Can Quebec go its own way? The court challenge will last one week
Published Monday, March 20, 2017 7:53PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 20, 2017 9:18PM EDT
A generation after legislation was approved the court challenge to Quebec's law regarding separation is finally being heard in court.
The provincial law known as Bill 99 was the response of Premier Lucien Bouchard's Parti Quebecois government to the federal Clarity Act.
The federal law spells out the conditions under which Ottawa will negotiate with any province that wants to secede, and mandates a "clear majority" vote in favour of a clear question on separation.
The Clarity Act also specifies that a constitutional amendment would be required for any province to secede, and that negotiations would include everything from the borders of the province to the division of assets and liabilities.
Quebec's law known as Bill 99 rejects that idea, and says that Quebec alone has the right to determine if a question on separation is valid, and that a result of 50 percent plus one would be sufficient to declare independence.
Quebec's law was passed in December 2000, six months after the federal Clarity Act was approved.
Keith Henderson, the former leader of the now-defunct Equality Party, launched a legal challenge to Bill 99 in 2001, and it's been a long battle ever since. It took six years for Quebec's Court of Appeal to rule that Henderson was even allowed to challenge the law.
Since then a host of legal battles and health problems have delayed the case, which is being heard in Quebec Superior Court.
Henderson's argument is that Canada's Constitution determines the rule of law for the entire country, while a referendum should only be valid if it abides by clear rules and regulations.
"This is for the future of the country so that the court will have said clearly what the rules of the game are should it happen in 10, 20, or 30 years. Should it never happen we still have clarity from our judiciary," said Henderson.
He says it is unfair to Canadians in the rest of the country for any province to have a unilateral right to secede.
"What that means is Quebec doesn't decide all by itself, alone. It means that Canadians have a right to weigh in and have their word on the future of their own country, which I regard as perfectly normal," said Henderson.
He added that Bill 99, as it stands, could also permit aboriginal territories, or even neighbourhoods, to secede from Quebec.
"Once you open Pandora's box this way, a lot of strange things emerge," said Henderson.
On Sunday a plethora of well-known separatists rallied in support of Bill 99, including the bill's author Joseph Facal.
Lawyers for the Attorney General of Canada and the Societé St. Jean Baptiste are expected to present arguments in court.
The hearing is scheduled to take a week.