Open letter in support of the democratic right to self-determination for Quebec

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Open letter in support of the democratic right to self-determination for Quebec
January 2000

Dear friends:

Here is the final, final version of the open letter that Judy Rebick has done some editing work on to make it more accessible. I thank her for doing this and I think the letter is now much more accessible and clear. We now have 42 initial signers and are still looking for more. If you know of someone who would be interested in supporting the letter please feel free to forward it to them. I am also sending it out to left and alternative media to see if they will publish it. If anyone is interested in doing media work around the open letter please let me know. I think we should do an initial media release next week when we have more than 50 initial supporters. Talk to you soon.

In solidarity,

Gary Kinsman (you can get hold of me by email GKINSMAN@NICKEL.LAURENTIAN.CA or at 705-670-1420).

The Chretien government's Clarity Act is a cause for alarm for all supporters of democratic rights. This act denies the democratic right of the people of Quebec to decide their own future. The Act grants the federal Parliament the sole authority to establish the "clarity" of a future referendum question and to determine whether a "clear majority" has expressed itself in any referendum. This means that Parliament is taking away the historically recognized rights of the people of Quebec to make these decisions. In the two previous referendums, the federal government accepted that the Quebec government could draft its own question without federal interference. By requiring federal approval of the question in future referendums, the federal government is denying the right to self-determination for the people of Quebec.

This authoritarian act also raises the stakes by requiring something more than a simple majority. This means that a majority of participants in a referendum in Quebec could vote in favour of sovereignty (or sovereignty-association) but the federal government, acting unilaterally, would refuse to recognize that majority, if they didn't like the question or the size of the majority. What's worse, the people and government of Quebec don't even know how big a majority they would need to satisfy Ottawa. Furthermore the act if passed prevents the federal government from fulfilling its democratic obligation to negotiate in good faith with the government of Quebec following a successful yes vote.

These proposals are an affront to all democrats. Since the narrow defeat of the "yes" side in the 1995 Quebec referendum, the Liberal government has adopted a policy of threats towards Quebec and especially towards the millions of its people who support sovereignty.

There have been no proposals from the federal government that seriously address the concerns of the people of Quebec about confederation.

Canada is a multinational country. Aboriginal peoples and the people of Quebec have raised a series of objections to the structure of the federal state in Canada. They have insisted that they — as distinct nations — need to have the right to determine their own futures. We affirm the democratic right of aboriginal peoples and the people of Quebec to self-determination in a context free of coercion. Ottawa's anti-democratic attempt to dispute this right for the people of Quebec must be opposed. If the federal government can deny this right of the people of Quebec, they will be in a stronger position to deny the right of self-determination to aboriginal peoples too.

When democratic rights are violated for the people of Quebec, or for aboriginal peoples, all of our rights are under attack. We remember the October 1970 imposition of the War Measures Act when hundreds of activists were rounded up in Quebec and across the rest of Canada by the army and police. And we remember the massive 1990 Canadian military intervention against the land claims of the Mohawk Nation at Oka-Kanehsatake. We seek to prevent a repetition of such attacks on people's rights.

We call for the withdrawal of the Clarity Act and the end of all threats and intimidation against the right of the Quebec people to determine their own future. At the same time, we affirm the right of aboriginal self-determination both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. We commit ourselves to an ongoing campaign of public actions — letters, statements, meetings and events — to prevent the subversion of democratic rights and to promote solidarity and cooperation between the many peoples living in the Canadian state. We will not tolerate, by our silence, any attempt to bully, threaten or coerce the people of Quebec or aboriginal peoples in the name of "national unity".

Initial Supporters

  • Mary Louise Adams, Assistant Professor, Physical and Health Education, Queen's University*, and author of The Trouble With Normal.
  • Greg Albo, Department of Political Science, York University.*
  • Diane Albrecht, Co-chair, Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Left Caucus.
  • Bruce Allen, First Vice-President of the St. Catharines and District Labour Council.*
  • Jonnie Bakan, Shop Steward, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903, York University.*
  • Julia Barnett, AIDS and CUPE* trade union activist.
  • Rev. Brian Burch, Community of St. Thomas*
  • Mike Burke, Associate Professor, Department of Politics and School of Public Administration, Ryerson Polytechnical University*
  • Ligaya Byrch, graduate student, Laurentian University*
  • Tarek Fateh, Editor and Host, the Muslim Chronicle on Vision TV*
  • Joe Flexer, NDP Socialist Caucus*
  • Marcel Hatch, Co-chair NDP Socialist Caucus*
  • Tariq Amin Khan, anti-racist activist, Toronto.
  • Kim Kent, CAW Local 4451,* Stratford, Ontario.
  • Gary Kinsman, gay and social justice activist, Sudbury and author of The Regulation of Desire.
  • Tadele M. Kitaba, African Advisory Committee of the Ontario NDP*
  • Harold Lavender, activist, writer, editorial board member New Socialist, Vancouver.
  • Margaret Little, author of No Car, No Radio, No Liquor Permit: The Moral Regulation of Single Mothers in Ontario, 1920-1997, and assistant professor in Women's Studies and Political Science departments, Queen's University*
  • Meg Luxton, Professor Social Science and Women's Studies, York University*
  • Janet Maher, women's and health issues activist.
  • Ravi Malhotra, Disability Rights Activist and member of the NDP*
  • D'Arcy Martin, Labour Educator, SEIU, Service Employees International Union -Canada*
  • Peter Matilainen, Steward, Non-Academic Staff Association, University of Alberta, Edmonton.*
  • Doug McCorquodale, British Columbia Provincial Council of Carpenters*
  • David McNally, Department of Political Science, York University,* member of the York University faculty Association*
  • Colin Mooers, Department of Politics and School of Public Administration, Ryerson Polytechnical University.*
  • Toby Moorsom, Graduate Student, York University*
  • Jim Naylor, Associate Professor, Department of History, Brandon University.*
  • John Ozborn, Industrial Workers of the World*
  • Greg Pavelich, Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario member at large steering committee, member steering committee of the June 13th Committee.*
  • Edward Pickersgill, Founding Director, Matrix Affordable Homes for the Disadvantaged Inc., Guelph, Ontario*
  • Dawson Pratt, President North Bay and District Labour Council, OFL Executive Council Member, OPSEU Local 657 Vice-President, and Nipissing NDP Riding executive member*
  • Judy Rebick, writer, broadcaster.
  • Bob Rosen, Past President, Surrey Teachers Association*
  • Alan Sears, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor*
  • Wally Seccombe, Sociology and Equity Studies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education*
  • Michel Seymour, Philosophy Professor, Universite de Montreal.*
  • Susan P. Stout, women's rights, human rights and health and safety activist, CAW Local 2213,* CAW Left Caucus.
  • Rhonda Sussman, CUPE 4400*
  • Tony Tracy, Vancouver activist, member of the B.C. NDP Socialist Caucus.*
  • Andrea Waywanko, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) Local 002, Vice-President Alberta Federation of Labour (representing AUPE)*
  • Barry Weisleder, NDP Socialist Caucus*
  • Canadian Auto Workers Left Caucus New Socialist Group Socialist Action

* for identification purposes only.


Kai Nielsen
Member of the Board of IPSO

As we all recognize, the content of the "Clarity Bill" (Bill C-20) is antidemocratic.

Now, the very procedure of the Federal Government in holding hearings on that bill is itself antidemocratic.

While it was a vote of the Parliament that there will be hearings, it was further voted that the hearings will start on the morning following the vote and that the hearings will last for only four days. Such a procedure is thoroughly undemocratic in that people, with no advance notice and no time to prepare their responses are asked, on such short notice, to appear with their briefs at the hearing and nowhere but in Ottawa.

Furthermore, the time allowed for representations is so short — four days in all — that it is unlikely that all those wishing to be heard can be accommodated. To add insult to injury, the time set for those who do appear at the hearing is very rigid. Each person is given exactly ten minutes. This is not the way democracy, which should be deliberative and reflective, should be conducted.

The very proceedings, given the short notice, the short time for people to prepare their briefs, and the very constrained time allotted for their presentation make a farce of democracy.

The Prime Minister will, no doubt, be pleased to be able to say that there were not enough people to even fill the slots provided for representations at the hearings.

This being so, it is imperative that there be a lot of people on the waiting list wanting to be heard — people who could not be accommodated in the few days the Government had allotted for the hearings.

To make this a reality, it is very important that these who signed the open letter about clarity and democracy, as well as many other people, sign up for participation at the hearings, in spite of knowing full well, that they will not be accommodated.

A massive number of people asking to be heard will produce a ground swell toward making the proceedings, if they are altered as a result, answer a little bit more to the needs of democracy and to give the lie to any government claim that not many people are interested in being heard.

It will be an effective move in opposing Bill C-20. We urge that all signatories of the open letter about the Clarity Bill will ask to be heard. This will be an effective way — though surely hardly sufficient in itself — of fighting to keep that bill from becoming a reality.

We are asking you to pass this is letter to all the signatories of your open letter on the Clarity Bill and to urge that they ask to be allowed to make a presentation at the hearings.

We further ask those signers to pass this request on to others they know who might be sympathetic. It is important for them to realize that they will not be asked to appear before the committee, but that, by putting their name on the list, if that happens in massive numbers, would make it evident that there are many who have serious reservations about the Government’s action both with Bill C-20 itself and to the way the Government is structuring the hearings concerning it.


Dear supporters of the open letter campaign:

Well we ended up being excluded from being able to verbally present to the special legislative committee. Here is the media package that was sent out late this afternoon courtesy of NAC. Thanks. We need to talk about where to go from here. Any suggestions are welcome.

In solidarity,

Gary Kinsman

** For Immediate Release**

February 24, 2000


Today by imposing «closure» through the House on the workings of the special legislative committee on Bill C-20 the Federal Liberal government has excluded a number of voices and participants from giving representations to the special legislative committee on this important legislation. At 7:30pm tonight representatives from the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and the union movement had been tentatively scheduled to make a verbal presentation to the special legislative committee on behalf of the Open Letter in Support of the Democratic Right to Self-Determination For Quebec. Now even this opportunity is being denied to us through the actions of the Liberal government. It seems as if the Liberal government does not want to hear from a group of unionists, feminists, intellectuals and activists from across the Canadian state (largely from outside Quebec) who are firmly opposed to Bill C-20 (the "Clarity Act") and in support of the democratic right to self-determination for the people of Quebec and for aboriginal peoples. Why are the Liberals so afraid of an open and democratic discussion on these questions? Why do they not want to hear from people from the rest of Canada who support the democratic right to self-determination for the people of Quebec? Why are they forcing this legislation through so quickly?

The question of who would present to the special legislative committee were largely defined by the political parties that were involved — especially by the Liberals. Since none of the parties with a base in the rest of Canada outside Quebec supports the position of the Open Letter we were not nominated by these parties to make a presentation. There was no democratic process of soliciting submissions and representations as part of this legislative process. The undemocratic character of Bill C-20 which denies the democratic right to decide their own future to the people of Quebec has now been reproduced in the undemocratic legislative committee process on Bill C-20.

Attached please find the statement that would have been read to the committee on behalf of the Open Letter tonight, the Open Letter in French and in English, and the initial list of organizational and individual supporters of the Open Letter.

Media Contact: Gary Kinsman — 705-670-1420

The Undemocratic Clarity Act (Bill C-20) Must Be Withdrawn

The Open Letter in Support of the Democratic Right to Self-Determination For Quebec, which was initiated in mid-January, now has the organizational support of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the New Democratic Party Socialist Caucus, the Sudbury Sexual Assault Crisis Centre and other organizations. It also has the support of 130 individuals across the country including Dale Clark president of CUPW, John Baglow, Laurell Ritchie, Dawson Pratt, Andrea Waywanko, Bruce Allen and many other unionists; academics and educators including Leo Panitch, Meg Luxton, Cy Gonick, and John Conway and many others; commentators such as Judy Rebick, and social activists such as Joel Harden (Chair, Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario) and John Clarke (organizer, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty); and many individual members of the New Democratic Party.

What brings us together is our firm support for democratic rights and principles. Although we adopt a variety of positions on the future of Confederation and relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada we are united in our firm opposition to the "Clarity Act" and in support of the democratic right to self-determination for the people of Quebec and for aboriginal peoples. Let us be clear that support for the right to self-determination does not mean advocating sovereignty or independence, as some have suggested, but instead is a firm position that it is up the people of Quebec and the aboriginal peoples to decide on their own futures. The people of Quebec need to decide their own future without coercion and threats. This is the only way that democratic relations between peoples can be maintained and developed. It is undemocratic for the federal government to restrict this democratic process and to deny the people of Quebec the right to decide their own future.

When the "Clarity Act" was introduced we were hoping there would be a wide-ranging democratic discussion of this important legislation. We were hoping that the various supporters of the Open Letter and other concerned people across the country would be able to make submissions to a committee that would hold hearings in Quebec and across the rest of Canada. Unfortunately, the federal Liberal government decided that there would only be very rapid and highly restricted legislative hearings in Ottawa. The undemocratic features of Bill C-20 have been reproduced in the rushed and undemocratic way in which the Bill is being discussed in the special legislative committee. There are many groups that wanted to make submissions to this committee that have been denied this opportunity.

We call for the withdrawal of Bill C-20 and respect of the democratic right to self-determination of the people of Quebec.

Gary Kinsman, for the Open Letter network