Quebec and Canada

Ever since the thought of separation from Canada began to form within Quebec, a physical and political tug-o-war has formed between them and the federal government. Fueled by the desire to be seen as a separate nation with their own culture and language, Quebec’s role in contemporary Canada has been that of an inconsistent partner suffering from self conflict and insecurity. Although they still remain a part of Canada, a part of Quebec’s population was willing to fight and resort to terrorism for their independence and still continues to fight for it today.

Over the years Quebec has had its share of powerful leaders as well as a few that lacked the needed intensity to make a difference. Maurice Duplessis was one of the province’s most controversial premiers, but also the longest-serving and one of the greatest. He encouraged the French-speaking citizens of Quebec to be proud and embrace their differences from the rest of the country, spreading a feeling of nationalism. But although there were positive changes, Duplessis also pushed the province into what is known as the Great Darkness with corruption, vote fixing, and limited civil rights. The best example of this is the Act Respecting Communistic Propaganda, also known as the Padlock Law. Being a conservative, Duplessis was strongly anti-communist. The new law declared that people practicing communism were a threat to Quebec society and gave the authorities the right to enter any building in search of communist material. The law, however, did not define what was meant by ‘communist,’ leaving authorities to decide for themselves . Anybody found with this material was forced to appear in court to plead his or her case. In Duplessis’ attempt to silence any political opposition, the law also made it illegal to read certain material and have certain thoughts, overstepping the boundaries of the government and violating the civil rights of the people of Quebec. Under his rule, Quebec seemed destined to fall.

After Duplessis died in office in 1959, he was replaced by Paul Sauvé who also died suddenly shortly after taking control. A provincial election was called, and with the election of Jean Lesage and the provincial Liberal party in 1960 the Quiet Revolution began. Lesage and the Liberals promised to bring an end to the corruption and patronage that had marked the previous government of Maurice Duplessis . Within a year major social, political and economical changes were already beginning. The government, formerly conservative and corrupt to the core, eventually became one of the more left-leaning and progressive in Canada. It also took over health care and education, placing them under provincial control as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church. It was known as the Quiet Revolution because all of the sudden changes had come without any violence. During this time, the population became so unified that some began to believe that Quebec should separate from the rest of the country.

The Quiet Revolution came to an end in 1970 with the occurrence of the October Crisis, which involved the kidnapping of two important officials by the Front de Libération du Québec, known as the FLQ. They were an underground separatist group of Quebec citizens that emerged during the 1960s with a declaration calling for the overthrow of the Quebec government, the independence of Quebec from Canada, and a worker’s society. They saw that the federal government was never going to acknowledge Quebec’s concerns and special needs to retain their culture, so they used to force to get attention. The FLQ are seen as the first terrorism group in Canada and were involved in over 95 bombings that killed 7 people in Quebec. While mailboxes were common targets, the largest single bombing was of the Montreal Stock Exchange on February 13, 1969. It caused extensive damage and injured 27 people. Other targets included City Hall, RCMP recruitment offices, railroad tracks and army installations. Their acts became far more serious in 1970 however. On October 5 the FLQ kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Richard Cross and released a list of demands in order for his safe return. 5 days later, when the demands are not met, they kidnap Pierre Laporte, the Quebec Minister of Immigration. In response to the second kidnapping, The Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, invoked the War Measures Act stating that authorities had the power to arrest anyone suspected of being aligned with the FLQ. One member sent to prison, Pierre Vallières, wrote a book entitled White Niggers of America in which he wrote, “Let us burn the papier-mache traditions with which they have tried to build a myth around our slavery”

So in hindsight, the threat to the government of Quebec was limited. The majority of suspected FLQ members arrested were released without charge. The events and consequences of the October Crisis sparked a loss of support for the violent means for Quebec independence that had been going on for years, and increased the support for the political party. Although it did solve the problem at hand, a lot of controversy still surrounds whether or not it was necessary for Trudeau to send troops into Quebec. Some believe that he was using the threat posed by the FLQ as an excuse to intimidate the rest of the separatists in the province. As Prime Minister he hoped to attach the province more firmly to Canada and fight the rising threat of separation by also providing a strong voice for Quebec in the federal government.

Trudeau believed that by giving French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians the same opportunities that the citizens of Quebec would be satisfied and feel more connected to their country. The Liberal party passed the Official Languages Act in 1969 to give both languages equal status and make Canada a bilingual country. Although the purpose of the act was to make Quebec less isolated, the English-speaking Canadians believed that French-speaking Canadians were getting special treatment in Ottawa. Although the act made French a national language, Quebec still wanted more special rights and continued to make things difficult for the government. Although the country was now required to teach French in schools to meet the requirements of a bilingual county, Quebec declared that it would only have French, thus broadening the line between themselves and the other provinces and frustrating them along the way.

Separatism is still an issue in Canada, though its supporters have thankfully turned away from violence to pursue a more political path. It is clear that Quebec does not fit in with the other provinces, but it is a part of the multicultural atmosphere that Canada is known for and should remain so. Despite the best efforts of French politicians and the FLQ, who were certainly successful in drawing attention to their cause, Quebec is where it belongs.