On October 5, 1970, the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped UK Trade Commissioner James Cross. Many call this the beginning of the October Crisis, but that is like saying the attacks on September 11, 2001 were the beginning of US trouble with islamic nations. It is a whitewash of history and ignores all the things that Canada and the US did for years before each event happened. (I will be making the October Crisis / 911 comparison again later.)
Canada’s white occupationist history begins with the landing of Jacques Cartier, continues with the first French settlements, the Hudson’s Bay company and many other events that are too numerous to mention. The key moment in the history of the October Crisis happened in 1760, when the British took over the French colony (read: seized control by force), beginning 210 years of English domination of the country.
Canada is often officially referred to as “The Dominion of Canada”, but the dominionism of Canada might be a better title considering what the English did to the First Nations people and to the French. Over the next two centuries, English was the only official language, the one predominantly used in government, law, policing, schools, courts, commerce and anywhere else. French might well have been eradicated if not for the will of French speakers to preserve their language.
This is the first of five parts on the October Crisis. There is more below the fold.
Prior to the 1960s, employment, trade and education was usually only in English, and monolingual French speakers were excluded. The discriminatory “Civil Service Act” of 1918 made English the only language of government business and required it for employment. In 1961, Quebec premier Jean Lesage created Office de la langue française (French Language Office) with the intent of promoting and mandating the French language in the province. This was the beginning of the thirty year “Quiet Revolution”, and “Quebec Inc.”, the promotion of Quebec owned and French speaking businesses.
A law mandating French as the province’s only official language was passed in September 1968, and in 1969 Bill 63 was enacted which guaranteed parents the right to choose the language in which their children studied. [Segment removed until I correct myself and get a better source. Apologies.]
But even though opportunities were improving and their language and culture being protected, it wasn’t enough to assauge the most extreme voices who wanted Quebec’s sovereignty. Meddling foreigners didn’t help matters.
Charles de Gaulle officially visited Quebec for the World Exposition of 1967. Unofficially (depending on who is speaking) he was there to promote Quebec independence – not because he cared, but because he wanted Quebec’s uranium for France’s nuclear program, outside of Canada’s (Ottawa’s) control. (France’s first nuclear reactor opened in 1962.) de Gaulle visited Montreal’s city hall on July 24 and gave one of the twentieth century’s most poorly thought out and inflammatory speeches:
“Vive Montréal! Vive le Québec! Vive le Québec libre! Vive, vive, vive le Canada français! Et vive la France!” (“Long live Montreal! Long live Quebec! Long live free Quebec! Long live, long live, long live French Canada! And long live France!”)
To quote Amnesty International’s 2009 Report (report2009.amnesty.org):
“De fait, nous sommes assis sur une poudrière d’inégalités, d’injustice et d’insécurité qui est sur le point d’exploser.” (“In other words: we are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode.”)
de Gaulle likely didn’t know he was igniting a bomb. But had he known, I suspect he would have done it anyway.