Why Civil Disobedience?

William Johnson

Remarks by William Johnson to the Montreal Press Club
November 6, 1996
Le deuxième discours dans la série Perspicacité du 1996-1997.
Second of the 1996-1997 Insight series of talks

Robert Frank

J’aimerais vous souhaiter tous les bienvenus au Cercle des jounalistes de Montréal pour le deuxième discours de la série Perspicacité de l’année 96-97. Welcome to the second in the Montreal Press Club’s 1996 Insight series of talks, featuring prominent newsmakers.
Mon nom est Robert Frank, et j’ai le privilège de vous présenter notre invité ce soir, l’autheur et chroniqueur William Johnson. Mr. Johnson has prepared some remarks, after which he is prepared to respond to your questions.
Monsieur Johnson est bien connu comme champion d’un Canada uni et également comme un défenseur de droits égals pour tous les Québécois.
He was born into both of Canada’s founding minorities. His father was an Anglo-Quebecer; his mother a Franco-Ontarian, and he grew up perfectly bilingual in Montreal during the Great Depression.
A Jesuit-trained scholar who trained ten years for the priesthood, he developed some finely honed academic skills.
Au cours des années récentes, il a profité de ces capacités intellectuels pour identifier une thème d’anglophobie qui depuis des siècles s’est infiltrée toute dimension de la vie politique et academique du Québec. Regrettably, this anglophobia remains part of our life to this day.
Il a aussi à lui tout seul fait éclaté le mythe que le Québec serait un paradis, si seulement il peut rompre ses amarres au Canada.
Besides studying philosophy at Loyola and earning a master’s degree in French literature from University of Montreal, he studied sociology at University of Toronto and Berkeley, and went on to teach sociology at University of Manitoba and University of Toronto. He also published a study of ethnic relations at Great Whale River.
He has written several books. He’s co-author of Toute ma Vérité (published in English as The Informer.).
He wrote, in French, a history of the mythology of l’Anglais as the serpent in paradise, which appeared in 1991 under the title Anglophobie made in Québec. Three years later his book, A Canadian Myth: Quebec between Canada and the Illusion of Utopia, chronicled Quebec-Canada relations since the Quiet Revolution. Une version française de ce livre, Le mirage — revisé et mis a jour — a été publié en 1995.
And he is now preparing a biography of Lucien Bouchard for McLelland and Stewart. Perhaps we’ll get a preview tonight.He earned the National Newspaper Award for columns in 1987 and was a finalist in 1988 and 1990, and has been a member of the Order of Canada since 1982.
I first became aware of William Johnson when his incisive thoughts first leapt with unfamiliar candor off the pages of The Gazette, which he joined in 1987.
Soon afterward, I knew he had hit a nerve. Mes amis francophones se sont hérissé seule à la mention de son nom.
More evidence of the very different ways the two language groups see things in Quebec.
He remained The Gazette’s national affairs columnist until—as his biography puts it—he was ‘terminated’ on May 1st of this year, when he turned 65.
Mr. Johnson is also well-placed to provide us with some insight about the dynamics of how political issues are reported by the media.
But we can leave that for the question period.
When he agreed to the press club’s invitation to speak with us tonight, he suggested the topic: Why Civil Disobedience.
Then he added: That’s a statement, not a question.
I’m sure that this will make for an interesting discussion. Mr. Johnson?
William Johnson

I have come here today to incite you to non-violent civil disobedience—if there’s any problem hearing me please let me know—and to explain why I think the threat and the reality of civil disobedience are going to be important in Quebec over the next two, three or four years.
For those of you who are journalists and will be covering these events, I would like to help you understand—if it’s not too presumptuous—what we are up to.
I needn’t explain to this audience that non-violent civil disobedience is the classic instrument of the 20th century for politically powerless minorities who are convinced they have a just cause. Its efficacy, of course, was demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa and India, and by Martin Luther King in the United States.
I would distinguish three forms of civil disobedience. There is:
a. civil disobedience as a form of guerrilla theatre;
b. civil disobedience as warning or deterrent againstviolation of rights; and
c. civil disobedience as punishment for unjust treatment.
For examples of civil disobedience as guerrilla theatre, I would recall Don Donderi’s putting up a billboard in Pontiac County with English on it. As you know, that’s against the law. On a billboard, once you get up to a certain size, you can’t use any language other than French; and of course you can’t advertise in English away from the premises of your company. So, that’s a form of civil disobedience.
Then of course, and far more importantly, on Nov. 22—the day of the opening of the Parti Québécois convention—Howard Galganov is going to open up a store and he will put up equally-sized signs in English and in French: a flagrant violation of the law.
Now, both examples that I have just given have in common that they are meant to challenge a law so as to bring out the inequity of that law forcibly to the attention of the public, and draw people into thinking about the issues, talking about them and taking sides.
In other words, from being passive to being actively involved. You only do that if you’re very convinced that drawing them into this kind of a public debate and this sort of a polarization will turn people in your favour.
The two examples are somewhat different though, in that Don Donderi is mounting what is essentially a legal challenge. He’s convinced that that law or those regulations—under what was Bill86 and is now just part of the Charter of the French Language—is unconstitutional.
He wants to take it all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, and he is convinced that it is going to be struck down as incompatible with the Canadian Charter of Rights. So Donderi’s action is only partly guerrilla theatre. It’s also largely a legal challenge.
Galganov’s proposed action is closer to pure guerrilla theatre. His object is not so much to trigger a judgement by the Supreme Court of Canada. His object is to face the Quebec Government with the alternatives of recognizing that the law requiring two-for-one—that French should be twice as prominent as all other languages combined—should not and cannot be enforced, or the alternative is to put him in jail.His objective is to bring out the invidiousness of a law that allows the Quebec government to banish at will—just by changing the regulations—all other languages but French at any time on commercial signs, or to decide at its pleasure when and how much other languages may be used.
Galganov is saying that he will never accept the principle that freedom of speech is bestowed or withheld at the pleasure of the government. He will not accept it, and will dramatize his repudiation of that principle by flouting the law. Moreover, he cannot accept the particular application given to the law by present regulations that French must be twice as prominent as all other languages combined.
That is not a principle that defends the equal rights of all Quebecers. It is a policy of enforcing French domination over all other languages.
It is offensive in spirit and dangerous in principle. Once the principle is accepted that all other languages can be made small, can be restricted, can be curtailed, can be made impractical, where does it stop? It is a principle offensive to a liberal vision of society and to the convictions of humankind.I know some people say, ‘Why bother? The sign issue is only symbolic.’ As Don MacPherson wrote, he doesn’t care what signs are on the wall of a restaurant as long as it serves good coffee. I would suggest that he understands nothing about the defence of civil rights and civil liberties.
In fact, in Quebec, where we have—remember still—two official languages, French and English, once you accept symbolically the principle that English has no legitimacy; that it can be banished from sight at will; that it can be minimized today and restored tomorrow and banished tomorrow or the day after; then you have opened the way to all the removal of rights that are contained in current program of the Parti Québécois.
I won’t go into them, but to give you only one example: one of their proposals is that the PQ government will admit to university—any university—only those who have la pleine maîtrise du français. As you know, there is a whole arsenal of restrictions and disallowances in the PQ program.Once you accept the principle that English can be in that way diminished and rendered visibly, for symbolic reasons unequal, how can you later take a stand, for example, against francisation imposed on enterprises with 10-50 employees, which now appears to be in the works.
In the matter of rights and liberties, the best defence is at the symbolic frontier. The best defence is when the principle of restrictions and inequality is first raised. Once you have allowed the enemy to penetrate your territory at the frontier, you are in a very weakened position to defend the heartland.Some have called Don Donderi, Howard Galganov and others “pit bulls”—Don Macpherson again. This illustrates the kind of newspeak that is current in Quebec. A pit bull is an attack dog.
Donderi’s sign, Galganov’s signs, bite absolutely no one. No one will be hurt by their actions, except possibly themselves if they get hauled off to jail.
That’s why I call their action guerrilla theatre: its struggle takes place on the terrain of ideas and principles and solidarities, not physical confrontation or brute force.
The second order of civil disobedience is that which aims at warning and deterrence. I would propose as an example the resolution that was passed Monday by the municipal council of Côte St. Luc that, if the Quebec government calls a referendum aimed at secession, Côte St-Luc will hold its own referendum in advance of R-day to consult is citizens on remaining part of Canada.
This is not yet civil disobedience. The resolution is not. But it warns everybody that, if Quebec tries to secede in violation of the constitution, Côte St-Luc will withdraw its allegiance from the Quebec government. It will no longer recognize an outlaw regime and will refuse to obey its laws. That is meant, above all, as a warning and a deterrent.
The third order of civil disobedience is that which aims at punishing the unjust regime. As an example, I would suggest that if the PQ government brings in a new Office de protection de la langue française, means should be taken to make it a very costly enterprise, for example by flooding the Office de protection with hundreds, even thousands of complaints, real and fictitious, of violations of the sign law. It would be very easy to take pictures of various (establishments) and have the pictures move around or whatever.
And if the government goes much further and brings in regulations to enforce francization la françisation on firms of 10-50 employees—remember that there are something like, if my memory is correct, there are about 3,500 firms with 50 or more employees, but there are about 40,000 firms with 10-50 employees—this would really hit the English community right at its base; at its economic base. It would be a sign for any number of English-speaking people and non-Francophones that there is no future for them in this province.
So if that is brought about by the PQ government, I believe that there should be an organized form of civil disobedience to resist the law, to deny its legitimacy, to make it costly and to punish the government, for instance by refusing to buy any Quebec government bonds.
I leave it up to the imagination of others to find ways to punish the Quebec government for this violation of our rights.
If, finally, the Quebec government calls another referendum aimed at unilateral secession, I have said publicly and I repeat it, I personally will refuse to pay any taxes to that government—and now I pay all my own taxes, now that I am a freelancer—
—I will call on others to do the same, and I will advocate a systematic boycott against the Quebec government, and against selected Quebec institutions and products. The resistance could go all the way to a general strike.
Now let me deal with the question that lies behind everything I have said so far: Why do it? Why practice civil disobedience against the Quebec government? I would give three reasons.The first is that we are not dealing in Quebec with pragmatic politics. We are dealing with an ideological movement that drives constantly towards a greater repression of English and a greater rejection of the authority of the federal government.We are dealing with an intégrisme. An intégriste régime. I mean, I grew up in Quebec under—I was for seven years, for example, at Jean de Brébœuf in the 1940s. We knew what intégrisme was. It meant that your whole environment, your whole life, should be structured by the Catholic church. So you didn’t go to the YMCA; you never put foot in a Protestant church, et cetera, et cetera. Integral. It should be whole. Wholly Catholic then. Wholly French now.
So we’re dealing with an intégrisme nourished by a myth of tribal anglophobia which tends inherently towards a sovereign French society. Until that is achieved, there is no logical point of equilibrium short of the total repression of English and the dismantling of the federal government.
Look at the history of the debate over language since 1960: it has seen a constant escalation in the actions to restrict, marginalize, ghettoize and give mere grandfatherly status to the English language in Quebec. If you want to see the future, look into the current program of the Parti Québécois.
We had alternations of a Liberal government bringing in restrictions; a Parti Québécois government bringing in more restrictions; the Liberal government coming back and defending the additional restrictions that have been introduced by the Parti Québécois and introducing more of their own.
Look, too, at the history of the demands for more powers by Quebec governments since 1960. There you will find that, from Jean Lesage on, every major leader started with relatively modest demands for more powers and each, in turn, escalated.
Some went all the way to demand independence. The Quebec Liberal government demands always more powers. Only once did it actually publish a complete list—the Allaire report—which, you will remember, left only four jurisdictions to the federal government, and included a demand that Quebec could secede at any time with six months notice.
That was the Liberals’ only definitive list of demands. I’m not sure whether it’s still the official policy of the Liberal party. But whatever it’s called, special status or whatever else, it will never remain une cocquille vide—an empty shell—but it’s always the basis to demand more powers. First you get the name and then you go for the game.
We cannot resist these threats to our rights by ordinary political action, because of our relatively small numbers; the concentration of English-speaking federalists, in particular, in a few ridings where their vote is vastly wasted; and because both major political parties vie with each other to attract the nationalist vote.
The trend towards the garroting of English and towards secession has progressed whether the party in power was the Liberals or the Parti Québécois. So we must take the classical instrument of resistance by politically weak minorities: civil disobedience. Thereby we can have an empowerment—the power of veto. The power of the ability to do harm—and we can defend ourselves against the confiscation of our rights.Secondly, civil disobedience is called for because, for the past three- and-a-half decades, a whole mystification has been propagated by the nationalists and remained unchallenged by the federalists. The sum of it is that it is legitimate to restrict English indefinitely and it is legitimate to secede unilaterally.
To overthrow the constitution is a right, as long as there has been a referendum preceding it. Secession, you will remember, is like the third period of a hockey game. In the first period, you elect the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa; in the second period you elect the Parti Québécois in Quebec City; and in the third period you secede, after a referendum.
The assumption—if you remember the last referendum campaign, the constant barrage was: ‘Oh, of course the Anglos and the rest of Canada will pout for awhile. What do you expect? We know they won’t like it. Ah, but they’ll soon think of their pocketbook, and the number of jobs involved. They’ll come around after a few weeks, and we’ll have a relatively cost-free secession.’
To that whole way of thinking. To that structure of mystification, the federalist response has been very weak. Either because the people who are responding had no clear vision of a liberal society—and I think that’s very true, particularly when I see people in the press; when I looked at what they wrote, I came to the conclusion that they really don’t understand.
They don’t understand what liberal society is. They accept restrictions on freedom of speech, for example, in the referendum law that certainly are going to be struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada because they are an affront to a free and democratic society. So that is one reason. The lack of a liberal culture in our society.
The second reason is that there is the fear of antagonizing. ‘What do you want? Do you want your country or do you want the ability to have signs in your language.’ Well: ‘Never mind the signs. We want the country.’
That kind of thinking—that you can buy peace by appeasement—has, I think, lain behind the constant concessions and lack of a firm, clear, reasoned response to the mystifications of the nationalists.
Third, we must resort to civil disobedience in order to accelerate the process of removing secessionism from its dominant position in Quebec’s political life.
Secessionism has always, from the start, relied on myth and misinformation. During the last referendum campaign, the mass publicity that was sent out there for everyone—that was out there on the streets, on the houses; for all to see—never dared mention the words secession, independence or even sovereignty. Just remember the mass mailings and so forth.
• Oui au camp du changement.
• OUIbec — on a le droit d’être différent.
• OUI, et ça devient possible.
Those were the three massive campaigns. Where is the suggestion of independence or secession?
And yet, on that basis—when he thought that he might get a bare 50 per cent plus one (vote) out of that wholly mendacious and misleading campaign—Parizeau said it this week, on Monday, when he was interviewed by Stephane Bureau: “I was going to carry through independence.” He was going to do it. I would suggest that was sheer madness. Sheer madness.
If the people of Quebec knew what will be the real price of secession, including the reduced geographical dimensions of Quebec, they would never agree to it. So we must bring home as soon as possible, in advance of any future referendum, some sense of what it would be like after, in the attempt to secede, by showing our determination to fight for our rights—that is by civil disobedience.
There will be just one thing that will deter Lucien Bouchard from holding a referendum on secession, and will deter the people of Quebec from ever voting for it: that is the demonstrated capacity by federalists to practice punitive civil disobedience, to withdraw allegiance from the Quebec government and to make a shambles of that government’s finances, not to speak of the economy.
We must not wait until after a referendum to let chaos take its course. We must demonstrate before any referendum that it will divide the society and the territory. It will pit citizens against citizens and arouse passions that no one can control and direct once they are unleashed.
The impoverishment of Montreal that has been progressive since 1977, is only a forecast of what would happen should Quebec attempt to secede unilaterally. We have to let Quebecers know the truth.
Secessionism is a dead-end. It is a fond illusion that has eroded Quebec’s society for three decades. Only civil disobedience will unmask the real destructiveness, the cul-de-sac, that secessionism is leading us to.
Then, finally—once it has been demystified and exposed—only then, as Guy Bertrand says so well, will Quebecers will realize that “On ne peut pas passer sa vie à vouloir se séparer. Il faut apprendre à vivre ensemble.”
If anyone has any questions; any denunciations…
QuestionCe qui me tracasse le plus à vivre à Montréal c’est pourquoi on n’a parlé du civil disobediance il y a 35 ans. Parce que la minute où les libéraux vont voir ça, à passer la loi sur la langue, ce n’est pas la langue que tous ces gens-là voulaient détruire, c’est la culture.
Parce qu’une langue—on travaille, on dors, on mange, on éduque nos enfants. C’est toute la culture. Donc, pourquoi toute notre communauté pendant 35 ans a appuyé au provincial et au fédéral des gouvernements qui tous les jours ont tué notre culture ?
Et là, quand on dit que Monsieur Chrétien fait rien, c’est parce qu’il n’a jamais prononcé que la culture anglophone est appuyé par des centaines de milliers francophones au Québec, qu’ils sont unilingue ou bilingue.
Mais ces francophones appuient ces vraies principes de liberté. Que ça soit la loi sur les écoles. Ce jour-là, moi j’ai été très choqué, étant sur un comité des parents, il y a 30 ans. Et je me suis dis, ‘Mais qu’est-ce qu’ils font dans le Québec. Ils ne voient pas que même dans la charte des Nations unies qu’elles soient respecté ou pas c’est pas l’agenda.
C’est écrit que, s’il y a assez de nombre, on doit avoir, en tant que parents, le droit d’envoyer des enfants dans des écoles. Ok? Ça, ce droit-là, on nous l’a enlevé pendant 30 ans. Et les gens de la presse comme vous, monsieur, si jamais on venait vous dire monsieur, ne parlez pas, niez pas de liberté, vous, vous aurez créer, il y a 30 ans, la révolution.
Parce que nous, les gens d’affaires et les femmes d’affaires dans mon business il fallait que je mets où Conseillers en voyage corporatif où pas Corporate travel consultants où j’allais en prison où je payais dix mille dollars. Donc, nous — les gens d’affaires de la ville de Montréal — on a eu nos droits fondamentaux bafoué, tué et étoffé depuis 30 ans et ce qui me choque (inaudible) …
William JohnsonJe pense que si vous rapportez au 1979 — non, pas 79; 74 — Robert Bourrassa a passé la loi 22 déclarant la langue française et non pas l’anglais (inaudible) et les allophones d’aller a l’école française.
Là, il y a vraiment un mouvement du ressac. Un mouvement de résistance. Un mouvement très fort, à ce moment-là. Mais quand il arrivait les élections de 76, beaucoup d’anglophones on appuyé le parti de l’Union nationale, parce que Rodrigue Biron, lui disait qu’il abolirait des tests, et cetera, il semblait ouvert au plein choix pour la langue d’instruction; la langue de l’école.
Mais là, tout à coup, deux choses sont arrivées. Le PQ est venu au pouvoir avec la loi 101, et puis c’était vraiment un coup de massue. Les gens étaient découragé et à tout à coup ils ont dit : ‘Ah ! C’était l’alternative que je t’ai présenté à plutôt. On va se fermer la bouche, parce qu’on a peur de perdre notre pays. On ne veut pas encourager le vote, un oui au referendum qui venait.’
Et là il y a eu cet exode massif de la province. Mais ensuite, je ne comprends pas pourquoi, après le referendum, pourquoi les gens sont resté dans la passivité. De même, dans ce moment-là, je me souviens que j’étais à Québec, le 1er avril 77, le jour où Camille Laurin a présenté son livre blanc sur la langue française, qui a déjà démontré la principe de la législation qui allait à venir, et j’ai parlé à John Ciaccia.
Je représentais le Globe and Mail à ce moment-là alors je me sentais un peu — j’étais pas chroniqueur, j’étais reporter — et j’ai dis ‘John, are you going to have massive demonstrations on Mount Royal and get out half a million people?’
‘(whispering) No, no, no, no, non, non, non, non.’
Alors, c’était l’attitude. Je me souviens d’avoir parlé à Alex Patterson, des stores McCall, qui m’avait invité pour un lunch, puis j’avait lui demandé : ‘Est-ce que vous êtes en faveur de deux langues officielles, que de l’anglais — (furtive look) ‘(whispers, cupping hand over mouth) Oui, on est en faveur, mais on n’ose pas de le dire.’
Alors, il a eu cette attitude d’aplatventrisme. Mais pour en revenir à votre conclusion, je suis absolument convaincu que c’est l’élite qui est intégriste. Que le peuple ne l’est pas.
Et c’est pour ça que le désobéissance civile, je pense, va susciter justement des prise de positions, et je suis convaincu que le peuple vont appuyé quand ils vont voir que nous avons de convictions, que nous sommes mêmes prêts aller en prison, parce que, quant à moi, par exemple, j’ai acheté un part de ce magasin avec Galganov, et tout les deux , nous avons dit la même chose.
Pardon ?



William Johnson

Ah, oui, oui. Absoluement. Oui.
Alors, là, pour démontrer que ça nous tiens à cœur, pour forcer la population à réfléchir à ces choses et à dire ‘Nous, qu’est-ce qu’on pensait à ces chose si l’on faisait ça à notre langue?’
Alors je suis convaincu que nous allons gagner par ce moyens. Je m’excuse, c’est trop longue une réponse.
Any other questions?

William Johnson

Also because of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights. Under the Quebec Charter, you can’t lay someone off for age.


…Conrad Black?
William Johnson

I have to confess that I have a very good arrangement. I write one column for The Gazette and one for The Financial Post.(inaudible) So I wouldn’t want to go back to writing a daily column. So please don’t write Conrad Black.

You said that there were other ways than a legal challenge but Galganov’s is a legal challenge…
William Johnson

Don Donderi — did you miss the beginning of my talk?

William Johnson

Oh. Well, because Don Donderi is going for the court route, because his intention is to get to court and win. But that’s not Howard Galganov’s objective, and that’s not a strong enough objective.

Isn’t it going to end up in court anyway?
William Johnson

But it’s going to end up in court in such a way that Galganov is going to refuse to pay a fine so he presumably will have to go to jail, or the government is going to have to admit that it can’t enforce the law.
And there are going to be others who are going to go to jail, as well. So it’s intended to hit at the conscience of the people of Quebec. So it goes way beyond the law, way beyond the courts.

William Johnson

There are legal dimension and there are political dimensions, and we have to go at this at the level where it is.
It’s an intégrisme. It’s a vision of society, which views that English is not legitimate in Quebec. And that being part of a minority which is not English-speaking is illegitimate.
We have to attack that. You can’t attack that in court. Not nearly. You have to go much further. That’s why I think that civil disobedience is called for. There are different actions that can bring out and force different issues to a solution.
So no, I don’t think a legal challenge would suffice. Yes?

William Johnson

Tu souviens que, une semaine après, (inaudible) subit a une certaine confusion à propos de la légalité et la légitimité de la sécession.
Est-ce que vous allez tenir des audiences publiques, convoquer, par exemple, les cinq experts internationaux qui ont dit que le Québec n’a pas le droit de faire l’indépendance ; de faire la sécession ?
Il a dit : ‘C’est peut-être la réponse d’un avocat, mais quant à moi, si ce projet de loi est inconstitutionnel, ce n’est qu’un question technique que n’intéresse que les avocats. Pour moi, ce qui compte c’est la volonté du peuple du Québec.’
Alors, c’était une—je ne sais pas trop—c’était accepté à l’avance que toute le scénario ; la mise en scène du PQ indéfiniment. Donc, le PQ pouvait obtenir un referendum l’an dernier et puis ils failli à gagner, puis trois ans plus tard ils ont toujours à gagner.
Chrétien a fait la même chose. Quand Guy Bertrand est allé en cour, il a sommé Chrétien et Rock d’appuyer sa demande d’injonction. Tous les deux lui ont écrit un lettre poli disant ‘Non, non, non. Ce qui compte c’est la volonté du peuple du Québec’ Ils ont refusé.
Alors, il faut les actions — moi je ne pense pas qu’il suffit de s’abstenir. Parce que ils vont simplement dire ‘hein, on a un vote formidable. Regardez ça. On a 65 pour cent du vote.’Non. Ça ne suffit pas. Il faut vraiment quelque chose, une campagne de désobéissance civile totale.
Si le gouvernement convoque un autre referendum comme le dernier visant — où il prétend d’avoir le droit de faire une déclaration unilatérale — quant à moi, c’est désobéissance totale et je vais essayer d’amener le plus de gens que possible avec moi.
Je pense qu’on va avoir d’autres — et on va essayer tous les moyens pour emmerder le gouvernement y compris pour provoquer une crise de ses finances.
Et je pense qu’ils ne faut pas tellement de gens qui sont décidés pour pouvoir vraiment mettre les bâtons dans les roues du gouvernement. Ça il me semble sera beaucoup plus efficace que l’abstention.
Oui ?

A few weeks ago I had occasion to have a private meeting (inaudible) the question and said is that gibberish? Nobody can understand.
When we have 27 per cent of the Quebec population that is so illiterate that they can’t understand the instructions on a bottle of Aspirin? And you expect them to understand a complicated, convoluted question like that?
William Johnson

But you see, there again it’s the abdication of the federal government. And of course, the abdication of Daniel Johnson as leader of the opposition. They have legitimated an illegitimate process. They might partici—

(inaudible) the federal government.
William Johnson

You mean we have no government?

The way they’re carrying on.
William Johnson

Oh. Well I think that Chrétien is—Chrétien, to my mind, last year Chrétien and Rock were guilty of the greatest dereliction of duty in the entire history of this country. No prime minister has ever—
—and it was sheer complacency. Chrétien was so sure that he had it in the bag. That all he had to do was to say ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ and that he had everything under control.
But what I worried about at first—because I never expected at first the closeness of it—was not the referendum of 1995. I was concerned about the precedent.
What if we have Preston Manning as prime minister three or four years from now. Chrétien will have created the precedent.
As he kept saying, ‘Ask a clear question and I will recognize it.’ The prime minister doesn’t own the constitution. Not since 1982. We all own it. Every citizen owns it.
But Chrétien was saying ‘Sure, I’ll give away everyone’s rights. Just ask a clear question.’ He had no right to do that. It was a terrible dereliction.

William Johnson

Since the 82 Constitution Act, parents who have received instruction in English in Canada have a right to send their children to English schools, so that probably puts limits on what the government can do.
However, the constitution, as the courts have found, also gives the official language minorities the right to control their schools. We don’t have that in Quebec, because we still have religious boards and the government is delinquent.
Yes but you’re right. You’re right. I can think of no protection for college.

William Johnson

That’s right. And, as you know, in the program of the Parti Québécois, they want to bring in the same restrictions that now apply to elementary schools and secondary schools, that is to say, you would have to have a certificat d’eligibilité to bring that as a condition for attending an English-language CEGEP.
And then, as I mentioned before, to me a much more frightening thing—if they ever were crazy enough to try and implement it—is the requirement that everyone must have la pleine maîtrise du français —the full mastery of French—to enter university.
I mean, at Bishop’s, more than half the students are from outside Quebec, and they come largely to learn French. At McGill, I think it’s something like 29-30 per cent. If you already have to have had full mastery of French to get into universities, our university system will be decapitated.
QuestionIf they require mastery of French, aren’t the French universities going to be affected just as badly?
William Johnson

Yes, of course.

William Johnson

I can’t give a simple answer to your question, so excuse me if I take a little bit of—

William Johnson

Ok. As far as I’m concerned, secessionism is illegitimate. That’s why almost every country in the world rules it absolutely out of the political sphere.
Why? Because democracy, as it has developed, means the government of the people by the people. But the people means the whole people.
As soon as you start saying ‘Ah, but we’ll have a little section of the people here, and they can hold a referendum and they can secede’, then you can never agree on who is entitled to vote in that thing; on the conditions; or whatever.
So most countries have the wisdom, I would say—as opposed to us, who are extraordinarily naïve and innocent in the most negative sense—they realize that once you put something like secessionism into the political life, you inject that into the political life then you have total opposition.
It polarizes and drives every other issue off the table. It’s a matter of life and death. And then you don’t have accommodation afterward. Usually you have people fighting, including with guns.
So, to my mind, secessionism is totally illegitimate in principle. Now, we have so undermined that concept, it has been so legitimized by our muddy-headed politicians and media people, that of course if 90 per cent of Quebecers were really insistent on leaving the federation, then of course we’d have to find a way of doing it.
But raising that hypothesis is like saying ‘What if men had four legs?’ Will they then be allowed to walk out of the federation?

William Johnson

Now wait a minute. Wait a minute now. Let me finish because it’s a complex question that you’ve posed.
The fact is, in the real world, you have the question of whether you want to be in the federation or not, and then the second dimension is the intensity.
Now, all the polls have shown that Quebecers, in the majority, their direction is not for secession. But it is for pressuring and bargaining and blackmail. Ok. The intensity is not there. There are very few people who are really intractable Parizeaus. Very, very few people.
So the very premise of your question is betraying the reality in this country. The reality in this country is that if people realized what the real meaning of secessionism is, they will turn away from it.
But we’ve had this conspiracy of—on the one hand and I use the term not as people getting together but I mean this convergence of deliberate miscommunication on the part of the nationalists and a total lack of appropriate response on the part of the federalists.
So this idea has grown that if you have 50 per cent plus one who merely the sum total of the vote is for some who really want secession and for others who just really want to say in your face ‘Fuck you!’ to English-speaking Canada, and others who just simply want to give a greater bargaining position to their government that will justify secession.
So to come back to your question, of course, in the unreal world, if 90 per cent want both direction and strength, of course we’ll find a way, but we’re not there, and it’s sort of like if you have a plaster on your wrist. If you have total support, as you had in referenda in the ex-Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. If you rip the thing off in one stroke and it’s clean, you can do things.
It’s when you’re stuck in that middle position, where you can’t move forward and you can’t move backward, where you delegitimate the constitution, like if there were slightly more than 50 per cent, and then people say this constitution is no longer valid, I’m not bound by it but you can’t go to secession because you know that the people don’t want it; it’s not what they want.
Then, in that middle ground you plunge us into chaos. That’s what you’ve got to deal with. Not the hypothetical case that on Mars there’s 90 per cent that want to.
The reality of what secessionism—where it’s so equally divided, so equally balanced—then you start giving equal legitimacy as Charles Taylor, Greta Chambers and others have done, and recently the Italian leaders signed, saying ‘Federalism is legitimate. Secessionism is legitimate. Anything in between is legitimate.’
So you have (pause while tape is turned over) because you have delegitimated the system. If federalism is no more legitimate then secessionism, then anyone who leads has power, and that’s when you have the use of force, because there are no rules that you can depend on, you have no arbiter who can tell you ‘These are your rights and these are not your rights. You can do this or you can’t.’ That’s when people take up baseball bats, bicycle chains, guns and dynamite.
So I would suggest that you never again ask that question, but ask people who are for secession ‘What are you going to do when the constitution is delegitimated and we’re in a free-for-all because we’re in the law of the jungle?’
We’ve thrown out our law that we can accept—our constitution —but we have nothing else to resolve our disputes.
Yes, Carlos?

William Johnson

I presume there are several journalists in this room who could give you a response to what you are saying.

I had one question. It seems to me that there are two issues here. We are kind of mixing up apples and oranges.
One is English rights, as they are being eroded, by various governments, Liberal and—as you pointed out—the Parti Québécois.
The other is separatism. One sea change that I think has probably occurred since the last referendum is that the Anglo community, in Montreal anyway, is finally beginning to come to terms with the fact that it indeed is a minority and is finally coming to terms with that fact and is starting to act like one.
The problem is that subversion usually works better than confrontation. I think you can see, for a good example, look at French communities in places like Ontario and Saskatchewan who manage to get their own schools, their own tv stations, their own this, their own that, by simply grinding the system.And as Anglos in Quebec, we aren’t used to that sort of role, of moling under and getting into things and doing stuff. We’ve always said, well, you know, ‘We’re here.’ That’s it.
I wonder whether—I mean I subscribe to your principles, I’m just not sure whether these methods are the best way to go.
William Johnson

You subscribe to my principles but I don’t subscribe to yours.

But I’m not going along with appeasement.
William Johnson

I don’t subscribe to yours.

I’m asking you, I’m not telling you.
William Johnson

No, no, no. No, no. You said ‘There are two separate issues. Let’s not mix apples and horses.’ No.
The French language—the status of the French language—and the ideal of secession are just simply two faces of the same coin.
They are all part of the same, mythical view that nous in Parizeau’s sense, we must—and I’ll fill in the blanks, we must—

William Johnson

No, no. My god. Read any of the nationalists. Same thing.

No, but I mean, what about everyone else? There are a whole lot of other reasonable people (inaudible)
William Johnson

The French language is more basic, and people can get much more incensed in Quebec when something happens, like for example some years ago in Alberta, when a member of the legislature, and NDP member whose name I have forgotten spoke in French and then he was censured for it. This— foooof—inflamed Quebec.
You can’t get quite the same passion for powers. But fundamentally, and certainly among the intellectual élite who are driving the whole nationalist movement, they are absolutely rooted in the same vision and the same mentality and the same assumptions and what fundamentally underlies it is anglophobia.
The view of English as corruption; as being alien, having no rights here; as being an existential threat—we’ll lose our values, we’ll lose our soul, we’ll lose our identity, we’ll lose our language.
So, to that extent, and, as Robert Frank who introduced me said earlier, an image that I use is that the Anglo is the serpent in paradise. It was the serpent who brought about the downfall of the Eden of New France and that prevents now Francophones from having their own country where all their own laws can be passed to regulate every language but French.

How widely-held do you think that view is? Can you give us a percentage? Is it twenty—
William Johnson

Again, as I said before, that takes a very complex answer. Now I’m going to go somewhere else for a moment and tell you what I’m talking—

William Johnson

No, no.
To answer your question, in 1966, I spent three weeks marching through Mississippi. And then I began to understand how the attitudes of the nice people—the good people, the moderates—is absolutely hand-in-glove with the attitude of the extremists who hang people. Who shoot people. Who beat people up.
In other words, you can’t understand a society’s systematic oppression of a minority, in that case blacks—and of course it was infinitely worse than what we have here—you can’t understand the extremes unless you understand the middle, and so you answer ‘What percentage?’
You have everyone who is taught in the schools to think tribally. To think of the Anglos. To think of it—as Lucien Bouchard wrote when he was editor of le Carabin at Laval—he said that we were taught that no matter how many battles we won, we always lost in the end.
And history was always fighting against this gold-toothed capitalist who was trying to take away our rights. Everyone was taught that way. We all were. We all were.
But then, what effect does it have throughout life? Well, for most people, they live with it, they sort of have a sense of humour, they feel it, but not totally.
But then you have those who in the arts; in the humanities—the artists—and they live these myths. They make novels with them. They make plays. They make songs—Alouette en colère—and so forth.
So you can’t give a simple answer of how many, because it is everyone who is infected, but everyone is infected to a lesser degree.
The real extremists are a small percentage. But all those others who have attitudes that foster the extremists or that the extremists depend upon allow them to prosper and thrive and do what they’re doing and be elected and run on a secessionist platform in this society.That is, in general. Yes?

I just had a thought in answer to (the previous) question. (The questioner has) made a lot of assumptions. (He assumes) that people living in society—
William Johnson

Read the charter of rights: those are individual rights.

I don’t feel that I have to act as though I am a minority or act as anything other than as a free man living in a free country.I don’t want the imposition of my geographic placement in this country to be some kind of burden that I have to carry so that I have to act in such a way as to be kind to my provincial government to make everybody else, especially tribalists, happy.
William Johnson

That is what is implicit in (the previous) question.

That’s not what I have been suggesting at all.
William Johnson

You were.

When you talk about the English in Montreal and in Quebec as one big demographic—I’ll get to my question. One very important difference is—
William Johnson

Can we argue about this at the bar later?

Well since you brought it up I thought we should—
William Johnson

No! I think what you’re saying—I don’t know about you but I think what he’s saying and what you’re saying is totally pertinent.

I think that part of what you’re saying is a view that—and I hope that I’m not prejudging you—but it’s a view that a lot of Anglophones hold and have held and have argued about on a constant basis for 25 years.
This is what has led us to the present mess that we are in. It’s the view that we get from a lot of Anglophones and I’ve just heard from you.
The English minority in this province did a hell of a lot for itself. It built its own hospitals. It doesn’t have to answer to ‘The English here didn’t do anything. They didn’t get involved.’
No. The English here were building their own institutions, and whereas you have been saying that Francophone minorities outside of Quebec have benefited greatly from federal government tax dollars and handouts from the have provinces, so I really think the apples and horses that you’re raising have no understanding of the minorities—

If I may be—

However, if I can get off of that soapbox for a second.
You asked. I figured I was allowed my comeback.
Recently Stephen Scott, McGill constitutional law professor, said that Quebec federalists—both English and French—who vote for the Quebec Liberal party, deserve to lose their country. They deserve to lose the value of their investments. They deserve everything that they get as a consequence.
William Johnson

Before coming to answer your question, I’d like to make a couple of other comments about what you said.
You made the comparison with Francophones from other provinces. But in other provinces, there is not a tribal mythology which views the Francophones in that province as an existential threat.
Let me be circumlocuitous again and talk about the film LéoLau. I don’t know if you saw it but it won all kinds of awards. By Léo Lauzon.
At the beginning of that film there is a boy and his brother, who is a little bit bigger, and they go and they go and pick up used newspapers and they sell it to a fishmonger who wraps fish in it. He pays them. And there’s an Anglo who comes along and slaps them in the face and says ‘This is my territory. I don’t ever want to see you here again.’
Then you see scenes later, the brother is now a brute who spends all his time working up his constitution. He’s huge, he’s got muscles like this, and spends all his time doing push-ups and he can do them on one hand or one finger or whatever.
And then they’re walking together, LéoLau with his big brother—his huge brother—and they meet the same Anglo again. And the Anglo comes up to them, slaps the big brother in the face, and the guy just crumbles in a heap.
Now the reason that I bring that out is that the brother—his constitution was never strong enough against the threat. The threat out there. He had to get bigger. Stronger. The constitution had to give more strength. More power against the Anglo. The Anglo who has this magical power to destroy.
That is the mentality in French Quebec. We never will have a constitution strong enough to protect us, because we’re helpless. We’re going to disappear. We’re only one per cent in all of North America. We’re a little drop in this ocean. Et cetera.
There’s no equivalent to that. There’s no equivalent to this mythology which drives people to repress. To repress the internal enemy.
Secondly, why go underground? Why not go above ground on these principles? I mean, this underground stuff, in my mind— by deviousness? by wheedling? by pleading?
That’s useless when dealing with an ideology. You don’t deal with an ideology the way you deal with a pragmatic movement.
With a pragmatic movement, you split the difference. You walk away, and one side is not fully happy, and (the other side is) not fully. But with an ideological movement, every time you show weakness and concessions, you strengthen the movement.
Now to come to your answer, the Liberal party, for at least a number of years, has suffocated federalism in Quebec. We’ve had an out- and-out forward—except for on the myths—but on the question of secession we know where the Parti Québécois stands. They’re for it.
The Liberal party skates all over the place. Resorts to things like the distinct society. What does the distinct society mean? No one can define it. It’s whatever. But we must have a distinct society.
The Liberal party is, to my mind, the greatest threat to our rights. Why? Because it’s supposedly our friend.
Because it’s our ‘My god, they’re going to protect us against those wicked péquistes, against the separatists, so we’ve got to cling to that Liberal party.’
And as long as we’re are a captive constituency that the Liberal party takes for granted ‘Well, they’ve got to vote for us.’ So they don’t have to give any concessions. So they then compete for the nationalist vote with the Parti Québécois.
That’s the cycle that has brought us closer and closer and closer to secession and closer and closer and closer to losing all our rights.
So the Liberal party has to be split or the leader has to be changed or something. But right now, the Liberal party is very, very much part of the problem.

Well I’ve got a very simple question. What alternative do we federalists have?
William Johnson

Ah. I don’t know. I’m in anguish about that. There’s the Equality party, but the Equality party carries around with it the stinking corpse of that screwloose cannon, Richard Can’tholdit? Is that his name?

He’s joined the Parti Québécois.
William Johnson

Not the same. And then there’s the fact that it’s seen in the press as a party of Anglophones. It has been defending liberalism and has stood for the right things for several years, but until it or some other party can attract Francophones on a really federalist platform—not the kind of dishonest blackmail that the Liberal party has progressed—we’re in deep trouble.
So I don’t know what the answer is.

Is it time that we have some federalist party (inaudible) a purely federalist party—
William Johson

That’s Equality—

—in other words, which is in favour of the federation as it stands.
William Johnson

Yes. I’m in favour of that.
But I think that we all would have to admit that that party has to have a strong Francophone component. That’s what has been lacking so far.
That’s one reason—when I took the Unity Train to Quebec on the 30th of October, I wasn’t too enamoured by that whole idea because I feel that it displaces the whole thing. It suggests that if we’re lovey- dovey enough and if we say ‘We love you!’ that things will be solved.
But I went for one reason. Partly because I admire the people who are organizing it, but I wanted to see what Guy Bertrand had. Because he would be speaking at the other end. I wanted to see whether he could bring out a crowd. Whether he could get that crowd aroused.
I think that he is standing for the right things. He didn’t turn out as many people as I had hoped, and I was disappointed. So, I’m hoping that over the next few months something will emerge where—perhaps out of Bertrand’s movement either directly as a party or fusion or something.
But Bertrand understands that we have to talk federalism. Unconditional federalism. Talk of the advantages of federalism. And we can never expect that from the Quebec Liberal party or from the Parti Québécois.

Can we cut to the chase? Can we not just get down to the economic situation?
Quebec is floundering. Our infrastructure is 32 years behind everyone else’s. New Brunswick is smokin’ us. North Carolina looks good.
I think this is going to be the theme for us, and if the rest of Quebec doesn’t pick up the pace, and Montreal is the main engine, then it has got to get out, and if we have to go Quebec West, then we’re into real stasis mode and yatta yatta yatta.
William Johnson

I think, just as a comment, on that, anyone who thinks of separating Montreal from the rest of Quebec other than in the course of an attempt of secession by the Quebec government is bringing us on a wild goose chase.
Because, if we surrender the constitution, what have we got left? And the constitution says that the only way that Quebec can lose a part of its territory is with the consent of the National Assembly. And that would never come.
So if you’re suggesting—I don’t know if you were—but if you were suggesting a secessionist movement apart from in the context of a Quebec government that tries to secede, I think that that would be mischievous. That would be destructive.
But you’re right about the economic situation, and I am hoping that when the economic summit focused on the economy that that brought home to a lot of Quebecers the harm that is being done.
But that isn’t enough, because we have two political parties that are pursuing the same nationalist line at different paces.
One is slower and the other is faster.
We have to somehow break through that, and that is why I suggest civil disobedience. To precipitate and accelerate the kind of debates that would take place anyway.

You never really said anything about the federal government role in the English community (inaudible) but we have solutions and we have options (inaudible) Alliance Quebec I can tell you a few stories, as I helped to found the movement (inaudible) undercut culture and language recognition (inaudible) but I’m still there and am a member of the membership committee (inaudible) I would suggest that if you had a few hundred people coming in that (inaudible) the federal government would try very hard to ensure that (inaudible) is tranquilized. So we don’t have anyone speaking for us and we don’t—
William Johnson

There are two ways of looking at that. The federal government has been incredibly delinquent. True.
But there’s another way of looking at that. As one of (Chrétien’s) right-hand people told me: ‘You know, the Anglos in Quebec are such wimps, what do you expect? We can’t carry the ball by ourselves.’
So the fact that we have the Joan Frasers and the Greta Chambers and everyone else saying ‘We must make more concessions. Forget about B plan. We must have an A plan that will satisfy Quebecers.’ You know it’s no wonder that Ottawa—the federal government—didn’t support any stronger action.
So we have to have—as there have been—various movements springing up here and there. Even Alliance Quebec is more militant than it was.
I still don’t have a great deal of regard (for them), though. I mean, having that rally on the Friday before October 30th was insane. All it did was bring about a comparison with the previous year. And Alliance Quebec was sponsoring two events. The Friday rally and the train to Quebec City.
You know, with a limited amount of energy and money, you might chose one. I don’t thing that either of them was well thought-through. But to sponsor two is contradictory.
So Alliance Quebec is really a problem. It was a bigger problem. I think that Gerry Wiener has brought a lot more respectability to it. And you might be right that perhaps it might be worth trying to invest—to take by storm—Alliance Quebec. Ahhh. What a thought!
Question (inaudible)
William Johnson

Yes. Let’s figure—there are two moments. On January 15th, 1990—I think it was the 15th, or the 16th or the 17th—before (Chrétien) announced that he was going for the leadership—he gave a highly- wrought, highly worked-out speech at the University of Ottawa law faculty which I attended, and it was straight ‘No Meech if it’s going to mean a threat to individual liberties.’ Et cetera, et cetera.
Trudeau could have written it. Trudeau could have given it. So to that extent, he was against Meech.
But during the campaign, you started to see stories surface—in Le Devoir, for example—that Chrétien hopes he might be the saviour of Meech. If you know Deborah Coyne—whom I know very well or if you’ve read her book—what was it called? Roll the Dice—she talks about the pressures that Chrétien, through emissaries, was putting on Clyde Wells to accept Meech.
And during the week of the conference he was certainly working behind the scenes and got Sharon Carstairs to accept the proposal, and I’m absolutely convinced that Sharon Carstairs would be premier of Manitoba today, if she hadn’t buckled and crumbled at that moment.
And then, after that week-long conference at the beginning of June, for the rest of the time until his choice as leader, which I think was the 23rd of June, silence. Not a word. He never said a word. He ran away from it. So Chrétien played a double game. He did.

You opened the door by mentioning Joan Fraser a moment ago.
William Johnson


Can you tell us what the effect of her tenure has been on political reporting in Quebec?
William Johnson

Joan Fraser’s attitude?

Her tenure.
William Johnson

Well, personally, I see it as a total disaster.

So does everybody else. (applause)
William Johnson

Why? Because there was really no forum—I mean we had Alliance Quebec, but Alliance Quebec was taking largely its cues from Joan Fraser.
Someone who worked for Alliance Quebec—McGuiness, who was later involved in a leak in—anyway, McGuiness, who was working for Alliance Quebec said that one day they had the press release all ready. It had been printed out. It was ready to go and there appeared an editorial—you know, whatever it was—of appeasement, and they scrapped the press release and rewrote it.
So Joan Fraser was in a key role at a key time when there was no major Anglo leader in Quebec. There was no political leader. No one in cabinet in Ottawa. No one in the—well, part of the time there were people in the cabinet. There was Mulroney.
Mulroney who in December of 1986, a couple of weeks before the Supreme Court, the caucus of the Conservatives had passed a resolution that they backed French unilingualism.
They were opposed to the bill that Bourassa was going to bring in to allow English in signs. And you had Marcel Masse come in to Montreal and hold a press conference and say ‘Pas de recul.’
Then you had Mulroney come in two days later. That was on a Sunday. Then Mulroney on the Tuesday, on CKAC, taking up the separatist’s line ‘Pas de recul pour le français.’
And then, of course, there was a nice little ‘Tut, tut’ in The Gazette
Well, Bourassa then backed down. I mean, if the chief Anglo political spokesman wanted unilingualism, who was he to oppose it?
So, Joan Fraser had enormous influence, and her attitudes were constantly ‘We must appease, we must be nice, we must understand.’ She had no vision of a liberal society and no vision of defending rights.
In the last referendum campaign, for example, we had Guy Bertrand who wanted to speak. The Special Committee on Canadian Unity wanted to inject into the campaign the fact of constitutionality.
This had to be faced, when what was being suggested was a unilateral declaration of independence. The no committee prevented them from speaking, wouldn’t give them any money or permission, and the law allows that—it’s a vicious law.
They had to go to court and they finally got a ruling so that on the Wednesday before the 30th of October, finally, Guy Bertrand spoke.
Now, if that was not a clear, total violation of freedom of speech and freedom of association—it’s incredible.
Did The Gazette back freedom of association and freedom of speech?
No! They ridiculed these guys: ‘Who are these guys, coming in with this crazy notion?’
So, there was no concept, while she was editor-in-chief, of freedom of speech, freedom of association, of the primacy of the constitution.
For her it was clear. There’s a right to secede. Unconditionally.There was no saying there’s a right to secede as long as you take your share of the debt. As long et cetera, et cetera. No, no. Right to secede. Period.
So I think that her impact was really disastrous.
People really believed that these extremists—and she was an extremist when one says the constitution doesn’t matter then you are an extremist—these extremists held the forum and they defined the moderates like myself, who say the constitution counts—you have to go by the constitution—we were termed the extremists and marginalized.
So the Joan Frasers and Don MacPhersons were constantly asked to come on Le Point and Le Point média—I myself, for example, was systematically excluded.
Never once, during the whole Meech episode was I ever asked to come on CBC radio or CBC television and one time, during the conference in June 1990, when they were in the last stage conference on Meech, someone called up wanting to speak to someone from our Quebec bureau.
‘Well, that person’s over at the conference.’ \
‘Who’s speaking?’
‘Bill Johnson’
‘Oh, maybe you’d do it. We want someone to go on tomorrow morning with Lysiane Gagnon.’
This was CBC radio.
So he said ‘I’ll phone you back.’ Well, about a half an hour later ‘Oh, I’m sorry, it was a mistake. We’ve got Allan Freeman. It was systematic—

William Johnson

Why? Because I’m an ‘extremist’. I’m an ‘extremist’. That was part of the influence of the Chamberlains—the Chambers—
—the Charles Taylors, the Joan Frasers.
They marginalized the people who stood for classical, Western liberalism. Who are in the centre of it.
Not who are in the extreme in one way or another. Who are in the centre of classical Western liberalism, which defends the primacy of the individual and the right to free speech.
We were marginalized. We were considered as kooks. As people—

It wasn’t you who was marginalized. It was the English community that was marginalized by the Joan Frasers, et cetera, et cetera.
William Johnson

Amen! Amen! Meech affected, more than any other group in this country, the English-speaking people of Quebec.
Why? The distinct society—the right to promote the distinct society— meant the right to restrict English. We were under the gun.
Yet we were made totally irrelevant during that whole period of Meech. For three years, no one ever referred to the 800,000 English-speaking people of Quebec, because she had said ‘We accept it.’

She had spoken.
William Johnson

She had spoken. Alliance Quebec said ‘We will make a leap of faith.’ So from then on we were on the shelf. No one cared.
The Franco-Ontarians took a stand. They said ‘No, no. Not Meech, unless et cetera.’
But the Anglo-Quebecers were totally out of that discussion.

But Alliance Quebec is owned by the federal government. They bankroll them.
William Johnson


How does the national media allow that to happen? Are they that stupid?
William Johnson

It’s a form of political correctness.
I don’t know how you can work it out—but because the 1982 patriation was done over the objection of the National Assembly, the rest of the country felt:
a. kind of guilty and felt ‘We did something wrong’; and b. ‘if we only get this through, then Quebec will be back in theconstitution (sic) and all will be well.’
They didn’t understand that Meech was to be Meech One. It was to be the first round. I mean [Quebec Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Gil] Rémillard said it clearly.
This was to be simply the basis for the total transformation of the constitution in the later round.

William Johnson

The problem with a new party is, which party?
There is an Equality party. I know Danny Gravel from the Outaouais is in the process of working up a new party. He’s someone I don’t trust at all.
You know, we can have 15 new parties. And then what you have done is you simply have fragmented any kind of strong federalist movement. So you have to be very careful about a new party.
There is an Equality party that has stood for good principles. Now, is it possible to have something that will strengthen the Equality party or transform what is the Equality party into another party that can have strong Francophone support.
That’s to be desired. But simply to think ‘Well, let’s form a new party.’ That’s a very dangerous—

William Johnson

I don’t have much hope or confidence in the one-for-one convincing approach.
I think that the mythology of separatism and of nationalism is so strong—it is such a lens through which one sees events—that I think that the only root that can change the situation is a very strong disobedience campaign or several campaigns.
I think that when people understand that the price is high, then most people are not highly motivated. They won’t want to pay the price. They’re not Balts. They’re not Slovenians. They’re not Estonians wanting to even-up the cost of a very sharp drop of a standard of living to be independent. You don’t have that in Quebec.
So I think we have to raise the stakes. And the best, shortest, quickest way to raise the stakes is a very well-calculated civil disobedience campaign.

William Johnson

Je l’espère. Et c’est la-dessus que je vais écrire ma chronique pour vendredi dans le Gazette. À Hampstead.

William Johnson

Oh. Je ne sais pas. Je n’avais pas remarqué. C’est dommage.

William Johnson

Stephen Scott has written texts about this. He has given talks about this. And his position is this: that—clearly—there is no right in Canadian law or international law for Quebec to secede.
If Quebec—and he entertains the possibility that was raised by someone—yes we could consider secession, but Canada will set the terms. And he argues that as part of those terms clearly all the cessions of 1898, that you were talking about, and 1912 —the two thirds of the province that is north would not be part of the post- secessionist Quebec. Nor would some other parts.
So I don’t think you need go into an analysis of the terms of the cession and say ‘Was this conditional?’ or ‘Was this unconditional?’ The fact is that if Quebec tries to something that is unjustified in international law and Canadian law, it has no rights. It has no rights of secession.
So the terms, if Canada grants secession—and under certain circumstances it well might—would clearly be such as to protect the rights of the Inuit, who held a referendum where they voted 96 per cent or 95 per cent in favour of remaining in Canada.
The Cree voted 96 or 95 per cent again. The Montagnais voted 99 per cent.
The Mohawks didn’t hold a referendum, but I don’t think that anyone has any illusion that the Mohawks will go gently into the night.

William Johnson

I think the chances of violence if Quebec were to announce a unilateral declaration of independence would be very, very high. And for all sorts of reasons.
You see, if you think ‘Do they have the right to go or are we going to use the army to stop them?’ If you think in those black and white terms, that’s not the real world.
Imagine if you say, ‘Ok. You can go.’ But we have to negotiate it. For example, there is this huge $650 billion debt that Canada has. Not Quebec.
Is Quebec going to be walking away from that? You know, Parizeau was saying ‘No, no. We’ll pay 17 per cent of the interest. But not one penny on the capital.
So forever—for thousands of years if the world lasts that long—Canada would be held hostage. Parizeau also said ‘And of course, if you don’t come to terms, we’ll withhold the cheques. Even for the interest.’
Now this would be a crushing burden on all the rest of the country.
To lose 25 per cent of the population but still have the same debt and be the only one liable for it. The Quebec government would not be, under international law.
How would you resolve that? You couldn’t.
Secondly the question of frontiers has—Connor Cruise O’Brian wrote, right after the referendum:
‘Put it to international arbitration. Ask a panel of international experts about the rights of the Cree. They’ll tell them that the Cree have a right to stay within Canada.’
Quebec still—when it publishes maps of Quebec—at the Labrador border, you see a jagged line, not a solid line. They don’t accept the frontier there.
Why? They put ‘La ligne du Conseil privé du 1927.’ In 1927, the top court of that day established the frontier of Quebec along that line. Quebec has always contested that.
There’s no other court. There’s no court beyond it.
So, on this rather remote area, not central in population or anything else, they still have not accepted that line. How are they going to be able to accept to lose the lands of the Inuit, of the Cree, of the Montagnais and of the Mohawks?And all, probably, of the Outaouais?
That’s why I think that violence will be inevitable.
Because you can like the principal of a clean break, but you can’t negotiate a clean break, and the Quebec government will never sign an agreement that the people of Quebec would repudiate.
And the people of Quebec will never sign an agreement that impoverishes them, because they would lose James Bay. They would lose the hydroelectric (power generated there) and they would be forced into a huge debt with a starting-up country that has to create an army; has to create embassies; has all these costs.
There is no solution.
That is why the countries that rule out secession as a legitimate ante or a legitimate issue in public debate are wise. They know that you come to intractable contradictions.
Thank you so much.
Robert Frank

I would like to thank you, Mr. Johnson, for speaking to us tonight.
It has been an extremely engaging evening. I can tell just by the questions and by the response of the people here tonight that you have really provoked a lot thought and have given us a great deal to contemplate in terms of what action we consider on an individual basis in the future.
On behalf of the Montreal Press Club, I’d really like to thank you for appearing tonight, and I am sure that everybody has appreciated all of your comments.
Jeanne Erlewyn

Mr. Johnson, on behalf of the Montreal Press Club, we would like to make you an honourary member.
William Johnson

Does that mean I get free drinks?
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