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Assessment for Quebecois in Canada

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Quebecois in Canada, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Canada Facts
Area:    9,970,610 sq. km.
Capital:    Ottawa
Total Population:    30,675,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Although there has been militant activity by the Québéçois in the past, it seems unlikely that this strategy will be employed in the near future. Moreover the group does not display the general risk factors associated with future protest, e.g. political or cultural restrictions, repression, and regime instability. But the fact that political action has helped the province gain its current extensive degree of autonomy reinforces its continued use. The politicians who lead the Québéçois political parties find it in their best interest to continue to press for more power vis-a-vis the Ottawa government and to make the case to Québéçois that the province would be better off on its own. As Quebec continues to perform well economically, the confidence of the Québéçois in their ability to survive as an independent country could also grow – leading to greater protest. In particular, the Quebec nationalist elite believes, with some justification, that a sovereign Quebec could expect to negotiate status within NAFTA and the Free Trade Area for the Americas. In 1995 a referendum in Quebec that would have begun the process of separation was only narrowly defeated. Currently, support for separatism is low, and in January of 2001, the charismatic Premier of Quebec Lucien Bouchard resigned in part because he felt the Parti Québéçois had become too concerned only with pure Québéçois – meaning the white decendents of people from France. Charges of racism have always plagued the Quebecois nationalist movement, and it was a reason for Bouchard's resignation.

Moreover the Canadian government has changed its tone when dealing with Quebec, becoming more assertive about the costs of separation. The issue of constitutional reform remains open but is a major cause of resentment within many of Canada's other provinces – especially the western provinces – as well as among Quebec's English-speakers, indigenous peoples, and growing numbers of non-Francophone immigrants. The increasing number of non-French speakers in Quebec who chafe under the province's language laws thus is likely to be a focal point in upcoming debates. What impact these cross-currents will have on the future of Quebec politics is uncertain, but it seems likely that they are diluting the group cohesion that would be necessary for a sustained push for independence. At the same time there is growing sentiment in the rest of Canada that if Quebec continues to insist on independence or more asymmetrical advantages, then good riddance. This reduces the likelihood that the Ottawa government will offer major new concessions, and also reduces the already-slight chance that coercion might be used or threatened to forestall Quebec's secession.

Analytic Summary

French-speakers have lived in Quebec since 1608. In 1763, after France's loss in war to Britain, the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally ceding to Britain virtually all of New France east of the Mississippi, including Quebec. After a failed attempt to assimilate the inhabitants of Quebec into an English-speaking colony, Britain granted the full retention of their French-speaking culture and legal system, in effect recognizing the colony's distinctiveness. In 1791, the British Parliament passed an act splitting its holdings in Canada into English-speaking Upper Canada (later to become Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) which remained French-speaking. In 1837, French-speaking Quebeckers unsuccessfully rebelled against Britain in response to a policy of anglicanization. In 1840 Britain imposed its Act of Union, under which Quebec was joined with the rest of Canada. In 1867, the British North America Act founded Canada, including Quebec, as an independent nation with continuing ties to the British Crown.

Quebec is Canada's largest province and is comprised mainly (around 70-75%) by the Québéçois (GROUPCON = 3), descendants of the original French population who arrived beginning in the early 17th century (TRADITN = 1). Compared to the rest of English-speaking, predominantly Protestant Canada, the Québéçois have a different language (LANG = 1) and religion (BELIEF = 1). Many Québéçois believe that control over their destiny has been denied since the defeat of the French by the British in 1763 (AUTON = 1). As a result, there have been tensions in Canada over Quebec's future within or outside of Canada. These tensions are reinforced by the strength of the Québéçois identity (COHESX9 = 5), the failed attempts to devise constitutional arrangements that satisfy the Québéçois, and the constant attention the constitutional issue receives in Quebec and throughout the rest of Canada.

The Québéçois do not face demographic disadvantages (DEMSTR00 = 0) or any political or economic discrimination (POLDIS03 = 0, ECODIS03 = 0). They encounter no cultural discrimination. The group is also not subject to any form of government repression. Prior to the 1960s the French-speaking population was marginalized economically in Canada. It was thought that the French were mostly rural, backwards people who had no interest in business. Additionally, business was done in English, which prevented many entrepreneurial Québéçois from participating. In the 1960s the Quebec government invested in Quebec companies, and gave the French business community the confidence and resources to compete with their English-speaking counterparts. Now many Quebec companies, such as Bombardier, compete globally.

While not all Québéçois seek an independent Quebec, a strong separatist movement (SEPX = 3) has existed since the early 1960s and the "Quiet Revolution" of Quebec nationalism, led by then-Premier Jean Lesage. The majority of the Québéçois support one or more of the three organizations that represent their interests. At the provincial level, the separatist party is the Parti Québéçois (PQ). Another party advocating Québéçois issues at the provincial level is the Parti Action Democratique. At the federal level, the Québéçois are represented by the Bloc Québéçois (BQ). Both the PQ and BQ have enjoyed electoral success with the BQ becoming the Official Opposition from 1993-1997, and the PQ becoming the ruling party in Quebec on numerous occasions, including at present. Beyond (or short of) separatism, these groups call for a new relationship between the rest of Canada and Quebec. Asymmetrical federalism is a term used to describe the increased powers many Québéçois politicians hope to achieve. The protection of the French language and culture are also extremely important to the group. France is the only country that has historically supported the Québéçois but the French government is constrained to tread lightly so as to avoid offending the Canadian government.

With the awakening of Quebec nationalism in the 1960s came increased political action (PROT60X = 2). Protest increased and in 1970 escalated to terrorist activity and an assassination (REBEL70X = 2) by the now defunct Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ). The Canadian government responded by enacting the War Measures Act, briefly suspending civil liberties and some basic freedoms. Since that time there have been no subsequent acts of violence and, while always present, protest is almost always small in scale (PROT03 = 1).

In 1982, Canada passed the Constitution Act which repatriated Canada's Constitution from Britain which contained 2 major innovations: a bill of rights and a mechanism for amending the Constitution. All of Canada's provinces except Quebec approved and the Constitution went into effect over Quebec's objections. Quebec demanded widespread powers not granted in the new Constitution, particularly in the sensitive education and immigration areas as well as its traditional veto over key constitutional changes. Despite several attempts to make concessions to Quebec in order to get it to approve the 1982 Constitution, these issues remain outstanding.


Lamont, Lansing Breakup: The Coming End of Canada and the Stakes for America, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994.

Louder, Dean L. & Eric Waddell eds. French America: Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience Across the Continent, Translated by Franklin Philip, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Press, 1993.

Keesings, 1990 to 1995.

Lexis/Nexis: 1990 to 2003.

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