Quebec’s anglophone community and in the rest of Canada were angered by this apparent limit to their freedom to choose their children’s language of instruction. Few noted that Quebec was the only place on the continent where an actual school network made that choice possible at all.

In any case, parents who have attended English schools anywhere in Canada have the privilege to send their children to either school network in Quebec. It is only francophones and new immigrants – those who make the informed decision of living in the French-speaking part of Canada – who are limited to French Schools.

In 1972, before the adoption of the Charter, only 10% of immigrants to Quebec sent their children to French schools. Since the adoption of bill 101 the situation has reversed. Parents who send their kids to private schools can still send them to English schools as long as the school does not receive government funding.

Freedom of choice remains total when it comes to higher education and students can study in English at college-level (CEGEPs) or in one of Quebec’s three English-language universities.

Yes, but it's your own fault!

After the defeat of the Rebellions of 1837-38 and the Act of Union of 1840, the French-speaking nation in Quebec was reduced to a minority status in a manner that shaped its national consciousness. French Canadians began to see themselves as an ethnic group in someone else's country. So, French Catholic schools in Quebec basically ended up as ethnic "French-Canadian" schools in the same sense that Jewish schools in Montreal are for Jews. No one in these schools really thought about or even cared about the integration of immigrants. 

In the 1960s a new national consciousness arose in Quebec which saw a shift from an ethnic model of the nation to a model which is at once civic, territorial, pluralistic, inclusive, and francophone and in 1964 French schools were taken out of the hands of the Catholic Church and secularized.

So saying that French Catholic schools weren't interested in integrating immigrants is not untrue but to pretend that this was the only thing pushing immigrants to opt for English in Quebec is a gross distortion of reality. Although there were certainly cases of immigrants being refused entry into French Catholic schools, this type of exclusion was in no way systemic. From the records of the Montreal Catholic School Commission, we can see that they did, in fact, admit immigrants into their schools, both French and English. We can also see that the demand by Catholic immigrants to Quebec for English schools grew steadily throughout the 20th century. In any case, by the mid-60s all immigrants had access to secular francophone schools but few chose them, preferring English schools instead. 

In a sense, it's an understandable choice. English was the language of money and power in Quebec and it was the language that dominated the continent including Montreal. Francophones earned on average 35% less than anglophones even with the same level of education. But regardless of this, Angryphones like to say that immigrants chose English over French because we were just a bunch of nasty, xenophobic frogs who excluded them from our schools. They conveniently ignore other factors, like the dominance and power of attraction of English as a reason. In any case, we eventually chose not to publicly fund English education for all of our immigrants. I think not making that choice would have been an act of suicide for our nation.

The dilemma

Quebec’s English-speaking minority has a right to its own parallel school system. To this day, anyone who has studied at least one year in an English school somewhere in Canada is allowed to opt out of the majority’s school system.

This, of course, is rationalized on the principal of some supposed right of children to receive education in their own language. That’s interesting because, at least in Montreal, the majority of English-speaking youth are not studying in English at all!

According to the English Montreal School Board as many as three out of four primary school students spend most of their school day in classes taught in French. The so-called “core” program where the majority of classes are taught in English is the least popular of all the school board’s options and is being abandoned by parents who demand immersion and biliteracy curriculum for their children.

Even Quebec’s stuffy English Private Schools that only a generation ago prepared kids in penny loafers to rule the world in English are now falling over themselves to provide rich people with the French the publicly-funded system can’t afford. The students of Westmount’s Selwyn Housenow spend between 50% and 80% of their class time studying in French and have even added a French verse to their school hymn! (Which, I believe, was the number 3 demand in the FLQ manifesto.)

Outside Montreal the situation is even stranger with many English schools having a majority of French students and very few actual Anglos exercising their right to receive an English-language education in Quebec. In Quebec City close to 60% of the students in English schools are francophones. This is possible because French-speaking, or for that matter, any family that has obtained a certificate of eligibility to English schools through, for example, a mixed marriage, can keep passing the privilege along to further generations until the End of Time.

Hey, it’s not that it’s a bad idea for Quebec’s English-speaking kids to take classes in French. What’s profoundly bizarre is the concept of English-speaking children immersing themselves in French in schools with no French kids, two blocks away from an actual French school…

As even the Montreal Gazette reported, the result is technically bilingual kids who don’t know any French people and who are uncomfortable ordering a burger in French at McDonald's.

On the French side there is growing tension between proponents and opponents to the kind of bilingual programs that have become common on the English side. While there is a lot of demand for them, opponents feel that the French schools’ mission of integrating immigrants into Quebec society, especially in Montreal, could be seriously compromised if more English was introduced in the schools.

As a result, many French-speaking families in Montreal are massively abandoning the public school system for private schools that offer, among other things, better English classes. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of students in Montreal’s private schools leaped by 30%.

All this together leads to a profoundly dyslexic school arrangement. Immigrants to Quebec are now integrating themselves into Quebec society in schools with no French-speaking Québécois, while Quebec francophones send their children to private schools. Montreal Anglos are building their own parallel French school network with no French students while francophones in the rest of the province are keeping an English school system alive even though there are no more actual English-speaking students.

Becoming independent will allow us to normalize our school situation as it will normalize many things in our society. It will allow us to break free from the constitutional straitjacket of the BNAA and of the 1982 constitution. Our language will no longer be a regional, minority language and will instead become the national language of an independent country. An immigrant to an independent Quebec will not be confused about which country he is immigrating to and will understand that French is our common language. Basically, independence will allow us to become a country like any other and we will cease to be a people who lives in fear of being absorbed into a larger nation that refuses to recognize our existence.

Based on two articles by Angry French Guy