The dreaded words "civil war" have entered the national election debate with NDP leader Alexa McDonough's warning that Preston Manning's program vis-a-vis Quebec secession is likely to lead the nation "straight to civil war".
From the point of view of the Crees of Quebec, whose fate is intimately tied to the secession question, this sounds like scare mongering, and is symptomatic of the startling lack of information that even Canadian political leaders appear to have about the secession issue. Alexa Mcdonough should inform herself about the real facts of Quebec's secession proposal, and, instead of dreaming up scare scenarios, should work from those facts.
First fact: in terms of international law "Quebec" has no right to secede, which, by and large, is available only to peoples who are oppressed and who are denied their political and human rights. "Quebec" doesn't qualify under these headings.
Second fact: only "peoples" have a right to self-determination, and"Quebec" is a geographical area, not a "people". Within Quebec there are several "peoples", including the Crees, who do have the right to self-determination. Of course, several "peoples" can decide to join together to form one "people". But they must have the will to do so, and the "peoples" within "Quebec" clearly do not have that will, as evidenced by the majority votes against secession in 1980 and 1995, and the overwhelming Cree, Inuit and Innu votes of 95 per cent and up against seceding from Canada.
Third fact: even if "Quebec" had the right to self-determination, the right of secession is not included. Internationally, secession is regarded as a last resort to be used in extreme circumstances.
Fourth fact: Canada has, as even Ms. McDonough must know, solemn legal and treaty obligations to the Aboriginal peoples in Quebec. These include the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975, which was signed in a federalist context, was intended to be permanent, and which can be changed only with the consent of the parties, including the Crees.
Fifth fact: The very act of declaring Quebec's secession from Canada, if achieved by a unilateral declaration of independence (as is now the intention of the separatists) would abrogate that treaty. Aboriginal rights are also guaranteed in the Canadian Constitution, and in addition derive from other historical constitutional instruments. The Big Question: When Quebec illegally abrogates and renounces the Canadian Constitution, thereby denying Cree and other Aboriginal rights in Quebec, will Ms. McDonough and her party, and other federal leaders and their parties, defend Canadian law, defend the integrity of Canada, and defend Cree and other Aboriginal rights as they are obliged to do?
Or will they, as Ms. McDonough seems to be suggesting, stand by the
illegal secessionists, thus violating and denying Canada's historic obligations to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada?
If they follow the latter course, as they seem to be thinking of, we cannot help remarking that it will not be the first time that we have been betrayed by the people who came among us and seized so much of our land, and authority over our lives.