Will we ever have legal “clarity” on secession? The Dion-Turp debate

Par William Johnson le 16 juin 2013

On May 19, 1994, Jacques Parizeau addressed the National Assembly: “We are a state that subscribes to the rule of law. Canada and Quebec are not banana republics. There is the law. There is the Constitution. There is international law. And we have all been elected to defend the rule of law.” 

Wonderful statement, even if Mr. Parizeau did not always practice what he preached. But there is a problem: for the rule of law to be in effect, the citizens must have a clear understanding of what the law requires. That is anything but the case in Canada, in Quebec, when the issue is secession.

We have two laws, one federal, the other of the Province of Quebec, and they are in flat mutual contradiction. The Clarity Act sets stringent conditions for the independence of Quebec. But Lucien Bouchard’s Bill 99, passed in 2000,declares at Section 2: “The Quebec people has the inalienable right to freely decide the political regime and legal status of Quebec.”

This wasn’t a problem in the 1980 referendum. Rene Levesque said clearly that there would be no sovereignty unless the rest of Canada consented to an economic association with Quebec. It was called the principle of the hyphen: sovereignty-association.

But every Parti Quebecois leader since Jacques Parizeau has repudiated the veto Levesque gave to the rest of Canada. Each claimed Quebec’s right to secede unilaterally, with as only condition a mere majority OUI in a referendum. That is now Quebec law.

The government of Jean Chretien sent a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada to clarify what the rule of law required. But, both on the day the reference was issued and the day the court gave its reply, the Chretien government confused the issue when it maintained that Quebeckers could secede if that is what they really wanted. The only condition was clarity. And so, when the court’s answer came on August 20, 1998, Chretien’s minister Stephane Dion issued a statement that flatly contradicted what the court had just said: “The citizens of Quebec … have obtained the assurance that they will not be held in Canada against their clearly expressed will.”

Let’s stop acting like a banana republic. We must have certainty about what the rule of law requires. That’s why the Special Committee on Canadian Unity has proposed a debate to be held on this wording: Resolved: “The Government of Quebec can decide unilaterally to secede from Canada.”

The pro and con will be argued by Daniel Turp and Stephane Dion, both celebrities in the world of academics and politics, both idealistic and sincerely committed to their opposite causes. To ensure equal fairness, the SCCU entrusted the entire organization of the debate to the prestigious Macdonald-Laurier Institute. That clash of loyalties will unroll on June 20, at 7 p.m., in Ottawa at the Canadian War Museum – surely the appropriate venue. It’s at 1 Vimy Place.

The debate, we hope, will expose the incongruity of Canada’s current plight as a country threatened by secession but with no clear legal path to a peaceful settlement. Confusion breeds chaos; only the rule of law ensures peace, order and good government.  Will Stephen Harper pay attention and take responsibility at last to resolve the contradictions? A good federalist turnout would catch his attention.

The Unity Group is organizing a chartered bus trip to Ottawa and back for the debate. They’re good people you should get to know. If you are up for it, just click on the following: https://www.facebook.com/events/549789301726314/. Alternatively, some of you might want to share a car ride: you can also get in touch with each other through the Unity Group. Finally, you can get your ticket for the debate directly from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute ($20 for most, $15 for seniors and students) by contacting Amanda Brown at (613) 482-8327, ext. 101 or amanda.brown@macdonaldlaurier.ca

Nous vaincrons!

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