Quebec’s Right to Self-Determination

Are you a progressive Canadian?


In this blog I discuss the question of Quebec independence and I make the point that recognition of Quebec’s right to self-determination (which need not imply promotion of the independence option) is a necessary component of any progressive political stance. Failure to recognize this right constitutes a serious impediment to secularism in Canada in general, not just in Quebec.

Sommaire en français Dans ce blogue je considère la question de l’indépendance éventuelle du Québec. Je maintiens que la reconnaissance du droit du Québec à l’auto-détermination (ce qui n’implique pas nécessairement de prôner l’option indépendantiste) est une composante essentielle de toute orientation politique progressiste. Le refus de reconnaître ce droit représente une entrave majeure à la laïcité au Canada en général, et pas seulement au Québec.

Let us consider a little thought experiment. Suppose that at some date in the near future, the Parti Québécois (or another sovereignist political party) holds power in Canada’s province of Quebec, and that they plan to hold a referendum to decide whether Quebec should become an independent country. Furthermore, in order to simplify our thought experiment, let us suppose that, after intensive negotiations, all significant players in this drama—whether passionately in favour of Quebec independence, or fervently opposed to it, or holding some intermediate opinion—have agreed on the following three major points:

  1. the wording of the referendum question;
  2. the criterion for victory or failure of the independence option;
  3. in the event of failure, a restriction on the holding of similar referenda in the future.

Point (1) means that all have agreed on the wording of the question which will be put to voters. For example, “Do you want Quebec to separate from Canada to become an independent republic?” or whatever the various players agree to.

Point (2) means that all have agreed on what threshold will be necessary to decide that the referendum results represent a victory for independence. For example: 50% + 1 of all votes cast; or 50% + 1 of all eligible voters; or 60% of all votes cast; or 60% of all eligible voters; or whatever the various players agree to.

Point (3) implies that, if the independence side loses, all players agree that another referendum posing the same or a similar question may not be held again for a minimum number of years—for example, 15 years, or 25 years, or whatever the various players agree to. This will avoid the so-called “neverendum referendum” scenario, i.e. repeated and frequent referenda.

Thus we have what I think is a comprehensive set of conditions to make the referendum as fair as possible. Perhaps I have forgotten some other condition which should be met and which could be negotiated by all the major players in addition to the three listed above. I assume that all such major issues have been dealt with before the referendum is held.

I now ask you, dear reader, what your reaction would be if—after all these conditions had been met and the referendum held—the YES side won. What, in your opinion, should be done? In particular, what course of action should be adopted by the federal government in Ottawa?

I think the answer is obvious. Having agreed to a set of conditions assuring the fairness of the vote, and the YES side having won, the Ottawa government would have no choice but to accept the decision and to begin negotiations, in good faith, with the Quebec government, to facilitate the transition to sovereign nationhood for Quebec. If you disagree with this course of action, then you do not recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination. Furthermore, if you do not recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination, then you and I disagree on a fundamental principle of Canadian history and politics.

Now, in practice, I recognize that the conditions I have set up in preparation for the referendum are probably unrealistic. Indeed, if any of the parties to that preparation did not recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination, as I am certain some would not, then they would probably demand conditions to which independentists could never agree, such as, for example, an unrealistically high threshold for victory (condition 2). In practice, any referendum would probably occur in a context where controversy about the terms of the referendum continues to abound. Nevertheless, my goal in presenting such an idealized situation where most agree on those terms is to reduce the number of variables, i.e. to simplify the situation in order to expose one major variable, that variable being whether or not the stakeholders recognize a right to self-determination.

It is the duty of every […] progressive […] to support Quebec’s right to self-determination.

The bottom line is this: It is the duty of every person who considers himself or herself to be progressive in any real sense of that word—that is to say, in favour of fundamental human rights, in favour of social justice (an expression I continue to use despite the frequency with which it is bandied about and often abused), in favour of values which the left has traditionally defended (but in recent years has unfortunately tended to forget)—it is such a person’s duty, I say, to support Quebec’s right to self-determination. That does not mean that they must promote Quebec independence. Indeed, one may quite legitimately oppose it for a variety of reasons—for example, the political and economic instability which might (or might not) be the consequence of splitting up the Canadian federation and might (or might not) impoverish the population or otherwise significantly reduce their quality of life. But in that case one must respect Quebec’s right by opposing it honestly, with rational argument. And if the will of the Quebec nation—as expressed through a fair referendum—is to become independent, then one has a duty to respect that decision.

(Yes, Quebec constitutes a distinct nation within Canada: definition (1) of the Wiktionary definition of nation is “A historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, ethnicity and/or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”)

Furthermore, if one opposes the Quebec sovereignty movement irrationally, for example by claiming that it is “racist” or “fascist” or some such nonsense, that is by simply slandering it, then one is guilty of ethnic bigotry against the Quebec nation. And ethnic bigotry is a form of racism (in the extended sense, as I have defined it in a previous blog, although not in the strict sense, because Quebecers constitute an ethnic group and a nation, but not strictly a “race”). Thus such specious accusations are blatantly hypocritical because the persons making them are themselves guilty of racism.

The strategy of slandering the Quebec sovereignist movement by associating it with repressive and xenophobic right-wing political movements is […] hate propaganda against the Quebec nation.

Let us be very clear. There is nothing about the Quebec independence option which is essentially “racist” or “intolerant” or “fascist.” The strategy of slandering the Quebec sovereignist movement by associating it with repressive and xenophobic right-wing political movements is an extreme form of what has become known as “Quebec-bashing” but which I would simply call hate propaganda against the Quebec nation. Racism and ethnic bigotry are present in all societies and any nationalism may be vulnerable to the influence of such tendencies. However, any right-wing clerico-nationalist tendencies in Quebec have been largely eclipsed in the last half-century by the resolutely secular nature of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. The conflict between Quebec sovereignists and Canadian federalists (i.e. for and against Quebec independence) is essentially a confrontation of two competing nationalisms:—Québécois and Canadian—and it is largely a matter of taste which of the two one prefers. Opposition to Quebec independence often takes the form of ethnic bigotry against the Quebec nation, and that bigotry is often expressed through the vehicle of Canadian nationalism—which can be very intolerant.

A lesser issue related to self-determination needs to be asserted as well. Respect for Quebec’s right to self-determination also implies respect for decisions of political importance but of lesser consequence than independence, decisions which may clash with values held by many Canadians outside Quebec. The obvious example of this is the desire of the majority of Quebeckers for a version of secularism in keeping with the republican tradition, i.e. laïcité. As Quebec is a separate province within Canada and Canada is a federation in which provinces hold significant powers, the right of Quebeckers to decide for themselves already has some legal basis, but that right is compromised by the fact that federal law takes precedence (which, in fact, constitutes an excellent argument for Quebec independence).

[…] old bigoted anti-Quebec memes were trotted out in order to demonize the Quebec Charter of Secularism […]. Partisans and dupes of Islamofascism made full use of such demonization to oppose the Charter.

We saw how old bigoted anti-Quebec memes were trotted out in order to demonize the Quebec Charter of Secularism proposed by the Parti Québécois government in 2013-2014. Partisans and dupes of Islamofascism made full use of such demonization to oppose the Charter. This bigotry rendered the Charter debate highly toxic and impeded rational discussion of the important issues involved. If Quebec’s right of self-determination had been respected, this problem would have been greatly reduced.

So-called secularists […] who allow their hostility towards Quebec nationalism to cloud their judgement […] constitute a major threat to the very secularism which they claim to support.

Why am I making this point in a blog normally devoted to issues of atheism and secularism? Because the demonization of Quebec independentists (and even softer nationalists) is a major impediment hindering efforts at secularization in Canada. Secularism is a major value of the Quebec nation, something which that nation shares with French culture in general, the result being that progress towards greater autonomy for Quebec and progress towards secularization tend to go hand in hand. This has been the case throughout the Quiet Revolution of the late XXth century and it continues to be the case. So-called secularists in Canada outside Quebec who refuse to recognize Quebec’s right to self-determination, who allow their hostility towards Quebec nationalism to cloud their judgement, who allow themselves to be manipulated by Islamists, constitute a major threat to the very secularism which they claim to support.



If the above blog speaks to you then you may be interested in the organization Anglophones for Québec Independence (AQI) founded in 2015. I personally am not a member, because I prefer to remain neutral on this issue, but I am very glad that such a group exists because they work to alleviate the stigmatisation of Quebec nationalism. Indeed, part of AQI’s mission is “to demystify inaccurate stories about Quebec and to answer insulting attacks, including the tired accusation that Quebecers are racist or xenophobic.” In other words, they promote intellectual hygiene, which can only make secularism debates healthier.

Next blog: Notes on the Regressive Left, Part II: ANTIFA: Shock Troops of the Regressive “Left”

The Quebec City Attack: Some Context

2017-02-05, last modified 2017-02-06

Some context and background about the attack on a mosque in Quebec City on Sunday, January 29th 2017.

Sommaire en français Quelques informations pertinentes pour contextualiser l’attentat contre une mosquée de la ville de Québec, le dimanche 29 janvier 2017.

As you know, on January 29th 2017, a gunman went on a rampage in a Quebec City mosque, killing six and wounding several others. Here are a few details about this horrific attack and events before and after, gleaned from a variety of sources, details which may have gotten lost in the current highly charged political atmosphere.

  • The police initially reported that there were two shooters, one North-African, the other a Caucasian with an obvious Québécois accent. They then determined that the former was a witness who was fleeing for his life — in fact he was cleaning snow from the mosque steps when the shootings began. The police publicly corrected their error the day after the shootings, but apparently some media, particularly in the US, took their time. During the short period of confusion, before the correction was announced, some speculated about a conflict between rival Muslim sects, but I found that scenario to be implausible. In Iraq or Egypt, maybe, but not in Quebec City.
  • The perpetrator, Alexandre Bissonnette, was apparently not a Quebec nationalist. According to blogger André Gagnon, his Facebook presence (no longer available) was almost entirely in English, whereas Quebec City is almost entirely French-speaking. His political profile is closer to the extreme-right wing of the Canadian Conservative Party (the party of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper), the party of WASP racism and Orangism. (Although the Conservative Party is rather weak in the province of Quebec in general, it paradoxically has stronger support in the Quebec City region.)
  • According to police, their interrogation of Bissonette showed he was influenced, at least to some degree, by the anti-Muslim climate which currently reigns in the USA.
  • Police will probably not recommend terrorism charges, as such charges are more difficult to prove in court, while the perpetrator is already facing 6 counts of premeditated murder and 5 counts of attempted murder, enough to put him away for 25 years with no possibility of parole. But I would call it terrorism.
  • In June of 2016, the severed head of a pig was left on the doorstep of the Quebec City mosque. I wrote about it in a previous blog, Of Pigs and Prayer.
  • The perpretrator gave himself up to police willingly. This is atypical of such attacks.
  • All those killed in the attack were male. This is the result of gender segregation in the mosque. Only men are allowed in the main area of the mosque on the ground floor. Women and children are relegated to other levels.
  • A funeral for three of the dead was held on February 2nd in a major venue, the Maurice-Richard Arena, in Montreal:
    • The funeral was attended by dignitaries including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and the mayors of both Montreal and Quebec City. It was practically a state occasion, broadcast on television.
    • The main level, where the caskets were located, was reserved for men, except for female dignitaries and wives of dignitaries. Other women were excluded from the main level because of gender segregration.
    • During his speech, Premier Couillard repeated the words “Allahou Akbar,” claiming that they are incorrectly associated with violence.
    • Although two of the three deceased are from the Kabyle people of Algeria, their relatives were offended that Arabic and not the Kabyle language was used in the ceremony.
  • Other recent attacks involving Québécois:
    • On January 15th 2016, six Québécois were killed, along with 24 other persons, in an Islamist terror attack on a hotel and restaurant in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso. Four of the six were from the Quebec City area. Prime Minister Trudeau made a declaration condemning the attack, but took no other action. Two days later he visited an Ontario mosque which had been vandalized after the terrorist attacks in Paris on 2015-11-13.
    • The most recent terrorist attack in Quebec was in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu on October 20th 2014, by an Islamist radical, causing two deaths: a soldier and the perpetrator.
    • The preceding was an attack by Richard Bain on an event in Montreal, celebrating the victory of the Parti Québécois on the evening of the September 4th 2012 provincial election. Bain’s apparent goal was to assassinate as many separatists as possible, especially party leader and newly elected premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois. He failed, but unfortunately one person, a stage technician, was killed. Bain made anti-French comments during the attack. I would call this incident Anglo terrorism. Hatred directed against French-speaking Québécois and especially against independantists is a major problem in Canada but rarely reaches such extremes.

The Future Looks Very Bleak

The underlying problem is the confusion between an ideology, Islamism (a subset of Islam), and human beings of Muslim culture. Those who refuse to allow full criticism of the former by claiming that it offends the latter are contributing to the very confusion which they claim to oppose.

There is an old proverb which states that to understand is to forgive. This may apply to minor faults, but it certainly does not apply here. We may try to understand the motives of the killer, to explain his behaviour; however, no explanation, no motivation, whether political or other, can possibly justify or excuse this horrific act of mass murder. If Bissonnette thought that he was scoring a victory against Islamism, then in addition to being a contemptible mass-murderer he is also extremely stupid, because, by gunning down innocent Muslims, he has given Islamists a major propaganda victory, something they can exploit for their own ends, just as Donald Trump’s draconian U.S. travel ban on Muslims from some countries also played into the Islamists’ hands.

The lone perpetrator is to blame for this massacre; he alone has blood on his hands. However, there are others to whom lesser blame must be assigned, others who are responsible for creating an atmosphere which made such an attack more likely to occur, which facilitated such an atrocity. And there are others who are completely innocent but have been unfairly targeted.

It took a very short time for the unscrupulous to begin exploiting this tragedy for political ends. Slanderous and hateful comments have been made, condemning secularists and the Québécois in general. The antisecular regressive left (i.e. false left) and cultural relativists were already overbearingly arrogant; this tragedy has only emboldened them, making matters even worse. The underlying problem is the confusion between an ideology, Islamism (a subset of Islam), and human beings of Muslim culture. Those who refuse to allow full criticism of the former by claiming that it offends the latter are contributing to the very confusion which they claim to oppose.

By failing to take aim at the tremendous harm which religions cause, the fake left betrays human rights and drives more and more people towards the far right of the political spectrum where such criticism is contaminated with bigotry and anything but rigorous.

Now, more than ever, rigorous criticism of religion, including Islam, is crucial. By failing to take aim at the tremendous harm which religions cause, the fake left betrays human rights and drives more and more people towards the far right of the political spectrum where such criticism is contaminated with bigotry and anything but rigorous.

It does not take telepathic powers to recognize that this massacre was a form of revenge for Islamist terrorist events. By falsely blaming Québécois in general and by remaining complacent with respect to Islamism, our incompetent political leaders have virtually guaranteed that the cycle will continue unbroken. Islamists are now emboldened and will seek revenge, then another anti-Muslim fanatic will seek revenge for that, and so on, and so on. The future looks very bleak indeed.

I will be exploring some of these issues in future blogs. Unfortunately, I have a lot of material at hand.


Next blog: Charles Taylor est-il compromis avec le Prix Templeton ?

Hate Quebec, Hate Secularism


Antipathy towards Quebec and anti-secularism often go hand in hand in Canadian politics. They are, or should be, unrelated issues, but as republican secularism is more popular in Quebec and multiculturalism more popular outside Quebec, they become intertwined. I give some examples of this harmful attitude, from comments on an atheist web site to a Globe and Mail article.

Sommaire en français Une antipathie pour le Québec et une prise de position antilaïque sont deux attitudes souvent confondues dans les débats politiques au Canada. En principe ces deux questions n’ont rien directement en commun, mais deviennent entremêlées puisque la laïcité (républicaine) est plus populaire au Québec et le multiculturalisme plus populaire hors Québec. J’en présente quelques exemples tirés d’un site web athée et d’un article du journal torontois Globe and Mail.

One day during the campaign leading up to the Quebec provincial election of April 2014, I visited the web site Canadian Atheist and found, to my initial surprise, that the most recent post consisted mainly of a very brief video, only a few seconds, configured to run in an infinite loop, showing Pauline Marois—premier of Quebec at the time—standing before a cluster of microphones at a press conference and, with the palm of one hand, gently but firmly pushing Pierre-Karl Péladeau away from the microphones. Péladeau, a rich businessman and owner of media giant Québecor, had recently become a Parti Québécois (PQ) candidate in that election and has since become leader of the party, replacing Marois after the party’s defeat in that 2014 election.

Clearly the video was meant as a mocking embarrassment to the PQ, showing a conflict between two leaders—current and future—of that separatist party. But why would such a video be posted on an atheist web site? It had no relevance there. What could some alleged power struggle within a provincial political party have to do with atheism? The video sequence was obviously meant to be humorous but succeeded merely in being adolescent and bizarre.

Furthermore, by any reasonable standard, an atheist web site would be expected to adopt a serious, even sympathetic attitude towards that political party. After all, a major aspect of the PQ’s platform in the 2014 election was its Charter of Secularism which, if adopted, would have officially declared the Quebec state to be secular and would have instituted separation of religion and state as official policy in Quebec. All atheists and secularists could be expected to support such a measure enthusiastically and to be favourably disposed towards whoever proposed it.

However this is Canada, and as I have learned to my great chagrin, expecting Canadians—in particular Canadians who claim to be secularists—to behave reasonably and in accordance with their own best interests is a recipe for disappointment. Despite the valiant efforts and the perseverance of my friend and colleague Veronica Abbass, editor-in-chief of Canadian Atheist, the postings and in particular the comments on that site sometimes degenerate into a fetid cesspool of anti-secularism and hatred of Quebec, the two currents being very much intertwined. That, in a nutshell, is the explanation for the video posting described above. For technical reasons it has unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—since disappeared from the site, so I am unable to name the author who posted it.

Indeed, that site is infested by a small but very vocal number of ethnic bigots—the poster of the video just mentioned being one—whose extreme antipathy towards Quebec nationalism greatly exceeds any attachment they might have to secularism. Several of them avoid using a full name. Their comments vary in length, from a simple specious insult like “Islamophobia!” to interminable diatribes thousands of words long. Here is a representative sample from one of those comments:

[…] the pq charter […] had nothing to do with secularism and everything to do with repressive nationalism.


The PQ hates multiculturalism because it implies québécois culture is no more special than any other, and therefore not deserving of special status and protection. True secularism is about not privileging one religion over any others, it is not about bullying religious minorities out of the public sphere/service.

Comment by “Joe”

The author of the above comment needs to pulls his/her head out of his/her gluteal sphincter and recognize a few obvious facts:

  1. The Charter, whether one agreed with it or not, was certainly about secularism.
  2. Quebec nationalism in general has been, for the last half century, resolutely secular in orientation.
  3. Putting Québécois culture on par with a religion, as he/she does, is absurd.
  4. French-language culture in Canada, concentrated in Quebec, is certainly “deserving of special status” and indeed, constitutionally so, as French and English are Canada’s two official languages.

The reality is that the avant-garde of secularism not just in Canada but in all of North America—indeed in the entire western hemisphere—is in Quebec. The crucifixes that used to be omnipresent there are mostly gone, while the crucifix still hanging in the National Assembly is an annoying remnant whose continued presence was formally guaranteed not by the PQ but by the Quebec Liberal Party which vehemently opposed the Quebec Charter of Secularism, in collaboration with Islamists.

The irony of the comments by “Joe” is that he/she correctly identifies the situation—that multiculturalism reduces the French language and culture to a status no greater than any other non-English culture—and then draws precisely the wrong conclusion: that this situation is justified.

Canada was founded as an ostensibly bilingual nation, a partnership between two founding cultures and languages: the English and the French. In practice, it did not quite work out that way, with English having far greater dominance, while French gradually receded almost everywhere. The British imperial power, at its apogee, was notorious for its arrogance, ethnocentrism, paternalism and racism. The fact that the French (and to a lesser extent the Scottish) tended to intermarry with First Nations people a little more than others gave the English yet another excuse to look down their noses at them. In the 1960s, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism studied this linguistic imbalance and proposed policies to attempt to correct it. However, within a few years, the concept of biculturalism had been forgotten and was supplanted by multiculturalism.

Whether intentional or not, this replacement of “bi-” by “multi-” led to further devaluation of French language and culture, already in an inferior position. With multiculturalism, French culture became just another in a mosaic. The dominance of English culture became overwhelming. Multiculturalism thus became a vehicle for Anglo ethnocentrism. An ideology which claims to be a solution to racism (it is not) became a vehicle for devaluing one of Canada’s two founding cultures.

Multiculturalism thus became a vehicle for Anglo ethnocentrism. […] The arrogance and paternalism of British imperialism have been recycled and repackaged as multiculturalism.

And that is one major reason why multiculturalism is so popular in Canada outside Quebec, and less popular in Quebec. It allows Canadians to pretend to be anti-racist, while simultaneously providing a convenient excuse for their ongoing antipathy towards French-speaking Quebecers. The arrogance and paternalism of British imperialism have been recycled and repackaged as multiculturalism.

Anyone who claimed to be a secularist could not in good conscience oppose the PQ Charter unless they were honest about what they were opposing, and on what basis they were opposing it. They were in fact opposing a law inspired by the French tradition of republican secularism, and their opposition was based on a defence of religious privilege as guaranteed by Lockean pseudo-secularism as explained in a previous blog. Charter opponents rejected the Charter because it represented a more coherent form of secularism. They preferred the inferior Lockean form, but rarely had the clarity to say so. However Quebecers prefer the republican form, as is their right.

The tendentious habit of opposing secularism by vilifying those who propose it certainly did not disappear when the party which proposed the Charter was defeated in April of 2014. It continues unabated. We saw it recently during the federal election of October 2015, when anyone who pointed out the foolishness of allowing face-coverings during citizenship hearings risked being accused of “intolerance” or worse. Anti-Quebec memes were freely recycled for this purpose. For example, Sheema Khan, writing in the Globe and Mail during the federal election campaign trotted out that old chestnut of Jacques Parizeau’s “money and ethnic votes” comment as an excuse for supporting wearing the niqab, while comparing the 1995 pro-Canada, anti-separatist rally in Montreal to a “noble” pilgrimage (i.e. the “hajj”). Does this mean that Allah condemns those damn separatists?

It is a tenet of Canadian mythology that Parizeau’s comment was “racist” but in reality he was just being a sore loser, angry that his side lost the referendum by a very narrow margin whereas the federal government had subsidized the rally in violation of Quebec legislation limiting campaign spending. Without such federal overspending, the “Oui” side might have won. As for the “ethnic” part, Parizeau was simply referring to the well-known phenomenon of federalists seeking electoral advantage by encouraging new immigrants in the Montreal area to assimilate to the English-language community rather than the French. Parizeau’s comment, made in the heat of bitter disappointment, was foolish because an intelligent politician such as he should have known that his political enemies would use such a comment to make unfounded but damaging accusations. That is indeed what they did, and continue to do even after his death.

Another irony: Parizeau was among those sovereignists who expressed strong reservations about the Charter of Secularism. But that does not stop enemies of secularism from using his example to denigrate secularists.

The demonization of Quebec nationalism harms all Canadians because it jeopardizes the fight for secularization.

Next blog: The Cult of Impotence