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Night of the Long Knives: After 40 years, the scars still exist

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Tony Vaughn
Tony Vaughn
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The Night of the Long Knives, November 4-5, 1981, 40 years ago, marked the history of Quebec and Canada with a hot iron. “A day of anger and shame,” described in his memoirs René Levesque, then Prime Minister of Quebec. The night before, provincial premiers, in collusion with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had agreed to a compromise behind Quebec’s back. Dubbed the “Night of the Long Knives,” the event served as a spark plug for a constitutional crisis struggling to recover. Return to the genesis of the repatriation of the Constitution.

concrete consequences

“Politically, this is a very serious and important matter,” explains Patrick Tellon, a professor of law at Laval University who specializes in constitutional issues. “One people imposed their own statute on the other. It was Canada as a pact between two founding peoples that was broken. Added to this is also the absence of the consent of the aborigines in 1867 as in 1982.” From a legal point of view, this is the status quo for Quebec. However, he will have to deal with the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which will present Bill 101 with challenges that will weaken it. Quebec challenged the new constitution in 1982 to the Supreme Court, to no avail.

sustainable silence

Ottawa still refuses to declassify documents relating to this period of history, evidence that the topic remains sensitive. Released 2013 from Battle of London by Frédéric Bastien, it led to a renewed interest. The historian there, the British Archives, claimed that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had contacted the British and Canadian governments during the process. Quebec had unanimously asked Ottawa to “allow access to all information in its archives and to demand that light be shed on the events.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to open the records, while neo-liberal leader Justin Trudeau asserted that Quebec is “doing everything in its power to develop a new myth or reopen old controversies.” The Supreme Court said it found nothing in its documents to support the thesis.

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Career Impact

No Quebec government, whether liberal, QP or CAQ, signed off on the 1982 constitution. Canada and Quebec continue to act by ignoring this perennial stalemate, and despite a few unsuccessful attempts to secede and reunite from 1985 to 1995, Canada, after its indictment, has become By constitutional failure, a state lives in denial of its problems, unable to address them head on, and from discussing and negotiating solutions. This leads to permanent deadlocks not only at the forefront of Quebec’s demands, but also when it comes to the indigenous dossier, reforming the Senate, and modernizing the division of powers to meet new challenges,” comments Mr Taillon.

Why “Night of the Long Knives”

The expression “Night of the Long Knives” was not always unanimous. Patrick Tyon finds it “a bit excessive compared to these echoes in contemporary European history”. Quickly adopted in Quebec in a moment of mass outrage, it recalls the night of 1934 when Adolf Hitler purged the Nazi Party of all opponents. In Canadian English, we’re talking more about “kitchen agreement,” “kitchen agreement,” referring to a document signed by Jean Chretien and two of his regional counterparts in a kitchen at the Ottawa Convention Center.

In the wake of the Night of the Long Knives, Quebec dailies, including Le Journal de Montreal, reported the failure of negotiations to bring the Constitution home with the consent of Quebecers, who found themselves isolated.

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In the wake of the Night of the Long Knives, Quebec dailies, including Le Journal de Montreal, reported the failure of negotiations to bring the Constitution home with the consent of Quebecers, who found themselves isolated.

The 1980 referendum failed, the boot

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The failure of the referendum on the Sovereignty League proposed by Partie Quebecwa headed by René Levesque in May 1980, was, for Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, an opportunity to seize in order to implement a project he had long desired to return to Canada. Constitution adopted in London. During the referendum, the latter promised that a no vote would not be a vote for the status quo. Although the PQ party was re-elected a few months ago, Trudeau has the reins of freedom against Quebec, which has been weakened under the circumstances.

“Group of Eight”

Trudeau’s project was not won upfront. In the months following the referendum, he had to confront the “Group of Eight”: all prime ministers, except those in Ontario and New Brunswick, opposed the idea of ​​a “charter taking precedence over politicians.” County power. Federal-territorial negotiations took place over several months, but were unsuccessful. Trudeau then invited them to the “Last Chance Conference” to be held over three days in the Canadian capital in November 1981.

November 4 pm

On the night of November 4-5, while René Levesque was on the other side of the beach, in Gatineau, the prime ministers reached an agreement with the federal government, through Justice Minister Jean Chretien. Negotiations lead to a compromise that runs counter to Quebec’s interests. “Essentially, the compromise negotiated was made overnight to respond to the concerns of the G8, without necessarily anticipating Quebec’s concerns, particularly with regard to language rights and the right to opt out through compensation,” i.e. the right of a boycott to opt out of any program Federal with a moderate fiscal arrangement, explains Laval University law professor Patrick Tellon.

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hard day

The news of the agreement reached during the night behind his back infuriates Rene Levsk, who learns the thing in the morning on a sheet placed next to the lunch plate. “We took advantage of our absence to remove our most important requirement, namely the right to financial compensation in case of withdrawal. The stab in the middle of the night,” he says in his memoirs. Quebec daily newspapers followed suit on November 6. “Quebec Isolated”, its main title Montreal Magazine And Journalism.

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