Québec’s “territorial integrity” against First Nations

In the September issue of the monthly L’Aut’Journal newspaper, a member of a group called Intellectuals for Sovereignty (“Intellectuels pour la souveraineté” or IPSO in French), André Binette, engaged in a dubious plea for a show of strength from the Québec government for it to assert its sovereignty over the Arctic territories north of the […]

In the September issue of the monthly L’Aut’Journal newspaper, a member of a group called Intellectuals for Sovereignty (“Intellectuels pour la souveraineté” or IPSO in French), André Binette, engaged in a dubious plea for a show of strength from the Québec government for it to assert its sovereignty over the Arctic territories north of the province.

Reacting to the recent maneuvers by the federal government that pursue the same goal, but across the country, the author protests that Canadian state is the only one to claim control of this protectorate inhabited by the Inuit people. According to him, the Québec government should no less imitate the Canadian state and behave as a colonizer! This is another case where the defense of Québec’s territorial integrity involves the denial of aboriginal peoples right to self-determination.

André Binette notes that “Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, a waterway linking Asia to Europe and eastern North America, which is taken by an increasing number of ships each year, is disputed even by ‘friendly’ countries like the United States.” This former Parizeau government adviser during the 1995 referendum and author of an essay on Québec sovereignty finds it perfectly normal that Canadian imperialism defends its own interests in the North. What worries him is that Québec does not do as much and that eventually, the strengthening of Canada will undermine Québec’s territorial integrity, especially in a situation where Québec will claim its own independence.

For him, the right to sovereignty is only good for Québec and Canada; the Inuit people, who are more than 90% of the inhabitants living in northern Québec, are not entitled to the same right. Its ancestral land can not be anything other than the backyard of Québec and Canada to pillage and plunder.

The fact that the United States, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland sit with Canada within the Arctic Council is not a problem for our “intellectual.” That these countries are given such a forum to discuss their respective claims over colonial territories, which in fact are not theirs, seems to be the order of things. The problem for him is that Québec isn’t represented in that organization, while a Inuit grouping (the Inuit Circumpolar Council) had a voice.

André Binette fears that the announced plan for Greenland’s forthcoming independence encourages the Inuit to claim their right to self-determination. He wrote: “Many Inuit, including those from Québec, cherish the dream of a great Inuit nation that would include Greenland, Canada’s Nunavut and Québec’s Nunavik.” Binette sees this–rightly–as a threat to Québec’s territorial integrity, but he then conveniently fails to take a position regarding the legitimacy of the national claims of the Inuit on their ancestral lands.

In fact, his opposition to “national oppression” stops at the borders of Québec: no question for him to recognize the right to sovereignty to the Inuit people. Instead, the writer from L’Aut’Journal suggests that Québec makes sure “that the draft treaty on self-government in Nunavik, currently being drafted, will not take into account any arguments similar to the partitionist claims that were put forward during the 1995 referendum campaign”. For him, the Québec state must “assume right now its nordicity.” According to his paternalistic vision, Québec’s role would be to protect the interests of the Inuit of Nunavik at the international level, “in the same measure that Canada does with those in Nunavut, and Denmark with those of Greenland.”

The right to independence for Binette, is first and foremost the right of the strongest, the one from the dominant nations and particularly their ruling classes to occupy and colonize other territories and to secure their profits.

Mr. Binette laments that the Inuit who live on some islands a few hundred meters off Québec territory are not considered “Québécois” whereas their relatives living in Nunavik are. But the fact is that whether they are in Nunavut, Nunavik, Greenland or elsewhere, the Inuit are primarily… Inuit! And in light of what was seen recently in the Montréal’s Villeray district (where the district administration, including a former Parti Québécois MP Elsie Lefebvre, combined with a racist local notary, fought against a project to establish a shelter for Inuit who had to undergo medical treatment in Montréal), one wonders why the Inuit should consider themselves “Québécois.”

The legal arguments of lawyer Binette, that are based on the Canadian Constitution and international law, show how racism and national oppression of indigenous peoples (including Inuit) are institutionalized. They also demonstrate, perhaps inadvertently, how former Québec premier Jean Lesage’s moto “Maîtres chez nous” at the start of what was to be called the “Quiet Revolution” served as an ideological foundation for building a strong state, whose colonial claims are in no way different than those of the former British Empire and of modern Canada.

That L’Aut’Journal makes itself the spokesperson for a position as chauvinistic is in retrospect hardly surprising. This newspaper, which sometimes still claims to “defend workers” and to be “popular,” is primarily a nationalist one. And its nationalism is of a nation led by an imperialist bourgeoisie which, objectively, is involved in the subjugation of indigenous nations and peoples of oppressed countries.

L’Aut’Journal was created in 1984 by a core of activists, including its current editor Pierre Dubuc, who had been associated with a small Hoxhaite group called the “Bolshevik Union of Canada.” This group loudly made itself known in the 1970s having been one of the first, if not the first to correctly uphold the right to self-determination for First Nations living on Canadian territory. That position, which apparently had been dictated by its willingness to criticize other Marxist-Leninist groups that limited themselves to recognizing only partial Aboriginal right to “self-government,” was however quickly set aside in favor of an absolute and unconditional support to bourgeois nationalism in Québec.

The publication of this recent article by André Binette shows once again that Pierre Dubuc has long abandoned his Marxist pretensions. Is it not Engels himself who wrote this simple elementary sentence, namely that “A nation cannot become free and at the same time continue to oppress other nations?”

(First published in Le Drapeau Rouge, No. 94, October 2010)