Canada Considers Security Issue Canadians Have Begun to Wonder If an Independent Quebec Could Mean Strife

By Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 1991 | Go to article overview

Canada Considers Security Issue Canadians Have Begun to Wonder If an Independent Quebec Could Mean Strife


Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


FOR many Canadians, the idea that their country risks violence or even civil war if Quebec parts company with Canada is anathema - simply not worth discussing.

Yet some have begun to think aloud about the unthinkable: the seemingly remote possibility that Canadians could find themselves fighting former Canadians.

Several scenarios lurk behind the polite, albeit intense national debate over how to resolve the constitutional crisis and entice independence-minded Quebec to stay. If Quebec leaves, security analysts say, it will almost certainly form a military force to protect its sovereignty.

"People haven't really come to grips with the impact of an independent Quebec," says Desmond Morton, professor of military history at the University of Toronto. "English Canadians think it's alarmist to talk about it, and Quebeckers say {separation} would work out nicely because Canadians are such reasonable people. But what is happening in Croatia is not absolutely unthinkable here."

Perhaps not, but it has been virtually unmentionable. Despite their gravity, security issues and potential areas for armed conflict have remained largely unmentioned in public forums until broached here Nov. 6 and 7. A conference of 200 military and national security experts from across Canada garnered headlines like the one in last Monday's Toronto Star: "Can We Really Rule Out Civil War?"

Especially among politicians trying to forge a new constitution, there seems little appetite for publicly discussing how separation would affect Canada's international security arrangements in groups like NATO and NORAD.

There is even less relish for analyzing areas of potential conflict with a sovereign Quebec: territorial and border disputes, calls from native or English-speaking Quebeckers for Canada to rescue or defend them, even airspace and fishing rights off Quebec's coastline. Assembly of First Nations Chief Ovid Mercredi, who represents about 500,000 of Canada's Indians, has warned that natives who inhabit large areas of Quebec may not go along with separation.

"This is the first public discussion. No one has ever talked about national security {following separation} in part because Canadians don't want to think about the country breaking up," says Alex Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, which hosted the conference.

Reflecting the political delicacy of the current attempt by the federal government to sell English-speaking Canada, Quebec, and natives on a single constitutional plan, government officials declined even to indicate whether the government has ever discussed the ramifications of separation. A spokesman for Canada's Department of External Affairs, the equivalent of the United States State Department, said: "We're not commenting publicly on the constitutional evolution of Canada."

Canadian officials are similarly cautious on the question of whether Canada's soldiers might be affected by conflicting loyalties in the event of a split. …

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