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William Johnson

A defining Supreme Court decision

On March 21, the Supreme Court of Canada did far more than merely declare Mr. Justice Marc Nadon ineligible to sit as one of Quebec’s three justices on the highest court in the land. The supremes simultaneously confirmed that Quebec is a distinct society within Canada and that Quebec’s distinct status is already entrenched in the constitution of Canada. The constitution requires that three of the nine high court judges must be drawn from Quebec’s Superior Court, its Court of appeal, or from active members of Quebec’s bar with at least 10 years of experience. No other province has its own constitutional right to a single seat. Why is this important? Because Quebec politicians, ever since the Quiet Revolution, have espoused collectively the scenario that Canadian federalism is illegitimate because it left French Canadians in a state of economic, social, educational and political inferiority. The Québécois were colonized: this, rather than the crippling policies of France towards New France, accounts for the inferiority that so humiliated French Canadians throughout their pre-1960 history. The Québécois must be liberated, become “Maîtres chez nous.” Neither the 1867 nor the 1982 Constitution Acts recognized Quebec’s distinct identity, according to this accepted doctrine. The remedy proposed: a rewritten constitution that would transform the Province of Quebec into the State of Quebec, a sovereign equal partner in a new confederal union modelled on the emerging European Community. The wording, the vision, was never precise. But Jean Lesage proclaimed: “Quebec must enjoy the greatest degree of autonomy that is compatible with its existence and the existence of Canada.” He demanded “special status” and kept expanding his list of Quebec’s required new powers, never reaching closure. Daniel Johnson Sr. demanded for Quebec “Égalité ou indépendance” – not equality with the other provinces, but a Canada restructured constitutionally as… Read More