Canada’s Supreme Court QUestions Quebec’s right to secede

Tim Nichols

OTTAWA (AP) — Opening a historic, high-risk court case, the federal government argued Monday before the Supreme Court that neither Canadian nor international law gives Quebec the right to secede unilaterally.
Quebec’s separatist government is boycotting the case, contending that secession is a matter to be decided by voters — not judges.
“I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say there is a lot of tension in the air today,” the government’s lead lawyer, Yves Fortier, said in opening oral arguments.
The federal government initiated the case last year when it asked the Supreme Court to rule whether secession is legal under either Canadian or international law, and which would prevail if there was a conflict.
Fortier stressed that federal officials were not trying to outlaw secession attempts, but rather to set rules for them.
What the government is seeking is some assurance that Quebec could secede only after a decisive vote on a clear-cut referendum question and only after negotiations that involved the other provinces, as well as federal officials.
Fortier argued the only route to secession, under Canadian law, is a constitutional amendment — a process that would force Quebec to negotiate with Ottawa and the other provinces.
He also noted that virtually every new country to win recognition by the United Nations since 1945 has done so with the consent of its parent state. The main exceptions have been colonies breaking away from oppressive colonizers, he said.
Though Bouchard’s government is not participating in the case, the Supreme Court has appointed a lawyer, Andre Joli-Coeur, to argue the separatist side. In written briefs, he argued secession is a political matter that can’t be decided in court.
A dozen other parties have intervened in the case, nearly all to argue against the right of unilateral secession. These include Quebec’s main aboriginal groups, the Cree and Inuit, who say they would have a right to remain part of Canada if Quebec became independent.
Three of the nine Supreme Court justices are from Quebec, but all were appointed by federalist prime ministers. The court is expected to issue its ruling in four to six months.