Why Canada Seeks Court (Supreme Court of Canada) Ruling on Quebec Secession

By Rock, Allan | Canadian Speeches, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Why Canada Seeks Court (Supreme Court of Canada) Ruling on Quebec Secession


Rock, Allan, Canadian Speeches


There are issues of enormous significance attached to the question of whether or not, following a referendum with the outcome it sought, Quebec would have the right to make a unilateral declaration of independence. The Government of Canada says no, many crucial issues would have to first be resolved. Partial transcript of a speech in the House of Commons, September 26.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to announce that I intend to refer to the Supreme Court of Canada certain specific questions of great importance to all Canadians.

On two occasions in the recent past, the majority of Quebecers have voted for a united Canada. Notwithstanding those democratic expressions of the popular will, the current government of Quebec seems determined to bring the issue to a third vote at some future time. Moreover, they claim to be entitled to make a unilateral declaration of independence to create a separate state of Quebec. In our view, that position is contrary to Canadian law, unsupported by international law, and deeply threatening to the orderly governance of our nation.

If another referendum is to be held, we are convinced that the population of Quebec will vote in favor of a united Canada a third time and that they will do so because a united Canada is the better option, for themselves and for their children.

And just as Quebecers have chosen to stay within Canada in the past when they were asked to make a choice, Canadians everywhere know that Quebec's inclusion is essential to preserving the country that we cherish. As a Canadian who makes his home in Toronto, I can speak very personally in saying that, without Quebec, the magnificent dream and the shining ideal that is Canada would simply not exist.

However, we cannot avoid the serious difficulties created by the Quebec government's assertion that there is the right to secede from Canada through a unilateral declaration of independence. The Government of Quebec has expressly stated that the Constitution and the courts have no role to play in determining the correctness of its position.

As we have argued in court and as I asserted in this House, we believe this is wrong. To leave the issue unresolved would pose a serious threat to orderly government in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

The federal government does not argue against the legitimacy of a consultative referendum. A referendum is an opportunity for a government to consult with the people. But however important it may be, the result of a referendum does not, in and of itself, effect legal change.

There is no political justification to argue for a unilateral declaration of independence by the Quebec National Assembly. In most countries, the very idea of secession would be rejected. But this has not been so in Canada. There have been two referendums in Quebec. The leading political figures of all our provinces and the Canadian public have long agreed that the country will not be held together against the clear will of Quebecers. This government agrees with that statement. This view has arisen partly out of our traditions of tolerance and mutual respect, but also because we instinctively know that the quality and functioning of our democracy requires the broad consent of all Canadians.

Regrettably, Mr. Speaker, the view of the current Quebec government on the nature and role of a referendum is quite different. We have therefore concluded that the responsible and the effective thing to do is to submit the issue for determination by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Let me be very clear: this issue is of enormous significance.

A unilateral declaration of independence would undermine political stability, interrupt the prevailing order and cast into doubt the interests and rights of Quebecers and all Canadians.

A unilateral declaration of independence would create the most serious difficulties for ordinary Quebecers. …

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