The Marois government has been claiming everywhere that the right of peoples to self-determination, as invoked in Bill 99, includes the right, for the government of Quebec, to declare Quebec's independence -- to secede unilaterally.
Everywhere... except in the Superior Court of Quebec which is examining the constitutionality of Bill 99. In the Court, the government's arguments are entirely different. The government's lawyers are asking the Court to "read down" the Act, arguing that it only codifies "a series of principles" or "standards that the National Assembly and the Government of Quebec must comply with while exercising their existing powers". They describe an eventual unilateral declaration of independence as a simple "scenario", much too hypothetical to be examined by the Court.
The Marois government's doublespeak must be denounced, and its objective understood: getting the Superior Court to validate Bill 99 on the grounds that the Bill does not stipulate a right to secede unilaterally, and then triumphantly trumpeting everywhere that the Court's validation of Bill 99 confirms such a right.
The PQ's leadership knows that in its 1998 opinion, the Supreme Court endorsed a fundamental tenet of international law: the distinction between internal self-determination (a people's pursuit of its development "within the framework of an existing state") and external self-determination (a right to unilateral secession which "arises in only the most extreme of cases" such as colonial contexts or "alien subjugation, domination or exploitation".
Since "such exceptional circumstances are manifestly inapplicable to Quebec", concludes the Supreme Court, neither "the National Assembly, the legislature or government of Quebec, possess a right, under international law, to secede unilaterally from Canada".
The Marois government's strategy is to convince the Superior Court that Bill 99 can be interpreted as stipulating only Quebec's right to internal self-determination and later to claim that what it really means is the right to external self-determination.
But in no way does doublespeak give politicians the rights they don't have over citizens. The Government of Quebec has no right to take Canada away from those Quebeckers who want to keep their country. What the Government of Quebec is entitled to do is ask Quebeckers, by referendum, if they clearly want to secede. If it is proven that Quebeckers clearly agree to secession, then such clear support would trigger an obligation to enter into negotiations on secession; these negotiations could then lead to a fair-for-all separation agreement and to a constitutional amendment removing all references to Quebec from the Canadian Constitution.
Whether we support Quebec's independence or Canadian unity, we, Quebeckers, want political parties to argue for their positions frankly and honestly, with no doublespeak and no double standard. We don't want the parties to sing to a different tune depending on whether they speak English or French -- as the Harper government and the NDP are prone to do -- or whether they speak to the people or a judge -- as does the Marois government.
We'll see what the Superior Court decides. Until then, Mrs Marois and Mr Cloutier, her Minister of Sovereignist Governance, must answer this question -- right now: does Bill 99 include the right to external self-determination, yes or no? All Quebeckers, whatever their political stripe, are entitled to a clear and unequivocal answer.
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