There are three groups of people who view Quebec separatism differently: English Canadians, French Canadians and new Canadians.
The first two groups have been debating the issue for some time. The last has joined the debate recently. (Another group I did not mention, Native Canadians, may be out of the picture on this issue, due to lack of political power.)
New Canadians bring in a new dimension to the discussion. They have the ability to personally relate to conflicts in their own country and those in Canada. And they certainly get confused with the issue of Quebec separatism. Why would people think of separation in a peaceful country? For them, when a comparison is made of their two worlds, the Quebec problem seems minor.
Let’s take a country like Sri Lanka, where ethnic conflict has been an issue since the 1950s. Tamil separatism started in a democratic way and ended up as an uprising against the state. In 2009, a brutal crackdown by the army brought an end to the rebels.
Sri Lanka paid a very high price, with 120,000 lives lost, and serious property and economic damage.
What made Tamil youths take up arms and seek separatism? I am told that Tamils faced a point system to enter universities, job discrimination in the civil service, communal riots, human rights violations and so on. These are some of the reasons they fled, many in rusted boats, for countries like Canada.
As Canadians, do we see any similarities between Canada and Sri Lanka? Do we give Quebecers a cause for separatism? Do non-Quebecers label Quebecers as terrorists because of different views? Well, I think we are on more of a political roller-coaster than a denial of justice.
Do Quebec separatists realize the benefits the rest of Canada have given them? Without the support of the rest of the provinces, an independent Quebec would find it difficult to survive. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would be hard. Independent Quebecers would need to figure out how to build their own trade, create jobs, undertake currency negotiations and deal with immigration.
The international community would not agree to a free trade deal with a small province like Quebec, nor would the U.S. open its borders easily to an independent province.
Quebecers yearning for independence have to understand that some inside the province would move out, just like when Pakistan separated from India. Riots did follow and that relationship has been rocky ever since.
As Canadians, we are free to raise our voices. We can even criticize our prime minister. We cannot say the same of many other countries. Iran and Syria, for example, would lock you up, and you wouldn’t see the sun for the rest of your life.
That’s why newcomers to Canada view separatism from a different angle than other Canadians. They have seen the other side of the coin relating to justice and human rights violations.
It is naive for Canadians, and not just Quebecers, to think that separation would only bring minimal changes. To quote Indian nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
Canada is a peaceful country and Canadians should not take life for granted.
Lakshmi Sivakumar is a student at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener.