Canada

Fifty years after the October Crisis, Quebec still occupies a special place in the national identity

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This was deeply contradictory for Canada, in which national unity was brokered rather than won on the battlefield. “We French, we English, never lost our civil war, / endure it still, a bloodless civil bore,” wrote the poet Earle Birney in 1962. “No wounded lying about, no Whitman wanted. / It’s only by our lack of ghosts we’re haunted.”

That’s the kind of thinking that jinxes peace. Sure enough, a few years later, Canadian history stopped being so boring. Today, Canada has been haunted for half a century by Laporte’s body in the trunk of a car at a Montreal airport.

No province plays such a role in constitutional law, as the exception, the outlier, the dissident, the holdout, the special case.

A cabinet minister taken from his home and murdered. A diplomat’s kidnappers given safe passage to Cuba, on the far side of a civilizational Cold War wall. The failure of insurrection before it began in earnest. Fifty years of uncertainty about how and whether Quebec fits with the rest of Canada.

The 50th anniversary of the October Crisis is a chance to reflect on the challenges to that special place Quebec occupies in the national identity, through the prism of this rare moment of violent extremism. How is Quebec still special?

No province plays such a role in constitutional law, as the exception, the outlier, the dissident, the holdout, the special case.

As the home of one of Canada’s founding peoples, Quebec seems to be, in the words of University of Toronto political scientist Peter Russell, commenting in a 2011 essay on the reasoning of Supreme Court judges, “not a province like the rest, and should not have its powers or place in Confederation altered without the consent of its government. In the face of Canadian history going back to Confederation, that is not an easy principle to deny.”

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