Quebec's Minorities Fear Tyranny of the Majority

By Anand, Raj | Canadian Speeches, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Quebec's Minorities Fear Tyranny of the Majority

Anand, Raj, Canadian Speeches


Counsel for Minority Advocacy and Rights Council

Unilateral secession by Quebec would eliminate the protection against the tyranny of the majority that minorities in Canada now have under the Constitution of Canada. Argument before the Supreme Court of Canada, February 17, 1998. Edited for Publication.

The Minority Advocacy and Rights Council, or le Conseil de revendications et droits des minorites, is a non-profit corporation formed in 1991 on the initiative of the Canadian Ethnocultural Council for the purpose of monitoring and undertaking selected litigation concerning human rights legislation and the Charter for the promotion and protection of minority rights.

MARC's mandate is to address issues related to race, national and ethnic origin, color, and religion, and to promote the human rights of minority groups across Canada. MARC's membership includes individuals from across Canada, including Quebec.

MARC has intervened in a number of constitutional and statutory human rights cases in this Court and in the federal and provincial superior courts. It has also studied and written on issues of access to justice, immigration policy, minority language rights, and other legal issues of importance to ethnocultural minorities across Canada.

It has been left to a national minority rights organization to speak to the interests of linguistic and ethnocultural minorities within Quebec. You have no intervenors before this Court who are directly representative of the anglophone and allophone communities of Quebec. Why is that?

In my submission, this absence can be traced to the chilling effect of declarations such as Premier Parizeau's the night of the 1995 Referendum, which also exemplifies the concern that vulnerable minorities have with a secession based purely on a majority vote.

In my condensed Brief of Authorities you will find an excerpt from those addresses on the night of the referendum. On the first reproduced page, you have Jacques Parizeau, premier ministre du Quebec:

[Translation.] "My friends, my friends, my friends, my friends. They say that we failed. No, no, no, because in one sense we succeeded very much. The francophones of Quebec, let's talk about us; 60% voted in favor... It's true, it's true that we were beaten, beaten. By what? By money and the ethnic vote. And that means by the next time, instead of being 60 or 61% of the vote, it will be 64, 63 or 64%, and that will be enough, that's all."

These figures result from the fact that Quebec today includes some 11 aboriginal nations, the English-speaking community, and more than 80 different ethnocultural communities. These groups represent respectively about 1%, 10% and 12% of Quebec's population, in total about 23% of the population.

However that majority is made up, the present premier of Quebec and, indeed, I would say the entire political and media elite of that province, have made it accepted dogma today that a simple majority of votes in a referendum is sufficient to take Quebec out of Confederation.

This so-called Quebec consensus regards resort to this Court and to the rule of law as illegitimate. I urge the Court to reject these contentions.

Let me say first of all that my client disagrees with the federal attorney general's submission that Charter issues are beyond the scope of question one. My submission is that the federal attorney general has ignored the Superior Court decision, which it cites as giving rise to this reference, as well as the wording of its own Order in Council.

Mr. Justice Lesage's decision is excerpted:

[Translation.] "The actions taken by the Government of Quebec contemplating the secession of Quebec are a repudiation of the Constitution of Canada. In the event that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of Canada's Constitution, ceases to apply to Quebec, this would not require that the demands of the plaintiff Maitre Bertrand be respected. …

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