Canadese routekaart voor afscheiding: ook nuttig voor Catalonië

Geschreven door: Redactie op

In 1998 gaf het Canadese Hooggerechtshof een routekaart voor een juridisch acceptabel proces voor de afscheiding van Quebec. Gezien de situatie in Catalonië, is er aanleiding om deze routekaart weer uit de la te trekken. 

In die uitspraak gaf het Canadese hof antwoord op de volgende vragen:

1. Kan de National Assembly, de wetgever of de regering van Quebec, onder de grondwet van Canada, de afscheiding van Quebec uit Canada eenzijdig bewerkstelligen?

2. Geeft het internationale recht de National Assembly, de wetgever of de regering van Quebec het recht om de afscheiding van Quebec uit Canada unilateraal te bewerkstelligen? Is er in dit opzicht een recht op zelfbeschikking krachtens het internationaal recht dat de National Assembly, de wetgever of de regering van Quebec het recht geeft om de afscheiding van Quebec uit Canada unilateraal te bewerkstelligen?

3. In het geval van een conflict tussen de nationale en internationale wetgeving met betrekking tot het recht van de National Assembly, de wetgever of de regering van Quebec om de afscheiding van Quebec uit Canada unilateraal te bewerkstelligen, welke zou in Canada voorrang hebben?


Het hof antwoordde – samengevat – als volgt:


“Question 1


The Constitution is more than a written text.  It embraces the entire global system of rules and principles which govern the exercise of constitutional authority.  A superficial reading of selected provisions of the written constitutional enactment, without more, may be misleading.  It is necessary to make a more profound investigation of the underlying principles animating the whole of the Constitution, including the principles of federalism, democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law, and respect for minorities.  Those principles must inform our overall appreciation of the constitutional rights and obligations that would come into play in the event that a clear majority of Quebecers votes on a clear question in favour of secession.


The Court in this Reference is required to consider whether Quebec has a right to unilateral secession. Arguments in support of the existence of such a right were primarily based on the principle of democracy.  Democracy, however, means more than simple majority rule.  Constitutional jurisprudence shows that democracy exists in the larger context of other constitutional values.  Since Confederation, the people of the provinces and territories have created close ties of interdependence (economic, social, political and cultural) based on shared values that include federalism, democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law, and respect for minorities.  A democratic decision of Quebecers in favour of secession would put those relationships at risk.  The Constitution vouchsafes order and stability, and accordingly secession of a province "under the Constitution" could not be achieved unilaterally, that is, without principled negotiation with other participants in Confederation within the existing constitutional framework.


Our democratic institutions necessarily accommodate a continuous process of discussion and evolution, which is reflected in the constitutional right of each participant in the federation to initiate constitutional change.  This right implies a reciprocal duty on the other participants to engage in discussions to address any legitimate initiative to change the constitutional order.  A clear majority vote in Quebec on a clear question in favour of secession would confer democratic legitimacy on the secession initiative which all of the other participants in Confederation would have to recognize.


Quebec could not, despite a clear referendum result, purport to invoke a right of self-determination to dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties to the federation.  The democratic vote, by however strong a majority, would have no legal effect on its own and could not push aside the principles of federalism and the rule of law, the rights of individuals and minorities, or the operation of democracy in the other provinces or in Canada as a whole.  Democratic rights under the Constitution cannot be divorced from constitutional obligations.  Nor, however, can the reverse proposition be accepted: the continued existence and operation of the Canadian constitutional order could not be indifferent to a clear expression of a clear majority of Quebecers that they no longer wish to remain in Canada.  The other provinces and the federal government would have no basis to deny the right of the government of Quebec to pursue secession should a clear majority of the people of Quebec choose that goal, so long as in doing so, Quebec respects the rights of others.  The negotiations that followed such a vote would address the potential act of secession as well as its possible terms should in fact secession proceed.  There would be no conclusions predetermined by law on any issue.  Negotiations would need to address the interests of the other provinces, the federal government and Quebec and indeed the rights of all Canadians both within and outside Quebec, and specifically the rights of minorities.


The negotiation process would require the reconciliation of various rights and obligations by negotiation between two legitimate majorities, namely, the majority of the population of Quebec, and that of Canada as a whole.  A political majority at either level that does not act in accordance with the underlying constitutional principles puts at risk the legitimacy of its exercise of its rights, and the ultimate acceptance of the result by the international community.


The task of the Court has been to clarify the legal framework within which political decisions are to be taken "under the Constitution" and not to usurp the prerogatives of the political forces that operate within that framework.  The obligations identified by the Court are binding obligations under the Constitution.  However, it will be for the political actors to determine what constitutes "a clear majority on a clear question" in the circumstances under which a future referendum vote may be taken.  Equally, in the event of demonstrated majority support for Quebec secession, the content and process of the negotiations will be for the political actors to settle.  The reconciliation of the various legitimate constitutional interests is necessarily committed to the political rather than the judicial realm precisely because that reconciliation can only be achieved through the give and take of political negotiations.  To the extent issues addressed in the course of negotiation are political, the courts, appreciating their proper role in the constitutional scheme, would have no supervisory role.


Question 2


The Court was also required to consider whether a right to unilateral secession exists under international law.  Some supporting an affirmative answer did so on the basis of the recognized right to self-determination that belongs to all "peoples".  Although much of the Quebec population certainly shares many of the characteristics of a people, it is not necessary to decide the "people" issue because, whatever may be the correct determination of this issue in the context of Quebec, a right to secession only arises under the principle of self-determination of people at international law where "a people" is governed as part of a colonial empire; where "a people" is subject to alien subjugation, domination or exploitation; and possibly where "a people" is denied any meaningful exercise of its right to self-determination within the state of which it forms a part.  In other circumstances, peoples are expected to achieve self-determination within the framework of their existing state.  A state whose government represents the whole of the people or peoples resident within its territory, on a basis of equality and without discrimination, and respects the principles of self-determination in its internal arrangements, is entitled to maintain its territorial integrity under international law and to have that territorial integrity recognized by other states.  Quebec does not meet the threshold of a colonial people or an oppressed people, nor can it be suggested that Quebecers have been denied meaningful access to government to pursue their political, economic, cultural and social development.  In the circumstances, the "National Assembly, the legislature or the government of Quebec" do not enjoy a right at international law to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally.


Although there is no right, under the Constitution or at international law, to unilateral secession, the possibility of an unconstitutional declaration of secession leading to a de facto secession is not ruled out.  The ultimate success of such a secession would be dependent on recognition by the international community, which is likely to consider the legality and legitimacy of secession having regard to, amongst other facts, the conduct of Quebec and Canada, in determining whether to grant or withhold recognition.  Even if granted, such recognition would not, however, provide any retroactive justification for the act of secession, either under the Constitution of Canada or at international law.


Question 3


In view of the answers to Questions 1 and 2, there is no conflict between domestic and international law to be addressed in the context of this Reference.”



Lees hier de volledige uitspraak van het Canades Hooggerechtshof.


Naam auteur: Redactie
Geschreven op: 10 oktober 2017

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