Bloodshed for independence

In a column titled "The beautiful free ride of Gilles Duceppe" published by The Globe and Mail on Jan. 12, 2006, Lawrence Martin writes: "... the potential costs of secession: Economic turmoil. Major civil strife, if not bloodshed. Seething partitionist pressures in Quebec. Endless conflict with the rest of the country over ownership of capital and resources. A diminished Canada, subject to further breakup."

I've been expanding my sources of information with English media for many years. I've seldom witnessed references to possible violence in the event of a sovereign Québec from French-speaking circles, be they federalist or sovereigntist. When such a possibility is brought up, it almost exclusively comes from English sources. And I wonder... under what circumstance, and by whom, would fighting be considered desirable?

Of course, the province went through a somber episode in October 1970. The fact that this episode is rooted in the same ground than the current sovereignty movement may be tainting its general understanding. But the actors of the democratic thrust that prevailed before, and prevails even more since, unequivocally distanced themselves from these events. They even used them to actually galvanize support against violence in efforts for Québec's sovereignty.

Since, the province has gone through two referendums, 1980 and 1995. Both were peaceful. The fact that 1995 was lost by the sovereigntists by a hairline should have betrayed belligerent intents, if any. Nothing happened. Those nights were even more peaceful than the Canadiens' Stanley Cup victories of 1986 and 1993! The Québécois have their priorities.

So, could violence stem from outside the province? Could federalists be marching down the streets of Ottawa burning down Québec related symbols? Could federalists from outside the province be marching down the streets of Montréal or Québec City prompting local residents? It's not entirely impossible, but I don't see it happening.

The most "promising" potential for discord can probably be found between factions within the province. Like Mr. Lawrence, many believe that some residents would prefer to remain Canadians. Is this desire actually strong enough to lead to violence? What exactly would be worth taking up arms? It's not like anyone would be asked to go anywhere. English-speaking communities of Montréal's West Island would keep their land, so would Natives and any other group. It's a given that Natives feel they have a better shot at territorial claims with a Canadian government, but resorting to violence to simply maintain "a better shot" sounds like a convoluted scheme. If not for land, what would anyone be fighting for?... to keep the Canadian passport?... to keep the Canadian currency? I believe that the vast majority of Québécois would want to continue living in a peaceful Québec and that those who feel differently are overrating the Canadian identity.

Perhaps, Mr. Lawrence's point of view betrays his opinion that Canada would have more to loose from an independent Québec than the province itself.


Anonymous said...

"Perhaps, Mr. Lawrence's point of view betrays his opinion that Canada would have more to loose from an independent Québec than the province itself."

But then why are you so surprised by the fact that media in the ROC does not covere sovereignty in a positive light (your post from Nov 19). Sovereignty would not be good for Canada.

"What exactly would be worth taking up arms? It's not like anyone would be asked to go anywhere."

I agree that violence is unlikely. But we also did have the Oka crisis -which led to a death- and that did not involve anybody being forced to go anywhere either.

Michel Bolduc said...

I'm mostly surprised by the Canadian nonchalance in truly understanding a phenomenon that's been plaguing the country's political scene for more than 30 years. And I sometimes wonder if the great Canadian tolerance isn't simply indifference.

I realize that shedding a positive light on the topic is too much to ask. However, I do expect reputable media trying to help the population better understand it. CBC's Breaking Point report on the 1995 referendum is a good place to start.

The Oka crisis was triggered by a golf expansion plan into a Mohawk cemetery. Land expropriation was at the heart of the problem.

Anonymous said...

I do think a part of it is indifference. But I am not sure why you expect people to be so invested in Quebec politics. Most people do not even have a good understanding of politics in their own provinces, let alone another province. It does not directly affect them. Ask yourself how much do you know about political issues in Saskatchewan, Manitoba or even Ontraio. I for one don't know the first about them.

Despite what people might think, the first concern of media is not to inform, but to sell papers and attract viewers. That is what will attract advertisers and will pay the bills. If the media do not think going in depth on issues will achieve these goals, they will not do it. They have to cater to their -perhaps very indifferent- clientele.

If I remember correctly, the Mohawk burial grounds were not actually on the reserve, but I could be wrong.

Shiva-ji said...
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Michel Bolduc said...


I don't expect people to be invested in Québec politics. I expect them to be interested in understanding something they feel would destroy their country.

Anonymous said...

A different anonymous this post.

Quebec is often seen as a neat island of francophone sophistication in an angry sea of Anglo-barbarians. This is a view which omits some of the messy practicalities of actually achieving Quebec statehood, which btw, I support at least somewhat.

It is worth considering that violence which occurs during a partition process may come from neither from separatist/federalist divisions in Quebec or from its Anglos. Should an officially Anglo Canada emerge, the federalism of Franco-Ontariens who today benefit from official bilingualism could change into a desire to accede to the new state. Likewise, Anglos in the Outaouais or Gaspe might wish to secede and join the new Canada. Any of these may wish to do so peacefully, but partition has rarely been peaceful and borders have often been flashpoints. Would Quebec or Canada peacefully allow borders to be redrawn along linguistic lines?

And what about Labrador.It has Franco communities and many feel it rightly belongs to Quebec. NFLD disagrees. Some potential for conflict (or at least disagreement) exists there as well.

History reveals that there have been many unwanted conflicts that have accompanied partitions. This post leaves the impression that one or more parties involved wanted these to occur. If everyone wants peace, there will be peace. The problem arises when people simultaneously want power, which all parties do in this situation. Events can spiral out of control. I do believe that a partition could be peaceful, due to a pacifist self-perception common to the cultures involved. To essentialize Anglos as aggressive and a Quebec state as a pacifist paradise naively disregards likely disagreements in a partition scenario and the conflicts which they could catalyze in a time of high emotion. But in Quebec, l'independence is often viewed as a time of lollipops and rainbows, where all will be perfect and each sovereigntist's personal political views will be manifest. Reality is a little trickier than that, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

"I don't expect people to be invested in Québec politics. I expect them to be interested in understanding something they feel would destroy their country."

When I said "invested", I meant interested enough to want to gain a deeper level of understanding.

But again, going back to Quebecers: do you think most people appreciate the fact that Quebec independence is not really a good thing for Canada and why?