On Human Rights in Quebec

John Humphrey’s long career in human rights did not only look towards the international stage, it also focused on what he believed were violations within the province of Quebec. John Humphrey was a staunch supporter of federalism in Canada and actively worked to undermine the separatist movement in Quebec. The groups with which he surrounded himself tell the tale of a man very concerned over the future of Quebec.

 

Alliance Quebec

In 1982, Humphrey joined Alliance Quebec, a provincial political organization. He sought to raise awareness of violations against linguistic rights in Quebec and promoted a broader Canadian culture in the province. Alliance Quebec was a group that sprang up after Quebec’s first referendum in 1980.[1] Its raison d’être was to defend Anglophones against language legislation as well as improve Anglophone accessibility to schools, medical, and social services.[2]He was appointed honourary director of their fundraising campaign in 1982[3] and donated money to the party when he could. In March 1985, he became a patron of the organization, joining a list of other notable Quebecers like George Allison, Peter Blaikie, Roy Heenan, Hugh MacLennan, Alan A. MacNaughton, Stephen Molson, and many others.[4] His presence boosted the reputation of the organization and put international credibility behind it.

In a letter to John Humphrey dated March 24 1986, the President of the Campaign Committee Bruce McNiven said, “Whatever government is in power, the English-speaking community will need an organization where it can identify its concerns, establish its priorities and see its views promoted in a firm but moderate fashion. Your continued support is an encouraging sign of our collective will to participate fully in Quebec life.”[5] With Humphrey’s continual membership, it is clear that he agreed.

 

Chateauguay Valley English-Speaking Peoples Association

In 1989, he consulted with the Chateauguay Valley English-Speaking Peoples Association (CVESPA), who wanted to approach the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations about their concerns over Bill 101 and Bill 178. The CVESPA was a group with similar intentions as Alliance Quebec and were staunchly federalist. Bill 101, also called the Charter of the French Language, was the 1977 legislation which made it mandatory for most children in Quebec to attend French language schools and “made French the only legal medium of communications for businesses and government.”[6] Bill 178 was introduced by the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa in 1988 to amend Bill 101. It ensured that “public signs and posters and commercial advertising, outside or intended for the public outside, shall be solely in French.”[7] The Supreme Court overruled this law, but the provincial government voided their decision by enacting the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Constitution.[8] These were the threats Humphrey was actively working against by associating himself with the CVESPA and Alliance Quebec. In a newsletter pamphlet sent to members dated April 1993, the CVESPA said that Humphrey “suggested that any appeal [to the UN] should be made under the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under the protocol, signed by Canada, an individual citizen (not a group) may submit an appeal to the Human Rights Committee, when he has permanently suffered a violation of his individual rights.”[9] The group called the language law “A Racist Law” and said that the federal parties’ low-key rhetoric on the issue was a “Betrayal”. What was clear is that Humphrey was a highly sought after expert on the topic, with his experience as the Director of the UN Human Rights Division for twenty  years as well as his work on the International Bill of Rights.

John Humphrey, through these two organizations, was actively working to build a social movement against separatism in the province as well as against the language laws he believed were infringing upon human rights. He acted on those worries in other ways too.

 

Humphrey in his Own Words

On Tuesday September 26 1989, Humphrey wrote “I voted yesterday for the candidate of the Equality Party in the constituency of D’Arcy McGee, who was one of the 4 members of the party elected. I am not too upset by the related success of the Parti Quebecois. Not everyone who voted for the PQ wants independence in Quebec.”[10] By February 28 1990, however, he was less optimistic. “Will Canada survive its present crisis?” he asked, “I am particularly concerned about [Liberal Premier] Bourassa’s reference on a new national

for Quebec. That obviously means independence.”[11] He went on to also express concern over Ontario municipalities which rejected “any kind of bilingualism”, fearing the fabric of the nation was tearing apart. Much of his diary after this concerns itself with the nationalist question and his worries over the rights of the minority English population within the province.

In 1980, John Humphrey gave a speech to the graduating class and alumni of Acadia University entitled Another Road to Serfdom.[12] In it, he outlined the worrying trends of human rights in Canada. He said a great many people were confused about rights, especially the difference between collective and economic and social rights. He believed some people think individual rights were dangerous and they understood collective or group rights as “rights of the nation or of some other group, or, dare I say, tribal rights.” He was specifically referring to Quebec here. He continued: “they often mean, to put it very bluntly, the rights of the majority, the right for example of the majority to impose its language on a historic minority, as in Quebec or, indeed – let us be honest about this – in other Canadian provinces as well… if a nation can impose its language on a historic linguistic minority, why not also impose its religion? The principle is the same.” He believed that when two categories of rights come into conflict, it “is a far cry [to] say that collective rights are more important than individual rights,” and they should not be given priority. Naturally, he cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to prove that the international community was not in disagreement with him.

In a lecture to Bishop’s College School on November 8 1989 entitled Human Rights in Canada, Humphrey did not hold back his thoughts on the matter. He said, “the future of this country, Canada, is in jeopardy.”[13] It was not only Quebec’s fault this time, but Canada’s as well. He proclaimed that Canada’s elected officials “do not seem to understand – or if they do understand they do not care about – what basic human rights and fundamental freedoms really are.” He lashed out at the politicians who took part in the failed Meech Lake agreement, saying they “carved out for themselves and their own political advantage a constitutional pie and thereby gave themselves increased powers under a proposed new constitution. The Canadian people were never consulted. These politicians now argue in defence of their action that the rights of collectivists… are more important than and take precedence over the rights of individual men and women.” He then asked: “Have they ever read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?” “I am ashamed by what is happening in my country,” he continued, citing Meech Lake and Quebec’s language laws, as well as growing anti-Quebec sentiment in the rest of Canada.

 

His Impact

Humphrey just wanted a Canada that could get along from coast to coast to coast and protect individual rights. The issue of rights is one that still resonates in our sensitive political climate today. The long-term impact of Humphrey’s work is hard to judge. Alliance Quebec eventually disbanded after failing to achieve their social goals and due to the infiltration of more radical members,[14] and the CVESPA’s campaign against the language laws did not result in any changes. Bill 101 is still around, and Bill 178 remained the law of the land until the Notwithstanding Clause expired five years later and was not renewed.[15] The decision to let the law go was not at all impacted by any meaningful action by the UN, despite what Humphrey may have hoped. For this reason, it is easier to see John Humphrey as a token spokesman for human rights in Quebec at the time because of his international stature, but his prior achievements did not contribute to the long-term protection of minority rights in Quebec.

 

Endnotes

[1] Gary Caldwell, “Alliance Quebec,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/alliance-quebec/ (accessed March 31, 2014).

[2]Ibid.

[3]Letter from Mr. Bruce McNiven to Dr. John P. Humphrey, O.C., November 13, 1982, Alliance Quebec 1982-1992, box 1, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[4] Letter from Allan R. Berezny to Dr. John P. Humphrey, O.C., March 21, 1985, Alliance Quebec 1982-1992, box 1, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[5] Letter from Mr. Bruce McNiven to Dr. John P. Humphrey, O.C., March 24, 1986, Alliance Quebec 1982-1992, box 1, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[6] J.M. Bumsted, The Peoples of Canada: A Post-Confederation History (Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press, 2008), 546.

[7] R. Hudon, “Bill 178,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/bill-178/ (accessed March 31, 2014).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Summary of the President’s Report on the Decision of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations Regarding Bill 101/178  by Maurice J. King, April 1993, Chateauguay Valley Association 1989-1993, box 1, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[10] Diary 1989-1994, September 26 1989, Unpublished Diary 1989-1994, box 4, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[11] Diary 1989-1994, February 28 1990, Unpublished Diary 1989-1994, box 4, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill Archives.

[12] Another Road to Serfdom, Spring 1980, Speeches, box 2, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[13] Lecture to Bishop’s College School, November 8 1989, box 2, John Peter Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[14] Gary Caldwell, “Alliance Quebec,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/alliance-quebec/ (accessed March 31, 2014).

[15] R. Hudon, “Bill 178,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/bill-178/ (accessed March 31, 2014).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s