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Constitutional Forum. Volume 10, Number 1 (1998), p. 9-13.


constitutional amendment; constitutional law; right to self-determination; secession


Following the narrow vote against sovereignty in the 1995 Quebec referendum, the federal government referred three questions on the legality of unilateral secession to the Supreme Court of Canada for its opinion. The Quebec government refused to participate in the proceedings on the grounds that the Quebec people alone will determine their future and anything the Supreme Court has to say on the matter is irrelevant. The Court appointed an amicus curiae, Andre Joli-Coeur, to make the arguments in favour of the Quebec government's position. In this article, the author reviews the amicus' arguments and the Court's reasons for rejecting them. The amicus' submissions revealed one thing: they revealed the weakness of the best available arguments in support of a legal right to unilateral secession. The author argues that the Court was able to bring sovereignists into a conversation framed by the Court's opinion, at the same time as it was pulling the legal rug out from underneath them. The justices should be applauded for crafting an opinion that seeks to minimize the risks of social disorder that would accompany any unilateral declaration of sovereignty and to maximize the chances of a negotiated, peaceful accommodation of the political aspirations of a clear majority of Quebecers clearly expressed in any future referendum.

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