More and more government actions are being jus- tified by the need to impose rules for dealing with each and every possible security issue, at the expense of enhancing democratic practices, let alone maintaining them. In their article in The Security of Freedom: Essays on Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Bill (University of Toronto Press), David Schneiderman and Brenda Cossman identify an ever-increasing phenomenon, that of a ”œshrinking public sphere.” As it applies to Quebec, the ability to publicly support and promote the sovereignty option is beginning to be discussed as a ”œliberty” that may have to be sacrificed.
The new legal definition of terrorist activity covers a wide spectrum. Vague terms like ”œparticipating in” or ”œfacil- itating” banned acts imply liability, and could be used to expand the definition of terrorist activities beyond the com- mitting of a criminal act. Put another way, any ideological- ly driven political or social movement could be held respon- sible for random acts of terrorism carried out in its name without organizers’ direct participation in or even knowl- edge of the terrorist act. Many groups that act differently from what the federal authorities expect run the risk of being caught up by the law, and the sovereignty movement is not immune to such dangers.
The larger question of discouraging political associa- tions may affect the sovereignty movement if it leads to a process of depoliticization and the consequent closing of public space. Any social or political movement that citizens support may therefore be swept under the rug as a potential source of ”œterrorist-generating” ideas. For example, efforts have been made to link the unlawful activities of Raymond Villeneuve and his followers to the legitimately constituted Parti Québécois. So far, the PQ has successfully dissociated itself from the Villeneuve movement and others like it and is considered by Quebecers as a lawful political party.
However, several commentators (such as Kent Roach, also in The Security of Freedom) have raised concerns that the anti-terrorism bill provides an all-encompassing, ”œmotive- based” definition of terrorism that may further shrink the public sphere. Why is there no distinction made between legitimate social and political causes and illegitimate actions? In addition, if random acts of disruption like the ones committed by the RCMP at the time of the FLQ crisis 30 years ago were to be committed again, the Parti Québécois could be in serious trouble. Now that Bill C-36 is law, it is easy to understand how the authorities could use the phrase ”œpeople inspired by evil intentions” to link the FLQ cells with the sovereignty move- ment, even if the FLQ was denounced by the PQ leaders, and even if there were no formal or infor- mal links between political groups advocating sovereignty and a group like the FLQ.
The Quebec sovereignty movement is also concerned that since September 11, 2001, Canadian policy is being set in concert with the policies of other ”œnational” governments, espe- cially the U.S. government. For example, immi- gration is a shared jurisdiction in Canada, but questions are being asked about what the impact of policy harmonization with the United States would be. Will Quebec continue to have input, and how much?
A broader question has begun to surface in the last decade, since globalization has led to fur- ther centralization of decision-making power in Ottawa. The federal government has the power to make deals with other countries in areas of shared provincial jurisdiction like agriculture, culture and communications. Will the prior need to coordinate policies with other countries in the industrialized world limit the manoeuvrability Quebec has to set its own immigration policies and spending priorities, and even to express dif- ferent ideological options?
The sovereignty movement is concerned with the difficulty the government of Quebec has in carrying out the wishes of its own citizens in the context of the centralizing trend of the Canadian federation. Again, the anti-terrorism campaign involves more than just the enforce- ment of the criminal code, a federal statute. It is also about the society in which one chooses to live, the way in which resources are distributed or redistributed, and the manner in which decision- making structures are designed.
The anti-terrorist legislation has the latent effect of undermining the sovereignty move- ment to the extent that it comes to be treated as a question of ”œdomestic politics” in an environ- ment where concerns about ”œAmerican politics” seem to have become predominant on the Canadian scene. As a result, there appears to be little room for differing political options, mean- ing that the sovereignty movement could be pushed aside.
After September 11, there appears to be little choice except to blindly follow the position of the central government. Issues of national securi- ty appear to be the only ones that really matter, leaving differences in approach and national identity as afterthoughts.
The fate of the sovereignty movement in Quebec may hinge on the idea that Quebecers’ concerns are the same as those of other North Americans. This reinforces the views of those who counter the sovereignty movement by pointing out that Quebecers’ values have never been closer to those of other Canadians and that there do not exist fundamental differences that would justify claims for national status.
In fact, the question of Canadian sovereign- ty has now taken a central role in Canada-U.S. talks on policy harmonization, with the result that the whole existential question in Quebec becomes secondary. In short, the overarching imperative for ”œsecurity” trumps domestic dis- putes about the allocation of decision-making power in Canada. The debate has turned, then, to the question of the autonomy of the Canadian state in a larger regional or international envi- ronment, which is itself more concerned about integrating policy measures to combat this emerging threat.
How does one counter the fact that the dem- ocratic space we are used to occupying is dimin- ishing? The best available option, it seems to me, is to fight back through constructive resistance, by informing public debate, nurturing democrat- ic practices and denouncing excessive centraliza- tion of authority.
We social scientists should not hesitate to take a position against policies and laws that put our democratic practices under serious strain. These new influences are evident in the trend toward accusing anti-globalization movements of endangering Western democracy. Aaron Lukas, in the week following September 11, wrote in the National Post that ”œLike terrorists, the anti-global- ization movement is disdainful of democratic institutions,” adding that ”œTerrorism, if not so heinous as what we witnessed last week, has always been part of the protestors’ game plan.”
In my view, such comments do little to enlighten the situation and surely do not con- tribute to the development of a worldview in which debate and consultation are key compo- nents of the policy process.