Separatists' false premise of the 'love-in' furor

But our arrogant referendum law excludes participation of all non-Quebecers

Option Canada - Rapport Grenier - les suites

Who paid for the 1995 "love-in?" That is now the question shouted.
All last week, nationalists were calling for a new inquiry into federalist spending for the 1995 referendum campaign on secession. No sooner had commissioner Bernard Grenier unveiled Tuesday his long-delayed - but anti-climactic - conclusions on Option Canada, than the suspicions, the rumours, the accusations, were relocated to Ottawa.
Gilles Duceppe rose in the House of Commons. "In his press conference, Judge Grenier recognized today that his mandate concerning Option Canada was limited, since his jurisdiction did not cover the machinations of the federal government. And so great areas of shadow remain in the scandal surrounding Option Canada." He called on the prime minister to "set up immediately a public inquiry" with the mandate to "cast a complete light on the infractions committed against Quebec's Referendum Act."
So the 16 months of inquiry by ex-judge Grenier, at the cost of
$2 million, resolved nothing. Another inquiry is required to prove definitively that the federalists stole the 1995 referendum. Now, the focus is on the big gathering of Canadians from across Canada at Montreal's Place du Canada, three days before the 1995 referendum vote.
Le Devoir's report on the long-awaited findings of the Grenier commission was topped by an across-the-page picture of the "love-in" of Canadians hoisting their Maple Leaf flags. The headline: "L'argent du love-in reste un mystere." The story focused on what Grenier did not examine rather than on what he found.
"The inquiry commissioner himself recognized yesterday that he had been unable to designate the source of the financing for the famous 'love-in' of October 27 1995, when hundreds of thousands of people from the rest of Canada captured by storm the streets of Montreal to convince the Quebecois to vote Non. Grenier insisted that his mandate was quite circumscribed: He had to limit himself to study the expenses of Option Canada and had no latitude to inquire into the machinations of the federal government."
It was Gazette reporter Claude Arpin who blew the whistle in 1997 on Option Canada, the shadowy creation of the Council of Canadian Unity that served as a front to inject federal money into the debate on secession while preserving the CCU's status as a charitable organization. Norman Lester and Robin Philpot later acquired additional documents and wrote a sensational expose, Les secrets d'Option Canada, which precipitated the Grenier inquiry.
Now Lester and Philpot, and many others, turn their spotlight on Ottawa. "Who paid for the love-in?" Lester asked Wednesday. Philpot suggested the federal money violated "the right of peoples to self-determination." On CPAC's program, Revue politique, Bloc Quebecois MP Michel Guimond waxed indignant that, before the referendum, he had received a call from a lawyer in Vancouver urging him to vote No. "Who paid for the call?" He recalled the $100 round-trip plane tickets from Vancouver to Montreal to attend the love-in: Who subsidized it? In Le Devoir, columnist Michel David asserted: "The simple fact that the love-in occurred demonstrates that there was illegal spending."
All the big fuss is based on two fallacies: First, that it was illegal for Ottawa to spend money defending federalism, unless it was authorized by the Non umbrella committee. Secondly, that private citizens or companies from outside Quebec could not spend money on a trip to Montreal unless it was also authorized and included in the spending permitted by Quebec's Referendum Act.
In fact, during the 1980 referendum on sovereignty-association, federal government spending was challenged before the Referendum Council, set up under the Referendum Act. The decision rendered May 16, 1980, in Boucher vs. Mediacom, written by Chief Justice Alan Gold of the Quebec Superior Court was that the federal government was in no way bound by the spending restrictions imposed by the Referendum Act. "No law affects the rights of the Crown, unless they are specifically included, or again unless (the Crown) accepted it, which is not the case here, so that even the government of Quebec is not bound by the Referendum Act, 1978, Chapter 6. A fortiori, the government of Canada is not bound by the Quebec legislation unless it has accepted to be bound, which likewise is not the case."
After the1995 love-in, Quebec's director-general of elections, Pierre-F. Cote, pressed charges in Quebec Court under the Referendum Act against individuals and businesses from Ontario. They included Aurele Gervais, a senior official of the Liberal Party of Canada, Toronto's Algonquin College Student Association, Conquest Tours of Toronto and others who had charted buses for the trip to Montreal. The charges were thrown out by none other than Judge Bernard Grenier, the same man who conducted the Grenier inquiry on Option Canada.
Cote then appealed to Quebec Superior Court. On April 2, 1997, the charges were quashed by Justice Daniel Tingley. He ruled the Quebec Court has no jurisdiction over money spent outside Quebec by non-residents during a Quebec referendum campaign.
"It goes without saying that a court of the province of Quebec has no jurisdiction to prosecute an accused domiciled outside Quebec for an infraction committed outside Quebec. And yet, that is precisely what the director-general of elections invited the Quebec court to do. It cannot do it," the judge declared.
The very assumption underlying the restrictions of the Referendum Act are arrogant and unfounded. The act, tailor-made to facilitate secession, presumes that a referendum in Quebec on secession excludes the participation of everyone except Quebecers, and on terms which leave the defence of federalism to the impotent leader of the opposition and a No umbrella committee controlled by Quebec politicians. The prime minister of Canada has no business intruding.
But, as the Supreme Court of Canada found in its 1998 decision on the secession of Quebec, the whole process is unconstitutional unless it abides by four principles. One of those principles is the rule of law. But another, constantly neglected in discussions, is the principle of federalism. The partition of Canada does not concern only the residents of Quebec, it concerns the rights of all the citizens of Canada. Both houses of Parliament and well as the governments of the provinces must have their say.
That, shocking as it might seem to nationalists, is liberal democracy, under the rule of law.
William Johnson is a Quebec journalist and a former president of Alliance Quebec.

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