Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come described a Parti Quebecois politician as “ridiculous” and “fascist” for suggesting that aboriginal people who don’t respect an independent Quebec would be dealt with swiftly and harshly by police and the courts.
Jacques Brassard, the PQ MNA for Lac-St-Jean, warned in a recent Globe and Mail report that a sovereign Quebec government would have to “maintain order with the means of a modern state. That means laws, courts and police forces, which are also institutions and instruments of a state.”
Brassard also described the government response during the Oka crisis of 1990 as “weak,” and warned that a 78-day standoff with natives wouldn’t be tolerated in a sovereign Quebec.
“It’s scary and fascist,” responded Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come. “If Quebec separates illegally and then Crees refuse to respect the illegal laws of an illegal state, they want to put us in jail? That is ridiculous,” he told The Nation.
“We have the right to choose whether we will go with Canada, go alone or go with Quebec.”
Coon Come said the PQ is trying to show it will be in control if Quebec separates. “If there are any insurrections, they have to be seen to be in effective control so they get international recognition,” he said. If Crees don’t accept an independent Quebec, added Coon Come, “we would have a classic example of fundamental violations of human rights, which
would make it hard for other states to recognize Quebec.”
Brassard’s comments are only the latest chapter in a furour ignited by federal Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin when he said Quebec First Nations could remain in Canada if Quebec decides unilaterally to separate from Canada. The Bloc Québécois, PQ and Quebec Liberals all united against Irwin’s comment, insisting that Quebec’s borders would remain the same if Quebecers vote to separate from Canada.
Irwin’s comment met with a positive response from Coon Come, who has been pressuring Ottawa for months to take a stand on the rights of First Nations within Quebec. “We welcomed it. It’s long overdue for the federal government to make a statement about aboriginal peoples because Canada has a fiduciary obligation and a constitutional responsibility,” he said.
But Coon Come added that Irwin’s statement also led to “a kind of uncertainty.” Irwin only spoke about the possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence by Quebec without holding a referendum. Coon Come said such a declaration would be illegal under international law and under the Canadian constitution, and would give Crees “the legal right to resist.”
Irwin didn’t address what would happen to First Nations if Quebecers voted to separate in a referendum and then entered into talks with Ottawa about separation.