Friday, September 4, 2020

History revisited: Canada’s feminists respond to Quebec’s national movement

(And a contribution to the debate rejected by Canadian Dimension)

By Richard Fidler

Thirty years ago, in June 1990, the Meech Lake Accord died, its package of constitutional reforms having been rejected by the legislatures in Manitoba and Newfoundland/Labrador. Its demise — and with it, recognition of Quebec as a “distinct society” — gave rise in the following five years to a new surge in the Quebec movement for independence that came very close to winning in the 1995 referendum, accompanied by a series of renewed attempts by the Canadian government to negotiate a constitutional deal that would defuse that movement and maintain the existing Canadian state.

The anniversary was marked this year by a number of articles in the Quebec media but went largely unnoticed in the rest of Canada (ROC). Unremarked as well, in both Quebec and the ROC, was the role the angry public debate in Canada over modest acknowledgement of Quebec as a “distinct society” (never mind, nation) drove a wedge between the feminist movements in both nations and marked a key turning point in the evolution of the Quebec women’s organizations toward increasingly nationalist orientations and, during the 1990s, open support for Quebec independence.

This story is told in a 2009 doctoral dissertation by Flavie Trudel, of the Université du Québec.[1] The rift became public in 1987 when the Meech Lake Accord was widely criticized at a general meeting of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), on the grounds, among others, that the “distinct society” clause would likely be used by the courts to undermine federal protection of women’s rights. In reaction, the Quebec Federation of Women (FFQ) left the meeting. Francophone women’s organizations had come to see Quebec, with its jurisdiction over language, culture and family law — and the progressive values upheld, for example, by Quebec juries’ multiple acquittals of abortion rights advocate Dr. Henry Morgenthaler — as a more favourable milieu for advancing women’s rights.

In a brief to the House of Commons committee studying the constitutional proposal, the FFQ stated that in its view “the progress achieved [in Quebec] in women’s status is not unrelated to its character as a distinct society.”

About a dozen Quebec women’s organizations, among them the FFQ, the CSN’s women’s committee, and a group led by Françoise David and union militant Madeleine Parent, began meeting in late 1987 to determine whether to remain in the NAC, where Francophones were a small minority.

In 1989, the FFQ decided not to renew its affiliation to the NAC, while continuing to attend its meetings as an observer. “NAC’s failure to understand or accept the position of Québec francophone women,” write NAC historians Jill Vickers et al,[2]

“marks the beginning of the end of NAC’s ability, through the affiliation of the FFQ, to provide a bridge, however fragile, between the French and English movements.… Many NAC activists would again be unable to comprehend or accept the view of the majority of francophone feminists from Québec that their liberation rested with the Québec state and with recognition of Québec as a ‘distinct society’.”

NAC was not the only women’s organization in Canada to be critical of the Meech Lake Accord. Others included the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), which argued that the Accord endangered women because it recognized aboriginal rights and Canada’s multiculturalism without mentioning women’s rights to equality. This position was typical of the many social movements in Canada that had become seduced by “Charter politics” in the wake of Parliament’s adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with its offer of recourse to the courts to override legislated obstacles to their goals — a phenomenon brilliantly analyzed by the late Michael Mandel in The Charter of Rights and the Legalization of Politics in Canada.[3] Mandel also points to the role of the Charter as a key ingredient in Pierre Trudeau’s strategy for enhancing federal institutions and standards in opposition to Quebec’s, itself confirmed by the illusory view that Quebec’s “distinct society” constituted a threat to women’s rights.

Flavie Trudel adds, however, that judging from the exchange of correspondence between the NAC and the FFQ, “it seems clear that the FFQ’s dissatisfaction was not addressed to the feminist action of NAC…. For example, a little later NAC was quick to come out in support of Chantal Daigle in the struggle against her former partner for her right to an abortion, and the NAC reacted with outrage to the massacre at the École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989.”[4]

Moreover, the FFQ withdrawal prompted some rethinking in NAC about its approach to Quebec issues. “Judy Rebick was elected president of NAC in 1990 on a promise to work to lessen the divisions between Québécoises and women in the rest of Canada. And Rebick committed as well to stepping up NAC’s interventions on the constitutional question.”[5] NAC soon evolved toward a “Three Nations constitutional position that recognized the legitimacy of decentralized power for Quebec and the First Nations.”[6]

Meanwhile, the FFQ continued to develop its thinking on the Quebec national question, becoming clearly pro-independence in 1990. This orientation would undergo no fundamental change through the following years. And when the Parti Québécois government turned to harsh fiscal austerity after the defeat of the referendum in 1995, the FFQ, now headed by Françoise David, focused on the fight against poverty, combined with the issue of violence against women. Its discourse was transformed, writes Trudel. “It moved to the left, close to Marxism, at the same time becoming more inclusive.”[7] At the outset of the 21st century it became as well “altermondialiste,” that is, engaged in the global justice movement. Following the success of its “bread and roses” marches in the mid-1990s, the FFQ initiated the World March of Women in 2000.

After the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord

The FFQ was now the umbrella organization for 115 Quebec associations with about 100,000 members in all walks of life. In its brief to the Bélanger-Campeau commission on Quebec’s political and constitutional future, established in 1990 by the Quebec government following the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, the FFQ stated:

“We believe that the possibility of achieving significant changes in the social and political fabric of Quebec will be proportional to the degree of autonomy Quebec obtains. And we believe that greater manoeuvrability for Quebec will promote the development of a feminist model of society, provided that women are closely associated with all phases in the development of this model. To define and implement a plan for society, we need a framework that we can be part of.

“With this in mind, and although we are fully aware that political autonomy is not the only condition for such changes, we think that women as a social group have an interest in choosing the greatest possible political autonomy for Quebec.[8] […]

“We feminists understand the importance of autonomy and identity, concepts that have always been at the heart of our struggle. We have refused to dissolve our identity as women into that of our fathers and husbands; and today we refuse to dissolve our Quebec identity into the Canadian identity. We know the price of autonomy, but also its value.

“Our feminism is expressed collectively; it is part of a specific cultural reality, that of Quebec, and it is not independent of the social and political context. For example, let us recall that the birth of neo-feminism in Quebec in the early 1970s was closely related to the goal of national liberation. Feminist groups situated the struggle of women within the struggle for national liberation, as was illustrated by the slogan ‘No women’s liberation without the liberation of Quebec. No Quebec liberation without the liberation of women.’ Then, as today, it was not feminism that was exclusive to Quebec women, but the context in which it was developing. […]

“Since it is the overall future of Quebec that interests us, we think that the changes in Quebec should not be limited to a fundamental modification of the relationship between Quebec and Canada, but should be situated within an overall plan for society. What we need to collectively redefine is not only our relationships with Canada but what this new country of Quebec will be. It is social relationships as a whole that must be re-envisaged.”[9]

And the FFQ went on to develop some of the key ideas it thought should be included in the constitution of an independent Quebec. It added:

“The new constitution should be elaborated by a constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage and composed equally of men and women.

“The proposed constitution should be submitted to the entire population for ratification. It will be the property of the citizens of Quebec, and should not be the subject of any negotiations with other countries, including Canada.”[10]

No surprise, then, that the FFQ opposed the Charlottetown Accord, the follow-up to Meech negotiated by the first ministers and put to a cross-Canada referendum for approval in 1992. FFQ leaders participated in a new coalition, the Regroupement des Québécoises pour le NON, and published a “pink pamphlet,” Non à l’entente de Charlottetown: Pour un avenir qui nous ressemble.

NAC, too, with the FFQ again a member, opposed the Accord. NAC leaders Judy Rebick and Shelagh Day issued a statement explaining that “The Quebec and aboriginal peoples have the right to decide democratically their own future without being crushed by a massive campaign orchestrated by the majority’s political elites.”[11] But this position was sharply attacked not only by the media but by some NAC affiliates who protested that the position taken by the organization’s leaders was not based on adequate consultation with the members.[12] In the October 1992 referendum, the Charlottetown Accord was defeated in both Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Leading up to the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence, the FFQ voted in a membership assembly to endorse the OUI following a consultation in which three different positions were advanced: for, against, and neither. But the FFQ’s efforts were not enough to tip the balance in the popular vote, in which the OUI was narrowly defeated — 50.55% against, 49.45% in favour.[13]

And where was the left in this history?

The feminists were not alone in their divisions over Meech and the Quebec national question. The Quebec NDP, which was experiencing a brief surge in support following the PQ’s endorsement of Mulroney’s Conservatives in the mid-1980s, opposed the Accord. But the federal NDP supported Meech, as it had the unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1992 without Quebec consent. Quebec’s tiny Communist party, which had opted for Yes to sovereignty-association in the 1980 referendum, urged a No vote in 1995; the party has never supported Quebec independence, and in the early 21st century most of its Quebec members split, first to adhere to the pro-sovereignty Québec solidaire, later to support the PQ.

Other Marxists? In a recent article on the demise of the Trotskyist tendency to which both he and I had adhered, John Riddell noted that our Quebec forces, which had historically favoured Quebec independence, split in 1980 and formed Gauche socialiste in 1983: “Gauche Socialiste went on to play a significant and constructive role in the creation of a new left party, Québec Solidaire.” During the 1980s and 1990s, John notes, “the broader socialist movement was in decline.” Yet, he says, “these were the very years in which the International Socialists (IS) emerged in Canada as a dynamic and influential far-left organization.” On this, I think he exaggerates. In any case, the IS record on the constitutional debates speaks otherwise.

In 2012, IS leader Abbie Bakan criticized the NAC for opposing the Charlottetown Accord: “The National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) … tragically sided with the ‘no’ side. But this position encountered considerable challenge, most importantly from Quebec feminist allies, including the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ).” Bakan misstates the FFQ position, as we have seen. She goes on: “At the time, the International Socialists, a member organization of NAC, wrote an Open Letter calling for a reversal of the ‘no’ position.”

In a 40-page pamphlet published in 1991-92, which is still the most complete statement of IS thinking on Canada’s national questions,[14] Bakan argues that “genuine self-determination for all the oppressed can only be won by smashing the Canadian state…,”[15] but apparently she and the IS are unable to see how Quebec independence might be strategically related to that goal.

For my part, in 1987 I drafted an article for the widely-read left magazine Canadian Dimension aimed at rebutting the very myths being propagated in Canada by some feminists and leftists concerning the Meech Lake Accord. It was rejected by the CD editorial collective, citing (in a letter by managing editor Jim Silver to Donald Swartz)[16] “our disagreement with the interpretation offered by the article.” CD’s refusal was protested at the time by a number of socialists in Canada and Quebec whose support I had solicited (although they did not necessarily agree with the article’s content) — among them Gil Levine, Lukin Robinson and Swartz.

In Quebec, Roch Denis translated the article and published it in the June-July 1988 issue of Tribune Ouvrière, the newspaper of the Groupe socialiste des travailleurs, with an introduction that stated, in part: “…while the author’s position is widely held within the left and among worker militants in Quebec, it is much more seldom heard in English Canada… where the dominant circles of the ‘left’ yield to no one in their defence of the Canadian state.”

Ironically, in a book published to mark the 50th year of publication of Canadian Dimension,[17] a chapter by Peter Graefe on its coverage of Quebec states:

“In retrospect, the lack of Quebec voices on Meech Lake was unfortunate. A key claim of CD’s rejection of Meech Lake involved the spending power provisions, which were seen as preventing future universal social programs. Ultimately, the Quebec left rejected these same provisions on the opposite grounds: namely that they recognized and legitimized the use of the spending power and thus made it easier to use. In some ways, this debate was never joined in the pages of the journal….”

Here, then, for the first time in English, is my article as it was submitted to Canadian Dimension, with a few outdated references removed. My approach to the “distinct society” issue is somewhat different from the FFQ’s, although not inconsistent with it.

Meech Lake: Myth and Reality

By Richard Fidler

Almost no one on the left likes the Meech Lake accord. But the critics differ on what is wrong with it, and what it means for the political future of this country. There is parti­cular confusion over Quebec’s status, federal-provincial rela­tions, and the role of judicial review. Clarity on these matters will strengthen the opposition and reinforce the unity of the left in Quebec and English Canada.

Myth No. 1. Quebec has gained new powers.

The accord inserts a clause in the Constitution recognizing that Quebec is “a distinct society” within Canada. This was instrumental in getting [Quebec Premier] Bourassa’s signature on the accord, which is said to “bring Quebec into the Constitution.” And this in turn has helped many who are critical of other provisions in the accord, such as Ed Broadbent and the NDP federal caucus, to swallow their misgivings and endorse the accord.

But recognition of Quebec’s uniqueness is largely symbolic, as critics in Quebec have pointed out. The meaning of “distinct society” is unclear: its content will be defined by the unelected judiciary — ultimately the Supreme Court of Canada, in which Quebec judges are a minority. The judges will interpret it in light of the accord and the Constitution as a whole. What do these indicate?

The accord does not give Quebec protection in the crucial area of language rights, so essential to the definition of its distinct character. Provisions in the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Charter of Rights that were used to invalidate large parts of Law 101 remain in place. One might think that “distinct society” refers at minimum to Quebec’s French language and culture. But the clause is subject to a “duality principle” which, among other things, requires the Quebec legislature to “preserve” the English-speaking population in Quebec, whose presence is stated to be a “fundamental characteristic of Canada.” This is a clear invitation to the courts to cut down Quebec language laws that are deemed to interfere with Anglophone “rights.”

In addition, the accord for the first time gives constitutional authorization to the federal government to initiate spending programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction — a power Quebec long resisted.

Quebec still lacks a comprehensive veto on constitu­tional change. In 1981 the Supreme Court said Quebec’s veto was only a “convention,” not law, and that the Constitution could be patriated without Quebec consent. Under Meech Lake, the require­ment of provincial unanimity in amendments concerning federal institutions is extended, but the general amending formula (seven provinces with 50% of the population) remains.

Most important, the “principle of equality of all the provinces,” specifically mentioned in the resolution for adop­tion by the legislatures, decisively undermines any real recog­nition of Quebec as a “distinct society.” This is why Quebec has no unique veto power; as Senator Lowell Murray, Minister of State for Federal-Provincial Relations, explains, “Once the principle of provincial equality was enshrined in the Constitu­tion on Nov. 5, 1981, the only way to give Quebec a veto was to also give a veto to all the provinces.” Thus, from now on, all provinces must consent to any constitutional amendment affecting the powers, number and method of appointment of Senators. (This effectively precludes any possibility of abolishing the Senate.) Quebec gets a voice in appointments to the Supreme Court and the Senate — but so do all the other provinces.

In addition, all provinces are allowed to “opt out” of federal shared cost programs and constitutional amendments that transfer provincial powers to the federal government. A province opting out will qualify for federal compensation if it “carries on a program or initiative that is compatible with the national objectives” established by the federal government (not Parlia­ment).

Opting out with financial compensation was originally devised in the 1960s to enable Quebec to establish its own social programs — medicare, university funding, pensions, etc. — without conceding any special constitutional status to the province. In theory the procedure was available to any province, but only Quebec used it. Now it will be entrenched in the constitution for all provinces.

Under Meech Lake, “special status” is given to all provinces, and therefore to none. The rationale: to avoid at all costs conceding any meaningful national character to Quebec. In legal and constitutional terms, Quebec remains very much a “province like the others” — but subject to continuing constitu­tional restrictions on its power to legislate to protect its distinctive language and culture. This is the primary injustice in the accord.

Myth No. 2. Meech Lake weakens the central state.

Many English-Canadian critics of the accord complain that it weakens the federal jurisdiction, which they see as the primary source of progressive legislation. They worry that the first ministers, in signing the accord, have surrendered some portion of Canadian sovereignty.

Thus, Larry Brown of the National Union of Provincial Government Employees says (in a brief presented to the parliamentary committee studying the accord) that it “means a substan­tial transfer of power from the federal to the provincial governments.” The United Electrical Workers (UEW) speaks of the “balkanization” of Canada and warns about “a continuous dynamic of decentralization” under the accord. The Canadian Labor Congress echoes these views while conceding it does not speak for its Quebec affiliate, the Quebec Federation of Labor (QFL).

The unions worry about the enhanced provincial role under the accord. And they argue that the vague spending powers formula opens the way to gutting existing federal-provincial shared-cost social programs, and may foreclose meaningful stan­dards in future ones such as the proposed childcare program.

Conversely, however, the requirement that provincial programs be compatible with “the national objectives” could pressure provinces to participate in programs determined by Ottawa. This may be objectionable to Québécois who wish to establish their own priorities in terms of national (Quebec) needs. As the QFL put it, in a brief to the National Assembly, Quebec has established some relatively advanced social programs in recent years: “Why should we recognize the federal govern­ment’s power to dictate our next public spending priorities?” An opting out formula that recognized Quebec’s unique needs would obviate this problem.

Making compatibility with national objectives a condition for federal funding of social programs does not necessarily bar pioneering reforms by some provinces; in fact, many social reforms in Canada have been initiated by provinces, such as medicare in Saskatchewan under the CCF-NDP. Much will depend on how restrictively those “national objectives” are defined.

Other arguments marshalled in support of the “balkani­zation” thesis are similarly unconvincing. The provinces may submit lists of nominees for the Senate and Supreme Court, but the federal government makes the ultimate determination. A province may negotiate an immigration agreement with the federal government that is “appropriate to the needs and circumstances of that province,” but any such agreement must conform to national standards and objectives set by the federal Parliament.

Nor should the ideological consequences of the accord be ignored. The Globe and Mail editors argue that Quebec’s formal acceptance of patriation and the Charter of Rights, and the enhanced provincial role in determining the composition of federal institutions, will tend to “increase the legitimacy” of those institutions “in Quebec and in the regions.”

Ed Broadbent was probably right when he told Parlia­ment: “The powers of the national Government of Canada have not been reduced one iota by this accord.” That is why the Quebec NDP opposes the accord — and why Broadbent supports it.

Myth No. 3. Increased judicial review will promote democracy and equality.

The underlying problem with Meech Lake is not the increased provincial input in federal institutions and policies, but the enhanced role of the executive, bureaucratic and judi­cial powers under the accord.

The role of the elected House of Commons and provin­cial legislatures is diminished through such means as annual First Ministers’ conferences on the economy and the constitu­tion. Mulroney and other first ministers are even claiming that none of the 11 legislatures “debating” the accord may amend it in any way. Intergovernmental agreements contemplated in the accord can bind successor legislatures, and leave no role for native people, Northerners or Francophone minorities outside Quebec who do not have governmental status. The Senate is here to stay. The amending formula becomes increasingly complex.

Above all, the accord effects a further huge transfer of power to the judiciary. Judges will have to determine the meaning of terms like “distinct society,” “national objectives,” and “reasonable compensation.”

Ironically, some critics of Meech Lake would rely on the courts to remedy perceived injustices in the accord, by extending the scope of judicial review under the Charter of Rights. Some unions and women’s groups are calling for an amendment that would make the “distinct society” clause subject to Charter protection of women’s equality rights. They point out that the accord specifies that the recognition of Quebec as a distinct society is not to affect federal jurisdiction over Indians or the multicultural character of Canada under the Charter. The failure to provide a similar exemption for women, they say, permits Quebec, in the name of promoting its distinc­tiveness, to override women’s rights.

In legal terms, the pro-Charter argument is less than overwhelming. It can also be argued, as does the Quebec women’s federation (FFQ), that in terms of the constitutional division of powers native people and cultural minorities are analogous with Québécois, in that they all have national or ethnic charac­teristics. Women, however, are not a nationality and there is therefore no need to mention them in the accord.

Politically, the pro-Charter argument is disastrous. It is offensive to Québécois, both male and female. It suggests that unless the Quebec government is subject to external consti­tutional constraints, it will continue to oppress women; that is, that the Québécois themselves are unable to eliminate sexual oppression. This position has divided Quebec and English-Cana­dian feminists and has been effectively exploited by Mulroney, Bourassa and other supporters of the accord to demoralize those in Quebec who criticize the “distinct society” clause as providing insufficient protection of Quebec’s vulnerable language and culture. (“You see, even this is too much for English Canada; it’s the best you can hope for.”)

The National Association of Women and the Law, tes­tifying before the parliamentary committee on the accord, cited the “potential” for “misuse of population control in the name of preserving or promoting distinct populations.” But the old stereotype of a priest-ridden Quebec engaged in a “revenge of the cradles” hardly squares with contemporary Quebec’s compara­tively progressive approach to women’s rights, reflected, for example, in the greater access to abortions. As the FFQ noted, “in Quebec, respect for women’s rights is increasingly a part of our political culture. The progress we have made in terms of women’s status is not unrelated to this characteristic as a distinct society.”

The federal government-sponsored Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women has even called for making the entire Constitution subject to the Charter — and for a judicial opinion on the accord before it is adopted by Parliament.

This resort to the Charter and the courts is misguided. As many in the left are coming to understand, the Charter of Rights is at best a dubious instrument for advancing the struggles of the oppressed and exploited.

Charter rights are abstract. Their content is defined by the judiciary, with its traditional conservative bias. Legal reasoning tends to discount arguments founded on history and class — essential considerations when assessing laws that engender inequality or that are designed to overcome it. Is it mere coincidence that the overwhelming majority of cases so far under the sexual equality provision of the Charter have been initiated by men seeking “equal” benefits for men?

The courts tend to favor the individual over the collective, and private enterprise over government. Thus the Supreme Court had no difficulty finding that the “fundamental” freedom of association in the Charter did not protect union members’ right to engage in collective bargaining or to strike, while the right of protection against arbitrary search and seizure protected the Southam newspaper chain from a federal law designed to curb monopoly concentration.

In fact, the general thrust of Charter litigation, as of all judicial review, is to restrain government action or legislation. This can be useful in some circumstances — for example in defending individual rights against arbitrary police action, or women’s right to choose against the criminalization of abortion. But what women, Québécois, and all working people need above all is positive government action that protects them against unfettered corporate power and the inequalities of the “free market”.

Charter litigation has definite limits as part of an offensive political strategy. It tends to divert attention away from the need for collective action to obtain specific reforms and governmental change, in favor of the courts and abstract judicial arguments of principle.

For example, opponents of cruise missile testing launched a court challenge under the Charter that received massive media attention. The courts in the end ratified the tests. Meanwhile, Operation Dismantle’s alternative strategy of promoting binding municipal referenda across Canada on cruise tests as well as NATO membership got lost in the Charter mania. Similarly, unions confronting wage-control legislation in several provinces chose to fight it with a Charter challenge in the courts instead of organizing on-the-job protests and strike action as they had in 1976 in response to Trudeau’s wage controls. Again, the courts upheld the legislation and the unions were back to square one.

An alternative approach would focus on rallying support for specific actions and laws rather than leaving the solution to the discretion of judges. For example, feminists say their desire to amend the Meech Lake accord is prompted by a recent ruling that the rest of the Constitution is not subject to the Charter. In that case, teachers and school boards in Ontario went to court to challenge the provincial government’s decision to extend Catholic school funding to senior grades. They argued that the protection of denominational schools in Ontario and Quebec in section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 was contrary to the Charter. They lost. The Supreme Court said that it would not interfere with the “fundamental compromises” negotiated between the provinces and the federal government. In effect the judges threw the decision back into the political sphere, where it should have been all along. What should the Ontario teachers do now? Certainly not fight to make the Charter override the rest of the Constitution. Instead, they could join forces with the Quebec unions and community groups that have been fighting to secularize the schools by ending the religion-based distinctions in section 93.

The Charter directs us to rely less on legislatures and governmental power and more on the courts for solutions to our problems. It is no accident that its adoption coincided with the unilateral patriation of the Constitution following defeat of the Quebec referendum on sovereignty. The Charter is a cen­tralizing instrument: it subjects Quebec’s laws and government action to judicial scrutiny for compliance with a pan-Canadian jurisprudence. In doing so, it restricts Quebec’s capacity to develop its own institutions and laws adapted to its national character or distinctiveness.

Until now Québécois have been somewhat diffident toward the Canadian Charter. The Parti Québécois government was applauded when it invoked a Charter provision to exempt Quebec legislation from some key provisions of the Charter.

But in mid-April 1987, a few days before signing the Meech Lake accord,  Bourassa quietly let the provision lapse. With the accord, Charter politics now acquire greater force in Quebec — even though Quebec’s own Charter, an act of its National Assembly and therefore subordinate to the Canadian Charter, is in some respects more advanced. (For example, it prohibits dis­crimination on grounds of political views or sexual orientation, and it is directed against arbitrary discriminatory action by private agencies, not just governments.)

The proposal to extend the jurisdiction of the Charter, and therefore the courts, simply reinforces these trends. And it stands reality on its head. Quebec’s struggle for its rights as a nation, however imperfectly reflected in the Meech Lake accord, does not threaten the struggle by women against their oppression as a sex. The interests of Québécois and women lie in a common struggle against a central state that maintains the oppression of both.


[1] Flavie Trudel, “L’Engagement des femmes en politique au Québec: Histoire de la Fédération des femmes du Québec de 1966 à nos jours.” I am indebted to Raghu Krishnan for drawing this work to my attention.

[2] Jill Vickers, Pauline Rankin, Christine Appelle, Politics as if women mattered: A political analysis of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1993), p. 119.

[3] Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, 2nd ed. 1994.

[4] Trudel, op. cit., p. 253.

[5] Ibid., p. 254.

[6] Vickers et al., op. cit., p. 9. See also “NAC Response to Federal Constitution Proposals,” October 25, 1991. Copy in my possession.

[7] Trudel, op. cit., p. 285.

[8] Richard Fidler, Canada, Adieu? Quebec Debates its Future (Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1991), pp. 159-60.

[9] Ibid., p. 163.

[10] Ibid., p. 164.

[11] Trudel, op. cit., p. 292. My re-translation from the French.

[12] Ibid., p. 292.

[13] Ibid., p. 316.

[14] Abbie Bakan, Quebec: From Conquest to Constitution, A Socialist Analysis (Toronto: An International Socialists Pamphlet). A pdf copy is in my possession.

[15] Ibid., p. 3.

[16] Dated February 17, 1988. Copy in my possession.

[17] Cy Gonick (ed.), Canada Since 1960: A People’s History (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2016).

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