Chandigarh, September 22
Amid deteriorating diplomatic relations between India and Canada, BJP vice-president Baijayant Panda on Wednesday made an interesting tongue-in-cheek remark that attracted attention of people towards a relatively lesser-known issue in India—the Quebec independence movement.
Panda’s elaborate statement, suggesting that in “spirit of friendship with Canada”, India must consider “facilitating an online referendum on the Quebec independence in gratitude for their allowing Khalistani separatists to try the same on Canadian soil” followed the shocking comment by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, linking India with the killing of Khalistan supporter Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
The Quebec freedom movement, also known as the Quebec sovereignty movement, aims to achieve the independence of Quebec from Canada. Supporters of the movement (based on the idea of Quebec nationalism) believe that Quebec will be able to do a lot better for its economic, social, ecological and cultural development if it was not a part of Canada.
What Jay Panda said
According to the BJP leader, “in the spirit of friendship with Canada, we in India must consider facilitating an online referendum on the Quebec independence issue (in gratitude for their allowing Khalistani separatists to try the same on Canadian soil).
“Perhaps we should also offer Indian soil for the Quebec independence movement’s events commemorating their sacrifices, bombings and assassination attempts (again, just like Canada has been so considerate to allow for the Khalistanis).
“This would also embellish the spirit of free speech so cherished in both our nations and would help clarify the increasing support for an independent Quebec (as reported in media earlier this year).
“Finally, since elected Canadian politicians who support Quebec independence have been travelling and meeting European leaders, we should also meet and understand their views. In the spirit of Indo-Canadian friendship and cooperation, I would be glad to host an interaction for them here in Delhi.”
Quebec—Québec in French
Quebec (Québec in French) is one of the 13 provinces and territories of Canada.
It is also the largest province by area and the second-largest by population. The official language of Quebec is French with Québécois French being the regional variety.
According to Britannica (English-language general encyclopaedia), Quebec is “one of the oldest cities in Canada—having celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008”.
“Quebec city has a distinct old-world character and charm.
“It is the only remaining walled city in North America north of Mexico and was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.
“Among its other distinguishing characteristics are its narrow cobblestone streets, stone buildings, fortifications, and rich French Canadian culture grounded in the French language.”
Quebec also has one of the world's largest reserves of fresh water, occupying 12% of its surface and representing 3% of the world's renewable fresh water.
Quebec—Canada’s Francophone-majority province
Quebec is also the only Francophone-majority province.
According to Lingodia (an online language school), people who are fluent in French are commonly referred to as “Francophones”.
“With a population of 67 million, France has the largest number of French speakers in the world. It is also the country of origin of the language, and the country most commonly associated with French.
“Congo, or the DRC as it is also known, is the second most French-speaking country with an estimated 37 million people, followed by Canada and Cameroon with 10 and 9 million respectively.
“French is recognised as an official language in 29 countries around the world. Most of the French-speaking countries are part of La Francophonie and many of them are former French colonies. Some of these countries, like Canada, have more than one official language. As a result, French is not especially the first language of all these countries.”
However, most of Quebec is predominantly French.
In the 1970s, Quebec’s provincial legislature passed bills declaring French as the province’s official language. A mandate was issued to establish French-language schools for immigrants and required the use of the French language in the workplace. “Though francophone residents of Quebec were happy with the new laws, the English-speaking and other Quebeckers and the rest of the Canadians were not that pleased,” according to reports.
Canada, a former French colony
Permanent French settlement began in Canada around 1608 and for the next 150 years, Canada remained a French colony. Around the 1760s, the British attacked Canada and defeated France. Following this Canada was divided into Upper Canada (British) and Lower Canada (French), now called Quebec. In 1867, Canada was united with the British North America Act.
According to Britannica, the sense of nationalism among French Canadians resulted from economic and social changes in Quebec. Before 1890s, the people of Quebec mostly thrived on agriculture and seasonal work in the timber trade but with development, education and modernisation, things changed.
For decades now people of Quebec have been asking for a separate nation.
“There have been two referendums, the second of which Canada won only by a margin of around 54,000 votes.
“The objective of the largely non-violent political movement (mouvement souverainiste du Québec in French) is to achieve the independence of Quebec from Canada. Quebec sovereigntists believe that a sovereign Quebec nation will be “better equipped to promote its own economic, social, ecological and cultural development”, according to reports.
Trudeau and support for Khalistan separatists
Canada has been a long-time supporter of Khalistani separatists.
Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, refused India’s request for the extradition of Talwinder Singh Parmar, chief of Babbar Khalsa, who later went on to plan the Air India Kanishka bombing in which 329 passengers, including 268 Canadian nationals, were killed.
“Both father and son gained politically due to their support to Khalistan sympathisers. This time also, Justin Trudeau is playing vote bank politics to keep the political support to remain in power.
“At the height of the farmers' movement he expressed concern about the farmers camped on the outskirts of Delhi in a protest against farm reforms. At that time also, India summoned Canada’s ambassador and ticked him off for interfering in domestic affairs hurting bilateral ties between the two countries,” explain observers.
The fact is Trudeau is currently facing “near-unprecedented” rates of disapproval due to issues like high housing and living cost, inflation and related issues in his country.
Heading a minority government, Trudeau needs the support of NDP headed by Jagmeet Singh ‘Jimmy’ Dhaliwal to survive. The New Democratic Party won 24 seats in 2021, making it critical for the survival of the Trudeau government.
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