Origins of The Special Committee

The Special Committee for Canadian Unity was the brainchild of Stephen Scott and grandfather of the Unity Movement that sprang up during and after the ‘95 referendum. The SCCU was non-partisan, in that it accepted membership from any organization or individual that shared its aims. Those aims included the stated preference for an indivisible Canada, the establishment by the Courts that a Quebec UDI was unconstitutional, and the territorial division of Quebec in the event of negotiated secession. In December of 1994, the Special Committee requested that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the matter of secession, before the referendum expected that fall. In February 1995 Prime Minister Chrétien refused. In January ‘95, the Special Committee conducted a press conference on Jacques Parizeau’s UDI intentions contained in the Draft Bill on the Sovereignty of Quebec. The Special Committee announced, in the words of the Toronto Star, that “many Quebecers …won’t comply with this unconstitutional and illegal law” and that the Committee would be taking the Draft Bill to court. In separatist circles, the press conference provoked no small degree of consternation. Separatist Ed Bantey opened the charge by suggesting that Special Committee Founder Stephen Scott be dismissal from his McGill law faculty job.

The ’95 Referendum

In the summer of 1995, The Special Committee asked the head of the Quebec Liberal Party for permission to form what under the Quebec Referendum Act is called an “affiliated group.” The concept of an “affiliated group” was introduced into the law before the 1980 referendum to allow people who favoured the YES or the NO, but for reasons different from the main committees, to organize and spend money legally. The Special Committee wanted to raise three issues during the ’95 campaign, that 50% + 1 in a Quebec-only referendum was not sufficient to begin negotiating the break-up of Canada, that the Parizeau Draft Bill on the Sovereignty of Quebec was illegal and unconstitutional, and that if Canada was divisible, so was Quebec, i.e. the price of Quebec’s independence would be the partition of the province. The answer of the executive committee of the NO, made up of representatives of the Quebec Liberal Party, the federal Liberal Party, and the federal Conservatives, was simple — NO. The Special Committee was forced to go to court to defend its right to free speech during a campaign on the future of the country, a campaign which federalist weakness and equivocations nearly lost. Special Committee arguments, illegally suppressed by national and provincial federalists alike in 1995, now form the basis of the Supreme Court of Canada 1998 reference case and the subsequent Clarity Act.

The Moot Court Meeting

In early 1996, The Special Committee organized the Moot Court meeting at the McGill University Law Faculty. Two thousand people were in attandance. One commentator summarized the meeting’s impact as follows: "The event was an undeniable triumph and made a difference. That was because Prime Minister Chrétien watched it on French television. He had been unable to sleep due to jet lag after a trip to Asia. The arguments about the rule of law and partition sank in. He called William Johnson after the rally to personally tell him so. Two days after the rally, federal Justice Minister Allan Rock for the first time in thirty years talked about violations of the law in Quebec and said his department might get involved in some of the court cases under way. Then two days after that bombshell, Chrétien’s constitutional deputy, Stéphane Dion, talked about the possibility of partition, repeating the logic: 'If Canada is divisible, then so is Quebec.' The separatists were apoplectic and the Quebec press went into a frenzy…."


Staying Canadian Motions

One of the most effective strategies against a separatist UDI was the municipalities initiative, Stephen Scott’s brainchild, first successfully introduced by Pontiac county Mayor Denzil Spence. By dint of the superb grassroots efforts of the United Quebec Federalists, and despite the opposition of the region’s péquiste and Quebec Liberal mayors alike, Mayor Spence managed to get the Municipal Regional Council of the Pontiac to agree to a declaration stating that, in the event of a UDI, the Pontiac would remain in Canada. Twelve thousand people gathered on the slopes of Parliament Hill in June ’96 to celebrate the delivery of that declaration to the federal government, though no Liberal party officials were on hand to receive it. In August ’96 The Special Committee organized the first meeting of the Coalition for Canadian Unity, which adopted the municipalities initiative as its top priority. The movement spread to central and western Montreal, where it encountered the same initial hostility from elected officials that Denzil Spence had contended with in the Pontiac.

Nevertheless, by the fall of ’97, forty-three Quebec municipalities had adopted unity resolutions. Denzil Spence had crossed the Ottawa River and secured the endorsement of virtually all of eastern Ontario for a strong “Staying Canadian” position. Mayors and reeves representing nearly 1.5 million Ontario residents had lined up behind their fellow Canadians in Quebec. Today all these resolutions form part of the watershed 1998 Supreme Court reference case on Quebec secession.