Making Sense of Quebec and Canada’s Ocean of Confusion: the Clarity Act
In 2000, the federal government made an attempt to respond to the matter of confusion in referendums dealing with the secession of a province from Canada through the Clarity Act, in response to previous events in Quebec. The aim of this paper is to further explore the Clarity Act and examine its influence over potential upcoming referendums in Quebec over the matter of secession. In order to do so, this essay will first draw attention on the origins of the Clarity Act; next, it will consider the purpose and goal of the act; furthermore, this paper will deliberate on the reactions obtained in response to the Clarity Act of 2000.
The accumulation of prior events in Quebec dealing with the sovereignty movement and the responses from the federal eventually led to the creation of the Clarity Act in 2000. The outcome of the 1995 referendum in Quebec concerning the issue of sovereignty demonstrated a split in view from Quebec’s population. Indeed, the margin of difference between the two options was slim to nearly none by just over one percent (Toope, 1999, p.520). For years, the idea of Quebec’s sovereignty was left at that, simply an idea; the two referendums of 1980 and 1995 would transform the notion of sovereignty into an increasingly conceivable possibility. Thus, the federal government had to address the sovereignty matter in Quebec.
In result of this situation, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien raised hypothetical questions to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997 concerning the constitutional legitimacy of a unilateral declaration of independence in Quebec (Malcolmson & Myers, 2009, p.32). The first one questioned the legality of a unilateral secession of Quebec from Canada under the Canadian constitution; the next addressed whether international law accorded Quebec the right to self-determine its secession; finally, the third would ask whether Canadian constitutional law or international law would have priority in the case of a unilateral secession of Quebec from Canada (Toope, 1999, p.521).
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled its decision on the matter in the following year, in 1998. The judgement on the hypothetical case stated that Quebec could not unilaterally secede under Canadian constitution and that international law would not recognize Quebec’s unilateral secession because its population was not considered to be oppressed by the rest of Canada (Philippas, 2012). In addition, the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada would maintain that, in the case of a “clear” majority in favour of a “clear” question concerning a referendum on sovereignty, the political actors concerned would have the obligation to begin negotiations with Quebec (Dion, et al., 2000, p.22). Ironically, the question of clarity in the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada is what remained puzzling and subject of debate. With the former ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, the determination of...