What territory, if any, should we give up if Quebec secedes? Should Quebec be allowed to leave Confederation with all its present territory, including all the lands in Northern Quebec, or only with the narrow strip of land along the St. Lawrence River it had in 1867? Or should Quebec be permitted to exit not only with its current territory but be allowed to take Labrador as part of the bargain, fulfilling a longstanding desire expressed by some Quebeckers to "liberate" Labrador from Newfoundland and include it in a separate Quebec?

Opinions differ sharply between Quebeckers and other Canadians on the territorial boundaries of an independent Quebec. An Angus Reid/Southam News poll released in June 1994 revealed that slightly more than half of Canadians living outside Quebec thought that the territory of a sovereign Quebec should be "considerably smaller" than at present and only four in ten believed that current boundaries should be maintained. In contrast, almost three quarters of Quebeckers believed Quebec's territorial integrity should be respected, and only slightly more than one in five felt Quebec should occupy a smaller territory.

The concept of territory is rooted in international law but, above all, in human instincts. Human beings are at their core territorial animals with an innate, instinctual attachment to their own lands that goes far back into prehistory. This primitive instinct translates into a need for a specific territory and ultimately, in terms of international law, into a desire for a definable country. In our time, the concept has been increasingly sublimated to community, city and region or, in the case of Canada, province. Yet even today nothing is more likely to lead to conflict and violence than disputes over territory. The civil war that has raged in the former Yugoslavia will quickly testify to the dangers of territorial disputes when they're linked to explosive ethnic issues.

The science writer Robert Ardrey explores the concept of territory in his book The Territorial Imperative, noting that "in all territorial species, without exception, possession of a territory lends enhanced energy to the proprietor. Students of animal behavior cannot agree as to why this should be, but the challenger is almost always defeated, the intruder expelled. In part, there seems some mysterious flow of energy and resolve which invests a proprietor on his home grounds. But likewise, so marked is the inhibition lying on the intruder, so evident his sense of trespass, we may be permitted to wonder if in all territorial species there does not exist, more profound than simple learning, some universal recognition of territorial rights." The majority of Canadians may not support Ardrey's notion that they recognize the territorial rights of Quebeckers on some gut level. Quebec separatists may take comfort from the view that they have an instinctual advantage in defending their territory.

Legal arguments can always be advanced by both sides in any territorial dispute. But when all is said and done, it usually comes down to which side wants the land most and is most willing to fight for it. This is why territorial disputes are always among the fiercest and the most likely to blow up as we have seen all too often in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Although Quebec separatists love to talk of Quebec's right to self-determination, this right only exists legally for colonialized people in Africa or Asia or previously sovereign states which have lost their sovereignty (i.e., the Baltic states which were forcibly incorporated in the Soviet Union). Under international law, it is appropriate to recognize such "self-determination units" even if the former power over the territory disputes their independence. Self-determination is reserved for peoples living under foreign domination where they are subject to racial and other forms of discrimination and have little or no say in how they are governed. Not even the most rabid separatist would argue that this is the case for Quebec.

What Quebec separatists are proposing is something quite different called secession, which is frowned on by the international community of states and is not recognized in international law. Threatened by their own disgruntled minorities dreaming of nationhood, many countries have strongly resisted any extension of the right to self-determination in international law to include secessionist movements. U Thant, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, confirmed that "the United Nations has never accepted . . . the principle of a secession of a part of a member state." In Katanga and Biafra, the United Nations opposed separatist movements that were waging bloody civil wars.

Yet to say that international law doesn't recognize secession doesn't mean that it never happens. It does. For a separation to succeed, the secessionist government must be able to gain effective political control over its territory and population. Once done, international recognition will eventually come.

Law professor José Woehrling of the University of Montreal told the Bélanger-Campeau Commission that Quebec's secession from Canada "would be considered a success if, for a sufficiently long period, the Quebec authorities were able to exclude the application of Canadian law from their territory, and were successful in making the judicial order flowing from their own laws and decisions prevail ... The secession would fail if the federal authorities were able by either peaceful means or force, to maintain respect for Canadian law in the territory of Quebec and to prevent the application of the laws and decisions of the secessionist authorities." Will Quebeckers continue to voluntarily pay taxes to Revenue Canada? Will they continue to respect the RCMP's enforcement of federal law? On those kinds of behavior may rest the ultimate success of Quebec secession.

If Quebec votes to separate, Canada must first decide whether or not to accept the democratically expressed will of the Quebec electorate. If Canada is willing to let Quebec go, only the terms, including territory, will remain to be negotiated. If Canada decides not to recognize this decision, it will have to take action to stop Quebec from breaking away, up to and including the use of force. Other countries will not want to get involved in a messy internal conflict. If Canada is able to continue to enforce its laws in Quebec, then the secession will fail and Canada will keep all its territory. If not, Quebec will become an independent country, taking with it some or all of its territory.

When the question of territorial juridiction arises in legal proceedings, Canadian courts will decide the issue on the basis of a cerificate provided by the Secretary of State. Canadian law will only still apply to the territory that remains in Canada.


All but the most extreme Canadian nationalists would admit that if Quebeckers decide democratically by a reasonable majority that they want to leave Canada, there is no point trying to force them to stay. As Joe Clark, who for better or worse epitomizes Canadian values, told a Mohawk from Oka in 1991 at a public meeting, force is not the Canadian way. But there's no consensus among Canadians on the territorial question. The flashpoints are most likely to be the lands formerly belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company that were granted to Quebec in two separate parcels in 1898 and 1912. (There is some question about whether the 1898 parcel was really an addition to Quebec as it had been the subject of a dispute between France and the Hudson's Bay Company that was never settled.) The balance of this territory, called Rupert's Land, which consisted of the lands drained by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay, was granted to Canada in 1869 and eventually divided among Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Quebec was not the only province to benefit from the transfer of northern lands.

David Bercuson and Barry Cooper, a political scientist and a historian from the University of Calgary, maintain in their controversial book Deconfederation that these lands are Canada's and if Quebec leaves, the lands stay with Canada.

"Quebec gained legal title to the territory formally comprising a portion of Rupert's Land only and solely because it was a Canadian province," they write. "Its administrative jurisdiction, therefore, is contingent upon its remaining a province of Canada. In other words, Quebec gained jurisdiction over these lands by virtue of being part of Canada and on the assumption that the lands would remain Canadian territory... When Quebec leaves Canada it surrenders all territory it gained while it was a part of Canada." In their view, Quebec should only take out of Confederation what it brought in.

In his own study of the issue, Vancouver lawyer David Varty adds some interesting legal wrinkles to the argument. With the contract transferring the lands, the government of Quebec became an agent of the Crown in right of Canada to deal with Ungava (as Varty calls Northern Quebec), not the owner of the property. The underlying title remained with the Crown, he argues. The contractual relationship between Quebec and the Crown would be broken if Quebec were to declare that the laws and constitution granting Quebec jurisdiction in the first place were no longer applicable. Then the property would have to be returned to the Crown, meaning to the federal government.

To build up a legal defence against those hungering after Quebec territory, the National Assembly committee on sovereignty sought the legal opinion of five legal experts from the United States, Britain, France and Germany in 1991. Their learned, but far from infallible, opinion was that the boundaries of a sovereign Quebec would be the actual boundaries today, including the territory granted to Quebec in 1898 and 1912 by the federal government, unless changed by an agreement reached before or after independence. They argued that as long as Quebec remains a province of Canada, the Constitution prohibits any changes in its provincial boundaries without its consent. If Quebec were to become an independent state, Canadian law would cease to apply, but Quebec's borders would be protected by international law.

The five experts argued that under the Canadian Constitution and international law, Quebec's territorial integrity would prevail over demands to dismember Quebec territory, regardless of whether the demands came from natives, Anglophones or residents of border areas. They said that natives have rights as minorities but no right to secession. Likewise, anglophones are protected under international law as a minority but with no special rights to territory. As for those living in border regions, they don't benefit from any special protection at all.

The five experts were sceptical about the argument that Quebec would not be allowed to keep the territories gained in 1912 because it would not be respecting the terms of the 1912 Boundary Extension Act implementing the transfer, that is, that the province is obliged to "recognize the rights of the Indian inhabitants of the territory" and to "obtain surrenders" of such rights just as the the federal government had been prior to the transfer. In their view, this clause is no longer valid as it has been superceded by the Federal and provincial laws settling the native land claims in James Bay and Northern Quebec, which implemented the 1975 James Bay Agreement. Under the terms of this agreement, the Cree of James Bay and the Inuit of Northern Quebec accepted financial compensation and certain property rights in exchange for renouncing their traditional rights and claims.

These arguments are controversial and, needless to say, not accepted by all legal scholars. Patrick J. Monahan, a professor at Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School, dismisses the opinion of the five experts. In a legal analysis prepared for the C.D. Howe Institute entitled Cooler Heads Shall Prevail, he argues that the experts relied too heavily in formulating their opinion on an international legal principle called uti possidetis (Latin for "that which you possess, you shall continue to possess) that was developed to settle borders among former Spanish colonies in Latin America and was recently recognized in the breakups of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In his view, this principle, which would accord an independent Quebec the entire territory of the province of Quebec, is only relevant for border disputes between successor states and not those between the successor state and the predecessor state like Quebec and Canada. In Monahan's view, this critical distinction undermines the five experts main point that the territorial integrity of Quebec is protected by the constitution while a province and by international law once an independent state.

Concerning the right of aboriginal people to secede from Quebec, Monahan writes in a Globe and Mail article that the five experts assume in their opinion that Quebec has already attained sovereignty and, in that case, that aboriginals don't have the right to secede. But if Quebec's aboriginals don't have this inherent right neither do the Québécois themselves. According to Monahan, if natives in Northern Quebec "refuse to recognize the authority of the new Quebec state, Quebec will be unable to lay claim to that territory, unless it can, through the exercise of force if required, demonstrate that it has effective control over it."

Mary Ellen Turpel, a constitutional advisor to the Assembly of First Nations, contends that a declaration of sovereignty by Quebec would constitute a unilateral breach of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. The agreement "was not only explicitly negotiated and ratified in a federal context, but also contained perpetual federal and provincial parties' consent." More surprisingly, Daniel Turp, the law professor who is president of the Bloc Québécois policy commission, published an article in 1992 supporting the right of aboriginal people to secede from Quebec.

It's fine to present these legal opinions, but in reality it comes down to this. Although Quebec has no legal right to secede, successive Canadian governments have in effect accepted that Quebec has that right. For a secession to succeed, Quebec will have to demonstrate it has control over all its territory. But the same argument holds true for Canada. If Canada wants to hold on to northern Quebec, it will have to prove it still has control over that territory. In effect, we will have to be ready to use force if necessary to hold on to northern Quebec.

Quebeckers have a deep, almost mythological attachment to Northern Quebec as their frontier. They are proud of the massive hydro-electric developments like Manicouagan and James Bay that was built there by Hydro-Quebec and homegrown engineering firms like SNC-Lavalin. They point to these projects as proof that Quebeckers are masters of an advanced technological society. Chansonniers sing odes to the giant dams and Quebec tourists travel hundreds of kilometres to marvel at these feats of engineering, even though many other Canadians would see them more as ecological disasters.

This northern territory, which makes up two-thirds of Quebec's land mass, has been the focus of the Quebec government's economic development strategy over the last quarter century. It contains generating stations that cost roughly $25 billion dollars to build and that produce roughly half of Quebec's electricity valued in excess of $2 billion per year. If Canada kept the territory, the James Bay generating stations would become Canadian government property under international law. Even the most nationalistic of English Canadians might consider this to be a trifle unfair. And, naturally enough, such a valuable economic asset will not be given up easily. Quebeckers feel they have every bit as much right to the land as do the Cree even if this attachment is that of the colonizer rather than that of the original inhabitant.

What many Canadians don't realize is that Northern Quebec as defined by the boundaries of 1898 and 1912 actually contains more French Canadians than natives. The band of land handed to Quebec in 1898 includes such mining centres as Val d'Or, and Chibougamau, which are overwhelmingly francophone. Over 80 per cent of the inhabitants of this region speak French. About 110,000 non-natives live in the Quebec North but only 10,000 Cree and 7,000 Inuit, who are concentrated in the northernmost reaches of the territory, north of the Eastmain River.

Canadians may be surprised to learn that a majority of the inhabitants of Northern Quebec may not wish to stay in Canada if Quebec separates. After all, the residents of this area have displayed a tendency to vote overwhelmingly for the PQ. In the last provincial election, for example, the PQ won the three ridings of Abitibi-Est, Abitibi-Ouest, and Ungava by a margin of almost two to one.

Even the Crees realize that the large numbers of non-natives in the southern part of Northern Quebec is a problem. "What the Crees would have to do is to draw a new line north of Chibougamau and north of Matagami along the 50th parallel," says Brian Craik, Director of Federal Relations for the Grand Council of the Cree. This new proposed Canada-Quebec border would include all but one of the Cree communities. The Crees don't consider the non-natives living in this area to be permanent residents.

And what would Canada do with northern Quebec? Its economic and trade links are with the rest of Quebec, in particular due to the construction of the James Bay hydro-electric project. Would Canada seize the dams along the La Grande River and pull the plug on the rest of Quebec? Hardly.


If we do decide to open up the whole issue of who owns the former Rupert's Land, how can Canada then refuse to open up the issue of who owns Labrador? Quebec has long had a historic claim to part of Labrador. The Atlantic coast of Labrador was granted to the colony of Newfoundland by the British Crown in 1763, while the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was subsequently bestowed on Quebec. Who owned the Labrador interior was never clearly settled. The competing land claims between Quebec and Newfoundland were only resolved by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in a 1927 decision that established the existing border between Labrador and Quebec.

The 1927 decision dismayed the federal government as well as Quebec at the time since Newfoundland, the winner in the dispute, was not then a part of Canada. Nevertheless, as a binding legal decision it still stands. As Quebec legal expert Henri Dorion told the National Assembly committee on sovereignty, "Quebec does not have, and this is confirmed by numerous studies, any valid legal basis to contest by judicial means the border of Labrador as established by the Privy Council in 1927."

Regaining Labrador has become a periodic rallying cry for the most territorial minded of Quebec separatists. But those who fear that Quebec is still laying in wait for the opportunity to overturn this decision should relax. While Quebec government maps may still include as Quebec territory some parts of Labrador draining into the St. Lawrence but north of the 1927 line, neither the Bélanger-Campeau commission nor the National Assembly committee on sovereignty advanced any lingering claims on Labrador in their reports. In fact, the five legal experts were not even asked to pass judgement on Quebec's claim to part of Labrador. The PQ used to talk of taking the Labrador border to the International Court of Justice, but it has been conspicuously silent on the question in recent platforms. And the PQ government's draft bill on sovereignty only claims that Quebec shall retain its current boundaries.

The Labrador border is a non-issue and should be kept that way. The best way to ensure Labrador doesn't return to the bargaining table is to accept all Quebec's borders as they are.


There is much sympathy in Canada for the plight of Anglophone Canadians living in Quebec. After all, they are just like the majority of Canadians except that they happen to live in Quebec. Move an Anglo-Quebecker from Beaconsfield to Mississauga and he or she will fit right in. To protect this population of over 600,000, Bercuson and Cooper advocate "territorial adjustments" to keep in Canada anglophones living on the Quebec side of the Ottawa Valley, the Lower North Shore of the St. Lawrence, and parts of the Western half of the Island of Montreal. This is in addition to the land they think should be retained in Northern Quebec and the South Shore of the St. Lawrence. The political principle they invoke is that "if the French claim, on ethnic and cultural grounds, a right to secede from Canada, then the non-French have a right to secede from Quebec. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."

Secessionist sentiment has been prevalent among English Quebeckers since before Confederation. In 1849, 2,500 Scottish and American farmers in the Stanstead and Sherbrooke counties in the Eastern townships sought to join the United States to avoid being assimilated by French Canadian farmers who were moving into the area. Apparently, their fears had some foundation as francophones, including many with English sounding names, now dominate the Townships.

More recently, provoked by language legislation and concerns over the possibility of Quebec separation, residents of Pontiac County, up the Ottawa Valley on the Quebec side, have mounted their own counter-separatist movements. Right on the Ontario border and with a clear Anglophone majority, Pontiac County could be easily retained in Canada. Their predicament is reminiscent of that of hardy mountain people of West Virginia who seceded from the Confederate state of Virginia in 1861.

But before we try to carve some anglophone enclaves out of Quebec, we should pause to consider the implications. With a few exceptions such as Pontiac County, most enclaves are not on the border and are not primarily peopled by anglophones. Scott Reid, the author of Canada Remapped, which presents an elaborate plan for partitioning Quebec poll by poll into the parts that separate and those that stay with Canada, estimates that the Bercuson-Cooper scheme would capture over two million francophone Quebeckers as well as the intended one million Anglophone Quebckers and other non-francophones. The fact is that anglophones do not live in large contiguous homogeneous blobs, but live side by side in harmony with francophones. The last thing Quebec and Canada needs are Bosnian-style ethnic enclaves. Grabbing territory where the population is not interested in remaining in Canada will just lead to irredentist movements and all the troubles that follow, from political agitation to terrorism.

Perhaps the most absurd proposals of all call for the splitting of Montreal down the middle, taking as a convenient dividing line St. Laurent Blvd., or for those who are not satisfied with the English-style pubs of Crescent Street and prefer the joie de vivre of French restaurants and bars, rue St. Denis. Everything to the West would stay with Canada and everything to the East would go to a separate Quebec. According to these revanchist Canadians, not only does McGill University stay in Canada, so does Université de Montréal. Not only does Westmount remain under the Maple Leaf, so does Outremont, where Jacques Parizeau, and a good chunk of the Quebec elite grew up and still lives. Berlin and Beirut tell us how well divided cities perform economically and politically.

The best way to start a new relationship with a neighbouring state is not to lay claim to hundreds of thousands of its people as well as large chunks of its land. Who knows? Quebec might reciprocate by trying to get Franco-Ontarians and Acadians to join Quebec and to bring along with them much of Eastern Ontario and Northern New Brunswick. Don't forget that even without Quebec there will still be more people in Canada with French as their mother tongue than Anglophones residing in Quebec.

The important point is to make sure that linguistic minorities are treated fairly on both sides of the new border. Surely, Canada and Quebec could agree on that. Linguistic minorities will have an important role to play in maintaining business and cultural links between the two countries whatever shape they might take.


Even the most rabid of separatists have yet to hint at the possibility of restrictions on Canadian transportation across Quebec. Yet there have been calls from the rest of Canada for the establishment of a transportation corridor across Quebec between Ontario and New Brunswick if Quebec secedes. One particularly ambitious proposal by Ian Ross Robertson of the University of Toronto would have Canada taking control of a 30 to 50 kilometre wide swath of territory across Quebec's south shore. Any Québécois unfortunate enough to live there and not willing to take a loyalty oath would be deported, according to Robertson. Not since 1755 when the Acadians were sent packing by the British for the same heinous offence of refusing to swear a loyalty oath to the British Crown would so many francophones be hitting the road. Such a deportation would be as unnecessary as it would be unacceptable to Canadians who above all cherish individual rights and liberties.

Quebec has no reason to impede the shipment of McCain's frozen French fries on the Trans-Canada Highway from New Brunswick to Ontario any more than Ontario wants to prevent the shipment of aluminum ingot along Highway 401 from Alcan's Quebec smelters to its customers in Detroit. Quebec depends as much as we do on uninterrupted trade.

A transportation corridor would not be required for the passage of ordinary cargoes. GATT trade rules guarantee freedom of transit. The main purpose of a transportation corridor or similar transit rights would be national security since Canada would have to continue supplying Canadian Forces bases in the Atlantic provinces. In an ideal world, this should not pose a problem but in the initial days after a split, the sight of Canadian military vehicles streaming down Quebec highways could alarm some fragile souls. Such movements could be done by air, but perhaps permission could be obtained for these vehicles to drive across northern New England, at least until a new balance in relations is achieved between a separate Quebec and Canada.

Nervous Nellies in English Canada, with active imaginations and visions of sunken ships and blockaded locks dancing in the heads, often ask, "Will we still be able to ship our grain and iron ore through the St. Lawrence Seaway?" Even a renegade state like Libya would not be so foolish as to block a seaway into the heart of the world's only remaining super-power.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is an international waterway, even though customary international law accords no right of navigation of foreign ships in inland waters. The Treaty of Washington, signed in 1871, guarantees that the waterway "shall forever remain free and open for the purpose of commerce to citizens of the United States, subject to any laws and regulations of Great Britain or the Dominion of Canada, not inconsistent with such privilege of free navigation." U.S. transit rights have been extended to other countries that have been granted "most favoured nation" status in trade agreements. An independent Quebec would be the successor to Canada's treaty rights and obligations regarding the seaway under the St. Lawrence Seaway Agreement of 1951. As an owner of part of the seaway it would participate in the regulation of the seaway and tolls. Canada, Quebec and the United States would all have full access to the seaway and the Great Lakes. If Quebec were to try and block access to Canadian ships entering the seaway, it would be picking a fight with the United States as well. And there would be no interest on the part of Quebec to do so. The port of Montreal depends heavily on container traffic to and from the U.S. Midwest.

To reassure Canadian worry-warts, however, Canada could demand that Quebec grant the right of road and rail passage along the Trans-Canada Highway and the main CN and CP lines as well as free navigation through the St. Lawrence Seaway. In return, we could offer to extend comparable rights to Quebec.

The Crees have another idea. If they succeed in keeping their chunk of northern Quebec in Canada, they see a new scenic road link to the Maritimes passing through Cree territory and bypassing Quebec. This new Trans Canada Highway would transform a leisurely road trip to Halifax into the roundabout taiga equivalent of the Paris-Dakar road rally. After reaching Kirkland Lake in Northern Ontario, drivers would head into Cree land, proceed north to Mattagami, then to Radisson, turn right up the La Grande River to the headwaters of the Caniapiscau and south of there on a yet to be built road to Labrador City and Wabush. How you would get from there to Nova Scotia is anybody's guess. And don't even think about how long it would take.


The determination of the maritime boundaries between Canada and an independent Quebec involves very complex legal issues but that doesn't mean we have to end up determining the outcome with gunboat diplomacy.

International law recognizes that coastal states have a right to a 12-mile territorial sea, a 12-mile contiguous zone, the adjacent continental shelf and an exclusive 200-mile economic zone. This would apply in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with one exception. Since the Gulf is less than 400 nautical miles wide, it would have to be divided. The usual principle applied is one of equidistance from the shoreline. The Gulf was split among the provinces in 1964 on this principle for purposes of petroleum concessions. Even though this agreement was never ratified by the federal government, it provided the basis for an agreement in 1977 between Ottawa and Nova Scotia on under-sea resources. Using this agreement, Quebec's territory extends to a line equidistant between the shorelines of the Gulf.

The Magdalen Islands pose a particular problem in delineating the maritime boundaries of Quebec as they sit in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence closer to Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton than to Quebec. The method of strict equidistance, adopted by the provinces in 1964, is to Canada's disadvantage and would give most of the Gulf to Quebec. Canada should argue that it doesn't make sense to treat a small archipelago like the Magdalen Islands the same as the two main Gulf islands, Quebec's Anticosti Island and Prince Edward Island, in drawing the equidistance line. To use the theory of equidistance would violate the principle of proportionality by giving Quebec two-thirds of the Gulf when it only has 40 per cent of the shoreline. The most equitable solution would be to draw the equidistance line ignoring the Magdalen Islands and then to draw arcs for the 12-mile territorial sea and 24-mile contiguous zones. Everything south of the equidistance line and outside of the arc would belong to Canada.

There is no single internationally sanctioned correct Maritime boundary in the Gulf. Indeed Canada has, over American protests, claimed the Gulf as internal Canadian waters which means that a case could be made for denying Quebec any maritime zone in the Gulf. But this would hardly be fair. Canada and Quebec would have to sit down and hammer out an agreement on the delimitation of maritime boundaries in the Gulf.

Once the maritime boundaries were determined Quebec and Canadian fishermen would only be allowed to fish in their respective zones, unless there were agreements to the contrary. This would be to the advantage of Canadian fishermen as much of the better fishing is in the Canadian zone. To borrow a phrase Parizeau erroneously used in describing the existing situtation, Quebec fishermen would become "prisoners of the Gulf" and could be barred from fishing for tuna off the coast of Nova Scotia or crabs off Newfoundland as they do now.

The Maritime boundaries in the north are also messy. The transfer to Quebec in 1898 and 1912 of the northern lands up to Hudson Bay and its strait and Ungava Bay only extended to the shoreline. The Canadian government has claimed these bays and Hudson Strait as internal Canadian waters. It has a strong claim to Hudson Bay, but a weaker claim to Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay because of the frequent passage of American icebreakers, without prior permission. As an independent coastal state, Quebec may also have some claim to the waters adjacent to its coast and a right to passage through Canadian territorial waters. Again, the maritime boundaries would have to be settled through negotiation.


We must suppress any primitive urges we might have to transform our differences with Quebec into a claim on Quebec territory. It is better to approach the territorial question from a rational and not an emotional perspective.

Quebec's desire to leave with its existing territory may anger Canadians but is not unreasonable. Trying to turn back the clock by advancing historic claims based on 1898 and 1912 land transfers would be foolish. Why stop at 1867? Quebec nationalists might ask to show the arbitrariness of historic claims. Under the Quebec Act of 1774, Quebec ran from Labrador to the region south of the Great Lakes bounded by the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, taking in most of southern Ontario and the five U.S. Great Lake states. Before the Conquest, French jurisdiction extended from Labrador to Lousiana covering the vast territories over which roamed French explorers like Marquette, Jolliet and La Salle.

Quebec would not be taking away a disproportionate share of Canadian territory if it were to become an independent country within its existing provincial boundaries. The province of Quebec extends over 1.54 million square kilometres or 15.4 per cent of Canada's land mass. Quebec's share of the land would be significantly less than Quebec's quarter share of the Canadian population. On the basis of the pure numbers, it would be hard to argue that Quebec was hogging too much territory.

The key decision for Canada has to be whether or not to allow Quebec to separate from Canada if that is the democratically expressed will of Quebeckers. The actions of the Canadian government suggest that this decision was made long ago. The federal government has not prevented the PQ from running in seven provincial elections on a platform calling for separation - a platform that in many other countries would be considered treasonous and seditious. It did not stop the PQ from forming the provincial government in 1976 after winning the election. It allowed the PQ to hold a referendum on sovereignty in 1980. Prime Minister Trudeau and federal cabinet ministers including the current Prime Minister conferred legitimacy on the PQ's referendum by participating in the campaign. And everyone is gearing up for the upcoming referendum. Rightly or wrongly, the decision seems to have been made. Quebec has the right to go if it wishes. The federal government's tolerance of separatist activity reflects the state of our national psyche. The very thought of using force to keep Quebec in Canada would cause most Canadians to recoil in horror. How un-Canadian!

If, in fact, we have misread the federal government and the Canadian mood, and the federal government doesn't accept Quebec's right to secede and is willing to use force to keep it in Canada, a colossal mistake has been made in sending all the wrong signals to the province. It is a mistake that could be costly in terms of lost lives and the destruction of property.

If the basic decision has been made to let Quebec go if it wishes and not to use force to stop it, subsequent decisions should be easier. If we are not willing to use force to keep the country together, surely we are not going to use force to keep in Canada the barrens of Northern Quebec or to create unviable Anglophone and aboriginal enclaves scattered throughout Quebec.

It would be in our best interest to indicate from the beginning that we are willing to accept the existing provincial boundaries of Quebec as the boundaries of the new state of Quebec provided that Quebec surrenders forever all claims to Labrador and agrees to reasonable maritime boundaries and the right of passage through its territory. Though it might make us feel better to lash out by stirring up internal dissent within Quebec, it would be unconscionable to mislead Anglophone and particularly aboriginal groups to believe that if they make enough of a fuss, we will come to their aid and help them to secede from Quebec. Promising this kind of support could only be backed by threatening to use force. Any resulting violence could poison relations between Quebec and Canada for many a year. Even worse, it could serve as a trigger for a more serious direct confrontation between Canada and Quebec.

Quebec Map

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