The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.59/No.41           November 6, 1995 
Quebec Fight National Oppression  

MONTREAL - According to proponents of the "no" vote in the October 30 referendum on Quebec's sovereignty, Canada is a "caring and sharing society" established in 1867 through the common agreement of the "two founding peoples"- the French- and English-speaking Canadians. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The national oppression of and discrimination against Natives, Quebecois, and Acadians has been and remains a fundamental component of the Canadian capitalist system to this day.

A prisonhouse of peoples
Canada, an area of nearly 4 million square miles, was inhabited by indigenous peoples for more than 20,000 years when the first permanent European colonists arrived at the beginning of the 17th century.

The latter's arrival unleashed a furious struggle for control of the land through which Canada was transformed into the prisonhouse of peoples that it is today.

The first victims were the indigenous people, whose land was stolen by merchants, semifeudal landlords (seigneurs), the French and then the British crowns, the Church, speculators, and capitalists.

Today, more than 1 million Native Indians, Inuit, and Métis live in Canada. Some 200,000 Native Indians live on more than 2,200 reservations with an area totaling less than 0.3 percent of Canada's territory.

In its rivalry with France over control of North America, Britain conquered the main French settlements in Acadia, on Canada's Atlantic coast, in 1710. To maintain control over their new conquest, British merchants needed a rapid increase in the British population in the region. The presence of French-speaking Acadians on the most fertile lands was an obstacle to this colonization.

In 1755, 6,000 Acadians were deported from what is now the province of Nova Scotia. All their houses and belongings, including 118,000 head of cattle, were expropriated. Other deportations followed.

Today, more than two centuries later, the Acadians in Canada - who make up 30 percent of the population of New Brunswick - are still fighting for their linguistic and cultural rights.

Defeat of the democratic revolution
In 1760, Britain conquered the French colony of New France, today the province of Quebec. The majority of its 60,000 inhabitants were peasants. Contrary to what Quebec historians claim today, national and linguistic oppression of the Quebecois didn't begin then.

The new British rulers maintained the same system of colonial, not linguistic, oppression as the former French masters. This subjugation across the Americas is what led to - between 1775 and 1820 - the American War of Independence, the Haitian revolution, and the movement for the liberation of Latin America against Spain.

Very quickly after their conquest over the French, the British wanted to prevent the spread of the American revolution into Quebec. They established a reactionary alliance with the seigneurs of Quebec and with the Catholic Church of the old French colony, maintaining the semi- feudal relations of exploitation that existed in the countryside.

In the following decades, Britain created a colonial landed aristocracy in Ontario, to the west of Quebec, by distributing huge tracts of land to a handful of owners as well as to the hierarchy of the Anglican Church. The majority of this region's inhabitants were English-speaking settlers.

The struggle for land, against colonial domination, and for democracy pushed English- and French-speaking peasants, workers, small artisans, and local industrialists of both colonies to revolt against Britain in 1837-38. This uprising marked the beginning of a bourgeois democratic revolution.

But Britain crushed the rebellion, which had disastrous consequences for the workers and farmers of all of Canada. It prevented the democratic gains won earlier in the United States from spreading into Canada, such as the end of colonial domination, the separation of church and state, and a much greater freedom of political organization and expression.

It was then that the British rulers institutionalized, in alliance with the reactionary classes of the colonies, the national and linguistic oppression of the Quebecois- in a conscious effort to prevent any new convergence of the struggles waged by the French- and English-speaking toilers.

The beginnings of national oppression
Quebec and Ontario were joined into a single province. In the new Parliament the use of French was banned and Quebec was accorded the same number of representatives as Ontario, although it had almost twice the number of residents. Ontario's enormous debt was placed onto the shoulders of Quebec peasants.

This system of oppression and discrimination was maintained and deepened with the creation of Canada in 1867, which brought together the main British colonies in North America.

The new constitution integrated Quebec into the confederation with provincial status, negating its right to self-determination. It also maintained the dual Catholic and Protestant religious school system in Quebec, still in place today. This system divides the population along national, linguistic, and religious lines. It was and is still is the source of inferior quality education for French-speaking people in Quebec.

In 1885 Canada's capitalist rulers crushed a rebellion by the Métis who, led by Louis Riel, were fighting against the theft of their land and the denial of their rights by the new Ottawa government. The Métis lived in the center of the country and were of Native, French, and English origin. Most Métis spoke French and lived primarily from agriculture and hunting.

Five years later, the province of Manitoba was declared unilingual English, in violation of the terms of its inclusion into Canadian confederation. At the time of Manitoba's creation, the vast majority of the population was French-speaking. Today, no more than 5 percent of its population speaks French, the result of a century of forced assimilation.

In the years following the defeat of the Métis, the majority of provinces outside Quebec adopted laws limiting or nullifying the rights of French-speaking people.

Discrimination and oppression
By the time of World War II, Quebecois were facing an institutionalized system of discrimination and oppression based on their language.

In every branch of industry, workers in Quebec were earning between 10 and 25 cents less per hour and working 4 to 12 hours more each week than their counterparts in Ontario.

In 1941, the mortality rate for newborn infants was 75.9 per 1,000 births in Quebec as compared with 45.6 in Ontario. In the city of Trois Rivieres it reached 297 in 1937. This was higher than in Bombay, India, which had a rate of 250 in 1936.

Education didn't become mandatory up to the age of 14 in Quebec until 1943. The government spent less money per student than any other province. The illiteracy rate was twice that of Ontario. Of the 27 public libraries in the province, only nine were French.

Doubly oppressed as women and Quebecois, women didn't win the right to vote in provincial elections until 1940, much later than in other Canadian provinces.

It has been through 150 years of struggle and resistance against this discrimination and social inequality that the national consciousness of the Quebecois has been forged. As long as the oppression of the Quebecois continues, the fight for national rights will remain at the center of politics in Canada.

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