June 30, 2018 - No. 25

Conception of Rights in Canada's Constitutions of 1840 and 1867

Montreal Conference on 180th Anniversary of 1837-38 Rebellions in Lower
and Upper Canada


Presentations at Montreal Conference
Things and Phenomena Reveal Themselves
- Ideological Studies Centre -
The Need for Modern Institutions
Based on Defending the Rights of All

- Joseph Montferrand Collective -

Conception of Rights in Canada's Constitutions of 1840 and 1867

Montreal Conference on the 180th Anniversary of 1837-38 Rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec (PMLQ) held a significant conference in Montreal on May 7, 2017 on the occasion of the 180th anniversary of the 1837-38 rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada. These rebellions aimed to bring in arrangements that vested sovereignty in the people, not the British Crown. But the rebellions were crushed and the conception of rights advocated by the British Crown prevailed.

The conference focused on the conception of rights put forward by both the Patriots in Lower Canada, as well as the one imposed by the British in the Constitutions of 1840 and 1867 based on the suppression of the nascent Quebec nation. Importantly, the conference looked at this history starting from the present -- what the conditions reveal today -- going into the past to enrich our ability to solve problems and open society's path to progress today. For this reason, the conference started by dealing with questions of historiography, the approach to the study of history, and political theory, which deals with the relations people enter into and what kind of society this gives rise to. This included a militant call to oppose attempts to divide the people for purposes of maintaining the status quo, a practice introduced by the British colonialists and upheld by the Anglo-Canadian state established on the basis of the suppression of the nascent Quebec nation, the expropriation of the Indigenous peoples and attempts to commit genocide against them, as well as a conception of rights which are privileges and are given and taken away by "the Crown."

Many workers and youth attended as well as people from other walks of life. The discussion was very lively. In addition to an important introduction by the Ideological Studies Institute and the keynote by the Joseph Montferrand Collective, it included a significant intervention on the crisis in which France is mired. This is important because in Quebec official circles, the French model of nation-building based on integration is often presented as an alternative for Quebec to that of the British based on multiculturalism. But the French nation-building project, no less than the British or Canadian, is not being renewed. On the contrary, both these models are anachronistic, mired in crisis. They are mired in crisis because the definition of rights is based on ownership of property, not the affirmation of the human person.

The struggle of the Patriots in 1837-38 espoused the most advanced ideals of the time. It was a nation-building project based on the anti-colonial cause, the abolition of the feudal seigneurial system, the granting of citizenship rights equally without distinction as to origin or belief, including to the Indigenous peoples if they so desire -- and the establishment of a constitution to enshrine those ideals as the law of the land in the form of a republic. This cause was akin to the great wars of independence in Latin America and the Caribbean at that time as well as the national movements in Italy and other countries. Related developments in those days led to the formation of the International Working Men's Association by Marx and Engels in 1864 and, in 1871, to the Paris Commune. The Patriots fought for institutions consistent with the needs of the times, and for this their rebellion was crushed by the British through force of arms, the suspension of civil liberties, mass arrests, burning of homes, the hanging of 12 Patriots and the forced exile of 64 others.

In this vein, another intervention at the conference spoke about the relations between the Patriots in Lower and Upper Canada at the time of the Rebellions, as well as help they received from American revolutionaries at the time.

Tackling the manner in which the workers and society in general are under constant attack today, a significant intervention was made by an organizer of the Quebec construction workers on the state of rights today. He explained how the state uses its institutions to make sure the workers cannot take action in defence of their rights, including health and safety on the work sites. With these interventions, as a whole, the conference showed clearly the need for the political movements of the people to take up the work for modern constitutions which enshrine the rights which belong to all by virtue of their being human. Establishing cohesion within the body politic around the independent politics of the working class is urgently needed to open a path to progress and avert the dangers of war.

Haut de


Presentations at Montreal Conference

Things and Phenomena Reveal Themselves

This conference is held on the occasion of the 180th anniversary of the rebellions of 1837-38 in Upper and Lower Canada as well as in the context of celebrations organized by the Government of Canada for Canada 150, the anniversary of Confederation by Royal Proclamation in 1867. It is interesting that the Government of Canada is handing out millions of dollars to organizations, community groups and individuals so long as they have nothing to do with two topics -- discussion of the Constitution and discussion of history. ...

Montreal, Patriots' Day 2017

We come to this conference not as historians which we are not and do not pretend to be, although we have historians in our midst. This does not mean, however, that we do not have our own historiography. We do and it is partisan. We look at history starting from the present, going into the past so as to secure the future for all. By starting from the present, that is by beginning from what is being revealed at this time and what it is telling the people to do, we go to the past merely to enrich the revelation of the present and to make us more capable of dealing with the present situation.

Everyone is invited to contribute to this discussion but let us be clear about one point. The discussion is not designed to take up this or that interpretation of this or that idea or period in the pre-history of human society. The aim of this discussion is to contribute to the development of modern political theory, especially modern political theory which is based on our own thinking and which is of our own making.

In this regard, we often hear it said that history has a gender bias or is filled with prejudices based on notions of racial or cultural superiority or that there is black history, native history and so on. On the occasion of Canada 150 we have another interpretation under the rubric of L'Autre 150 (the Other 150).

As concerns gender-based history, it is true that women and men do play different roles in all societies whether or not they are class societies. This is due to their objectively different roles in the production and reproduction of real life. Thus the relationship between men and women, the roles they play in social life, do not have any bearing on the kind of political theory in existence. These relations are a product of something else. Politics is the concentrated expression of economics but political theory, if it is to be truly a political theory, is not concerned with what role a male or a female may or may not play. It could be said that political theory is gender-blind. It is also colour-blind as well as blind to a person's ethnic origin, language, religion, level of wealth or ability.

Political theory arises as a superstructure on a definite economic base. In pre-class society, the process of production is social and so is the expropriation of production. This economic base gets negated at a later date and class society appears. The question of political theory is tied up with the form of the process of production and the form of the ownership of the means of production at any particular time.

The oppression of women begins with the advent of class society as does the exploitation of one person by another. The exploited consist of both males and females even though females receive the worst treatment as they also are discriminated against by virtue of their womanhood. Political theory only recognizes the relations people enter into, which determine what kind of society exists at any particular time.

It is often said that history is written by the victor, and this is of course true. In this regard, many factors contribute to the interpretation of an historical event, including factors of bias and prejudice -- even your own. But bias and prejudice and partisanship are not the same. If we pose the question, what is the aim, we can perhaps reach an understanding of the different interpretations based on bias and prejudice. We can have fidelity to a cause which favours those who are striving to vest sovereignty in the people for purposes of opening society's path to progress. That is partisanship to a definite cause.

For instance, the British saw all developments through the prism of their state power and their aim to hold on to it. They declared that in Canada there were warring factions based on race -- English and French -- and that their institutions represented the unity of these warring factions. To this day, politics based on identity are pushed for one purpose and one purpose only -- to divide the people and keep them from acquiring an outlook which serves them to find their bearings and intervene in the situation in a manner that resolves crises in their own interests.

We cannot talk about the events of 1837-38 without addressing the matter of state power and, when talking about state power, we must take note that the state is used to deprive people of an outlook. This is what the British gave us when they suppressed the burgeoning Republic of Quebec in 1837-38, leading to the infamous Act of Union adopted by the British Parliament in 1840, which took away part of the territory and population of Lower Canada and gave them to Upper Canada, then gave equal representation in the Legislative Assembly of the United Canada to both Upper and Lower Canada (Lower Canada had 650,000 inhabitants and Upper Canada only 400,000). It also unified the debt of Upper and Lower Canada. (Upper Canada had recently incurred an enormous debt of $5 million compared to Lower Canada's debt of $375,000.) This is how a "balance" was created between the so-called warring factions. This "balance" did not create harmony, however, because there was no equivalence between the parts despite the brutal redistribution of land, people and debt. The Assembly became paralyzed and dysfunctional which required action and ultimately gave rise to the Royal Proclamation issued in 1867. Since then, the people have been blocked by the state power from looking into the situation in a manner which favours them and the popular will remains disorganized because of what are called the democratic institutions.

Assembly of the Six Counties on October 23 and October 24, 1837, a gathering of some 6,000 Patriots held in Saint-Charles, Lower Canada, in defiance of a British proclamation
forbidding public assemblies.

The effort to block the need for recognizing and defending the general interests, which is the ensemble of social relations, affects all people and collectives and all aspects of life. It includes all the relations people enter into. Not only relations but the rules and targets which govern these relations and therefore all matters of war and peace, poverty, the environment, etc.

It is important to recognize that according to the bourgeoisie, the institutions given rise to in the 19th and 20th centuries are not in need of renewal to affirm rights today. They do not recognize the necessity to bring in new forms of rule because the content of rights which they defend, which is privileges, remains the same. In 1837-38, the British smashed the republican form which the Quebec Patriots were striving to bring into being which was revolutionary at that time, in order to make sure the republican content could not prevail. The lesson we draw from these events is that unless the revolutionary form is defended, the revolutionary content cannot be defended. This is the crux of the matter facing us today.

The great leader of the Russian working class V.I. Lenin explained the existence of "the struggle of content with form and conversely" and pointed out that with the "throwing off of the form" comes "the transformation of the content." The nascent Republic of Quebec was crushed by the British and, using their police powers -- the Royal Prerogative, the British established what are called Canada's democratic institutions and traditions. It is not possible to conceive that these same institutions and their ideological foundations and the outlook of the owners of private property to preserve this rule will solve the problems we are facing today.

Things and phenomena reveal themselves. What are the things and phenomena in the political scene revealing at this time? Are they not pointing to the need to modernize political theory? This modernizing cannot be done by limiting thinking to what was given rise to in the past. The work begins from the present. We strongly suggest that the discussion should concentrate on what the present situation is revealing and go into the past with this aim in mind.

By starting from the present, that is by beginning from what is being revealed at this time and what it is telling the people to do, we go to the past merely to enrich the revelation of the present and to make us more capable of dealing with the present situation. The sum-total of all revelations will provide a glimpse of what things or phenomena reveal at any particular time, conditioned by time. Human consciousness, as a result, is only relative. Knowledge, if it is to be helpful to human beings, has to include all that the things and phenomena on the world scale are revealing. It has to base itself on the experience of all that which exists at this time.

Our task to modernize Canadian and Quebec political theory is not a universal task but belongs to the people of Quebec and Canada who are engaged in the struggle to create a modern society without exploitation of persons by persons and unite with all others engaged in doing the same. All over the world the peoples are contributing as they develop their own philosophies and political theories, according to the conditions of their own countries. In the final analysis, there is one theory. It is the theory of dialectical and historical materialism. If everyone deals with their own situations on this basis they will be utilizing the colossal energy which is inherent to this theory towards the aim of modernizing their societies and themselves. We will make our own contribution to this theory as well.

We wish to express our confidence that we will be successful because we have a rich history based, first of all, on the life and death struggles of the Indigenous peoples to live in harmony with nature and sort out problems of relations guided by the Great Law of Peace, in the case of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and similar guides to action practiced by other Indigenous peoples prior to Conquest. We have the struggles of the first voyageurs, settlers and the Métis Nation when colonial rulers set the rules and considerations on the basis of which they defined rights and engaged in acts of genocide. And we have all the manifestations of the strivings of the peoples for empowerment throughout these 500 years since European contact.

Added to this rich history, we ourselves are the daughters and the sons and representatives of an educated, fighting working class and a people who are deeply imbued with a sense of justice, democracy, peace and freedom. With all this in our favour, we are certain to succeed!

Haut de


The Need for Modern Institutions Based
on Defending the Rights of All


It is often mentioned that Karl Marx borrowed from Hegel that all events and historical figures are repeated twice. Marx said: "the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce."

In Quebec, the tragedy of the 1840 Act of Union based on the findings of the Durham Report that divided the people between "French-Canadian" and "English-Canadian" is repeated and takes many forms. The farce of the division of the people on a linguistic and ethnocultural basis has lasted long enough!

Tragedy or farce, the existential crisis that Canada is undergoing is insurmountable as long as the forms of the Anglo-Canadian state are maintained, today brought under the control of oligopolies in the service of U.S. imperialism as well. The cause of this crisis is that the British rulers that founded Canada by Royal Proclamation in 1867 vested sovereignty in the Crown, whose representatives wield the prerogative powers and, since then, the people have yet to succeed in vesting sovereignty in themselves. Today sovereignty remains in the hands of the Crown, at the disposal of oligopolies. All aspects of life have been turned over to supranational interests in the favour of oligopolies. This includes everything from privatized public services to private security forces, intelligence services and much more. The same goes for the nation of Quebec, which the British suppressed by force as a condition to impose their so-called self-governing democratic institutions. This Anglo-Canadian state is today the expression of the old, rotten policy of dividing the people to keep them from taking the sovereign power. It blocks building a modern and sovereign state based on recognizing the rights of all. We must put an end to the historiography that divides the people and maintains the status quo that plunges us into ever deeper crises, including the danger of world war.

Today, as we celebrate the 180th anniversary of the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada, the renewal of the political process and institutions is blocked regardless of which political party is in power. From "open federalism" to cooperative federalism, from the Liberals' faith in the defence of multiculturalism to the House of Commons' adoption of a motion professing an ethnocultural basis for the nation of Quebec and the notions of "the other 150" that weeps for "French-Canadian" values over "English-Canadian" values. ("The other 150" means taking a position that Canadians may be right to celebrate Confederation -- i.e., there is not a problem with the Canadian Constitution and the Crown -- but Quebec should have its own such arrangement, perhaps like that of France, as if there is not also a crisis there!)

Map of boundaries of Upper and Lower Canada in 1840.

From the Harper Conservatives' pretense to "end the old constitutional quarrels," to the Trudeau Liberals' claim that the problem does not exist and their broken promise to reform the electoral system, the block to renewal persists. The Trudeau government insists that Canada intervene in the case against Quebec's Bill 99, passed by the National Assembly in 2000, which declares that only Quebec can decide the question to be asked in a referendum.[1] It is clear that the Anglo-Canadian state and its representatives do not want a constitution that recognizes Quebec's right to self-determination and redefines the division of powers and the rights of all on a modern basis.

This subversion and blocking also includes a policy of integration of immigrants that violates the right to conscience by imposing an oath of allegiance to "values," whether "Canadian" or "Québécois." This policy was not introduced in Quebec by a so-called nationalist or xenophobic government but by the Jean Charest Liberal government. His reply to the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor report on cultural and religious accommodation was to take up "reasonable accommodation," the empire-builders' slogan at the time of the British conquest, during the Rebellion and throughout the creation of the so-called democratic institutions in Quebec. The content of this policy has always been the accommodation of all the elements that oppose the people taking power. This is the history of Quebec's democratic institutions, which represent the block that refuses to respond to the real needs of society on the basis of a modern definition of rights. Such a policy cannot develop the fraternal unity of the people, which is a necessary condition for society's progress.

This subversion is reflected in the political parties in power and in opposition in Quebec that make language, "reasonable accommodation," "ethnocultural diversity" and "Quebec values" the subjects of perpetual and passionate debate, while the people lack the means to address these problems and find a solution on a modern basis. So the questions of language and values are all they have to offer. In the name of an identity crisis, everything is proposed except for a nation-building project in the image of the working class -- to whom history has assigned the task of vesting sovereign power in the people -- and with its aims. Other forces are also swept away by the current because of their refusal to take a stand, to see that political parties and the electoral system give others a so-called mandate to govern in their name. These arrangements are outdated. It is an illusion to think that ruling parties can or want to solve problems on a modern basis.

In the course of fighting for the defence of the rights of all it is important to analyze the content and form of the so-called democratic institutions that were imposed with the crushing of the Rebellion and to look at the empire-builders' definition of rights, which these institutions defend.

In the course of our inquiry, we realized that in Canada everything is a matter of so-called reasonable accommodation, and more specifically, it is all about accommodating the working class to what the bourgeoisie considers reasonable and overcoming disputes between factions of the ruling class and its agencies by accommodating each other. Today, because of neo-liberalism and making the most powerful monopolies competitive in world markets, the crisis of reasonable accommodations blames the people for all the problems, accuses them of racism, xenophobia, wanting extreme right solutions, etc.

In studying the question, we realized that this crisis was in fact the old policy of divide and rule in a new package, with a new label -- that of fighting for an identity of our own.

Identity politics was the policy used by colonialists and British empire-builders in the 18th century to divide the people and sow hatred and tensions in order to break the fraternal unity of the people and thus block them from achieving sovereign power and resolving the problem of the subjugation of the Indigenous peoples and the nation of Quebec. In Quebec and Canada since then, this policy has taken different historical forms according to the needs of the time. It is at the heart of Canadian history and imbues all constitutional Acts -- from the Quebec Act of 1774, through the British North America Act of 1867, to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982. In addition, it is precisely the reactionary policy underlying the so-called bilingualism and multiculturalism of Justin Trudeau's government with its slogan "Diversity is Our Strength."

Maps show (left) territory of the province of Quebec after the Quebec Act of 1774 and (right) division of territory after the Constitution Act, 1791. (Click image to enlarge)

It is essential to approach this history as science demands and as historical materialism teaches -- according to the development of class struggle and in light of the historical need to harmonize the individual interests with the collective interest, in the context of the general interests of society as defined by the working class and the people themselves. A first task is to recognize that it is only as members of the body politic that all are equal. We must get rid of this practice of so-called representative democracies in which citizens' only role is to mark a ballot to hand over their decision-making power to people who govern on their behalf but do not represent them.

The highlights of Canadian constitutional history during which the so-called democratic institutions were developed and established are, in fact, periods of high treason on the part of the elite.

Today we will present a brief overview of some historical facts that allow us to see the development of the forms of the divide-and-rule policy of the British colonialists in Canada and then the Catholic Church and all the elites representing the Anglo-Canadian state or its counterpart in Quebec.

Definition of Rights Following Conquest

Right after their victory over France in 1763, the British realized that military victory alone was not enough. Note that the American Revolution started in 1765, scarcely two years after the adoption of the Treaty of Paris through which France surrendered New France to England. Scarcely three months after British conquest, His Majesty's soldiers faced the dangers that followed in the United States -- an Indigenous uprising led by Pontiac, Chief of the Outaouais. The British found themselves in a situation where they had to rule a recently conquered territory while revolt was also brewing in their more southern colonies. They needed a submissive population to serve their interests in Quebec and abroad in their rivalry with the European colonial powers.

The British colonial oppressors adopted a series of measures which would later be characterized in their Empire in North America as the policy of reasonable accommodations, which was fundamentally the policy of divide et impera (divide and rule).

James Murray, having played a predominant role in the military conquest of New France, in particular under the command of James Wolfe, became the first Governor of the Province of Quebec in 1764 following the end of the military administration. Murray understood, better than the British Crown, the need to win the support of certain French seigneurs and Catholic clergy to help pacify the rest of the population. Considering that the colony's conditions demanded suppression of the people, His Majesty imposed the "test oath." The "test oath" had been in effect in England since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The basic aim of the oath was to exclude Roman Catholics from all administrative and judiciary offices. In exchange for the privilege of holding certain positions, a Catholic had to renounce the Pope as well as certain Catholic dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception and transubstantiation. It was only later that, faced with the instability of the colonial situation in North America, with the adoption of the Quebec Act in 1774, the "test oath" was abolished.

Guy Carleton, the second governor of the new British colony, also recognized the need to win the support of the seigneurial and clerical elites. He ordered that several of them be appointed to the council in service of the government, and that the sons of certain seigneurs be appointed as army officers. Carleton considered it necessary to take these measures and accommodate the French-speaking elites, especially the clergy, notably putting these elites into positions of power by accepting the Catholic religion, the French language and certain customs. He assessed that "as long as the Canadians are deprived of all positions of confidence and profitable places, they will not be able to forget that they are no longer under the domination of their natural sovereign."

The preservation of the French language, Catholic religion and French civil law and the rights of the feudal seigneurs was also tied to the need of the British to restructure the economy. Many French capitalists, merchants and entrepreneurs had returned to France after the conquest. A large number of Catholic clergy, as well as administrators, judges and others, had also left. The British wanted the entrepreneurs and landowners who remained in the country to become a new administration. The ruling class could use a deeply-rooted Catholic clergy that preached acceptance of the status quo and was closely tied to the feudal aristocracy. These higher strata in Quebec were more than happy to accept the offer of the British colonialists. Thus, the great "accommodation" by the British colonial elites of the French-speaking elites was born.

This policy took a concrete form with the Quebec Act of 1774, under Carleton's administration. The Quebec Act assured the continuation of the Catholic clergy, the seigneurial system, old French civil law and other customs and traditions that posed no threat to the power of the conquerors. However, the Act did not guarantee the establishment of a representative government nor any real rights for the people. This issue would become the rallying call of the Patriots during the 1837 Rebellion. In exchange for the right to preserve their customs and religion, the Quebec habitants would pledge an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. While preparing this Act, two British colonialists, York and Grey, wrote that "the wise conquerors, after having assured themselves of the possession of their conquest, act with gentleness and permit their conquered subjects to conserve all their local customs that are by nature inoffensive."

Quebec Patriots in the trenches at the Battle of St. Charles, November 25, 1837.

Article V of the Act of 1774 grants Catholics the right to practise their religion and declares full rights for the clergy. Article VI does the same with respect to the Protestant religion and its clergy. Article VII states that, in exchange, all Quebec inhabitants must pledge the following oath:

"I, A.B., solemnly promise and affirm by this oath, that I will be faithful, and that I will bring true faith and fidelity to His Majesty King George and that I will make every effort to discover and inform His Majesty of all treason, perfidious conspiracies, and all attempts, which I may learn about against him."

The Constitution Act of 1791 would keep the same oath for all people wishing to become elected to the newly created Legislative Assembly. Very accommodatingly, His Majesty authorized that the oath "may be pledged in English or in French, as the case may be." The Act also assured the protection of the title deeds of the seigneurial properties in Lower Canada and created what became known as the clergy reserves in Upper Canada. It was effectively the Act of 1791 that divided Canada for the first time between Upper and Lower Canada. The aim was to open the territory to the Loyalists who had deserted the 13 colonies after the American Revolution. But, above all, the Act aimed to consolidate colonial power by restructuring the colony's administration. It created an elected Legislative Assembly without any real power. It strengthened the role and power of the Governor and of the Legislative Council appointed by the governor to the detriment of the elected Legislative Assembly, all of whose laws had to be approved by the Governor and his council.

Thus, the "Chateau Clique," a reference to the Chateau Saint-Louis, residence of the Governor and seat of the government, was born. It would bring together the English merchant bourgeoisie of Lower Canada and dominate political, judicial and commercial affairs until the 1830s, the start of the Patriot movement.

It is important to note that the British did not feel obligated to abolish French. The French language was in effect one of the "inoffensive customs" that they permitted the population to preserve. For example, the Legislative Council had the right to hold its deliberations in French, while the minutes had to be written in English. Proclamations and bylaws were written in English and French. The British were perfectly satisfied with exercising their power in either language, as long as their ends were served. Despite everything, the language question was not specifically debated during this period. It remained unresolved. Under the tutelage of the British colonialists, the new leading Quebec elite quickly became a part of the royal family. The issue is that when it is a matter of profits, language and religion no longer have the same importance. The ruling classes in all the countries of the world speak the language of money and abide by the law of the jungle, and believe in the status quo. These are their only true language and religion.

Definition of Rights Given by the Patriots
Uphold Their Nation-Building Project


A British officer reads the order of expulsion after the defeat of the Patriots' rebellion, to which
the Patriots clenched their fists and cried out, "Treachery!"

Today, once more, the Establishment and its historians are following in Lord Durham's footsteps, reducing the struggle waged by the Patriots to an inter-ethnic conflict between French- and English-speaking peoples. It is precisely the Crown institutions, which did not live up to the people's aspirations nor the demands of the times, that the Patriots defied. The famous Durham Report, issued after the bloody suppression of the Patriots' Rebellion of 1837-38 against the power of the British Crown in Upper and Lower Canada, declared that this was a matter of "races:"

"I expected to find a contest between a government and a people: I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state: I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races; and I perceived that it would be idle to attempt any amelioration of laws or institutions, until we could first succeed in terminating the deadly animosity that now separates the inhabitants of Lower Canada into the hostile divisions of French and English."

Nonetheless, two things jump out when we study this period of history. First, it is striking to see how the Patriots were able to identify the social forms of the period as the block to development and to develop a nation-building project that was based on the most advanced ideals of the time and that responded to the problems as they posed themselves at that time. Second, today we can see that the social forms and the so-called democratic institutions that are blocking society's advance are directly inherited from these empire-builders who fought the Patriots and built Canada by negating the Quebec nation -- and all the Indigenous peoples -- and by fomenting racism and sowing divisions.

When we say the Patriots knew how to identify the block to development posed by the social forms of the period, this means they knew they had to defeat colonialism and abolish the seigneurial system so that on its ruins they could build a republic that responded to the aspirations of the period. The Patriots in Quebec, like others throughout the Americas at that time, were republicans against a colonial regime. This can be seen in the 92 resolutions of 1834 that affirmed, among other things, the aim to create arrangements that conformed to the interests of each habitant "without distinction as to origin or belief." It can also be seen in all the resolutions adopted during the wave of people's assemblies in the summer of 1837 and the declaration of independence that followed.

In the winter of 1838, at the centre of this great expression of the popular will, the Patriots proclaimed "by order of the provisional government," an important manifesto called the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Lower Canada that lists the principles and democratic rights that belong to a republic. Article 3 called for the defence of the rights of all: "Under the free government of Lower Canada, all individuals will enjoy the same rights: the natives will no longer be submitted to any civil disqualification and will enjoy the same rights as all other citizens of Lower Canada." Article 15 proclaimed that it was the people who would write their constitution: "At the earliest occasion the people must choose delegates according to the present division of the country in counties, cities and boroughs who will form a convention or legislative body to draft a constitution according to the needs of the country, in accordance with the provisions of this Declaration, subject to modification according to the will of the people."

This struggle had nothing to do with an inter-ethnic struggle. The Patriots' symbols and the Patriot flag symbolizing the unity of the people of Lower Canada show this. Different battles waged by the Patriot Party also show this. For instance, the Patriot Party defended the full recognition of civil rights of the Jewish community in Lower Canada. In 1807, Ezekiel Hart, a Jew elected in the French-speaking riding of Trois-Rivières, was refused his seat in the Assembly. This situation was ended in 1832 through the adoption of a law -- tabled by John Neilson of the Patriot Party -- which abolished all discrimination against Jews regarding civil rights.

The hatred of the people of Lower Canada was not directed against English-speaking Canadians, nor against the British people. On the contrary, the people of Lower Canada and the English people shared the same hatred for the British imperialists and exploiters. The exchanges between the working class organizations of London, England and the Patriot committees testify to this. After holding a protest meeting in support of the demands of the Canadians, the London Working Men's Association, founded by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, sent a message to the Central Committee of the Patriots in which they wrote: "May you see the sun of independence shine on your growing cities, on your happy homes, your thick forests and frozen lakes!" The Central Committee of the Patriots replied: "We have no quarrel with the people of England. We are waging war solely against the aggression of tyrannical oppressors that oppress you as well as us."

It is even an anachronism to speak of a struggle between French-Canadians and English-Canadians, because during that period, everyone was a Canadian, period! A spokesman for the Patriots explained as much before a committee of the House of Commons: "In written documents, everyone who is on the side of Canada is called a Canadian, and everyone who is against the Canadian people is called non-Canadian." Once again, the division between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians is nothing short of an invention of the colonial exploiters serving their policy of divide and rule.

Despite this evidence, the British colonialists continued to spread the notion, through Lord Durham, that 1837-38 was a struggle between French-speaking and English-speaking people. These slanders perpetuated the 19th century empire-builders' policy of divide-and-rule and served to obscure the essence of the problem. Like today, the essence of the problem was the outmoded so-called democratic institutions and the block to development through social forms. Rather than respond to the demands of the period and renew these institutions, the colonialists defended the status quo by bloodily repressing the 1837-38 Rebellion. The Rebellion was crushed through the force of arms, the suspension of civil liberties, mass arrests, burning of homes, the hanging of 12 Patriots and the forced exile of 64 others. More than 1,700 people were thrown into prison. In Montreal alone, 816 people were arrested in 1838, out of a population of 30,000. As a proportion of Montreal's present-day population, this is the equivalent of 40,000 people. Of these, 108 were court-martialled. These figures do not account for the hundreds who fled to the United States to avoid persecution, including 10 accused of "murder" who faced the death sentence if they returned to the country. Nor do they account for the villages in the Richelieu Valley that were burned to the ground. These events marked the suppression of the nascent Quebec nation whose existence continues to be negated to this very day by depriving Quebec of its right to self-determination as a legal independent entity, free to create a union with the rest of Canada if it so desires.

Definition of Rights in the Act of Union, 1840

The response to the democratic aspirations of the peoples of Upper and Lower Canada in 1837-38 -- after the military suppression and the hanging of the Patriots who refused to accommodate themselves to the British institutions -- was to send Lord Durham to study the situation and make recommendations to London. Durham has been made a symbol of the will to assimilate French-speaking people. In effect, his whole report is filled with hateful passages toward the French-speaking habitants of Lower Canada. Moreover, the spirit of the report conveys a profound chauvinism and imperial contempt for everything that is not British nor in the service of British landed and commercial interests. Beyond this patent racism is a desire to make the young nation a true colony of the British Empire, certainly an English-speaking one, but especially one whose culture is British, which means in conformity with British insititutions. This was to ensure stability for the Empire's financial interests. The following passage sheds light on the true motivations of Durham's policy. It was not so much an issue of waging an offensive against a language, as it was a matter of domination and of maintaining the colonial power:

"In these circumstances, I should be indeed surprised if the more reflecting part of the French Canadians entertained at present any hope of continuing to preserve their nationality. Much as they struggle against it, it is obvious that the process of assimilation to English habits is already commencing. The English language is gaining ground, as the language of the rich and of the employers of labour naturally will.... A considerable time must, of course, elapse before the change of a language can spread over a whole people... But, I repeat, that the alteration of the character of the Province ought to be immediately entered on, and firmly, though cautiously, followed up; that in any plan, which may be adopted for the future management of Lower Canada, the first object ought to be that of making it an English Province; and that, with this end in view, the ascendancy should never again be placed in any hands but those of an English population. [I]n the state of mind in which I have described the French Canadian population, as not only now being, but as likely for a long while to remain, the trusting them with an entire control over this Province, would be, in fact, only facilitating a rebellion. Lower Canada must be governed now, as it must be hereafter, by an English population: and thus the policy which the necessities of the moment force on us, is in accordance with that suggested by a comprehensive view of the future and permanent improvement of the Province."

It is crystal clear: to assure "the future and permanent improvement of the Province," it is necessary to prevent "trusting them with an entire control over this Province."

It was in this spirit and according to Durham's recommendations that the Act of Union of 1840 was adopted, which handed over part of Quebec's territory to Ontario and part of Ontario's debt to Quebec! It is with Lord Durham and the Act of Union that we find the seeds of the division of the people on an ethnocultural basis.

Evolution of Rights During the 1841-1867 Period

The period 1841-67 is very interesting: it is presented as a period of great victory for democracy in Canada and is indeed a very important period of setting up the so-called democratic institutions. At the same time, it is a period of high treason and capitulation. Each lofty deed of establishing what is currently called Canadian democracy is in fact a base deed of national betrayal by the elites of Quebec. This is why we say that the so-called democratic institutions are a form of reasonable accommodation that was instituted on the basis of the negation of Quebec, among other things. During this period, the idea of the "good subject" was put forward by the accommodated elites. The good subject is one who is on the margin of the conduct of political affairs, one who relies on the monarchy to be guided and accommodated by the so-called democratic institutions of the Empire.

This idea of the good subject was put forward by Papineau during the debate on the recall of the Union in 1849, who claimed that French-Canadians are quiet and loyal to the Crown and that on this basis the Union is a disavowal of the freedoms of francophones. This idea was later taken up by George-Étienne Cartier who, on the one hand, defended the closed-door discussions on the Confederation project and, on the other hand, considered that being "good subjects" meant deferring to the will of parliamentarians. The "French-Canadians" were good subjects according to Cartier since they allowed the British institutions in America to develop.

Among the accommodated elites, the most illustrious representative is undoubtedly Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine. Made a nobleman in 1854 for his service to the Crown, he became one of the greatest capitulators and main promoters of conciliation with the Union. Lafontaine saw it as an opportunity, "a good risk" he would later say.

In an address on August 25, 1840, the day after the union of Upper and Lower Canada, he spoke of it in these terms to the electors of his county:

"It [the Act of Union ] is an act of injustice and despotism, which has been imposed on us without our consent; [...] Should it follow that the representatives of Lower Canada should commit themselves in advance and without guarantee to demand the recall of the Union? No, they should not do this."

In the same speech, Lafontaine supported the political institutions of the empire-builders, taking care to emphasize the correctness of Durham's solution. Lafontaine rejected "opposition to excess." He said it was better to compromise and accept playing the game in order to hold onto power; in short, to conciliate and abandon nation-building on the Republican basis in exchange for crumbs of influence on the basis of subservience to the British Crown. Thus, in 1842, Lafontaine agreed to participate in the government and administration of the colony. He declared proudly: "Without our active cooperation, without our participation in power, the government cannot function in such a way as to restore the peace and confidence that are essential to the success of any administration."

In 1849, when he opposed the abrogation of the Union of 1840, he praised the merits of his policy of capitulation and his participation in the colonial power: "But if you and I, Mr. Speaker, had not accepted the part given to us in 1842, in the administration of the affairs of the country, where would our compatriots be today? Where would our language be, which a governor had prohibited through a clause of the Act of Union against the good faith of treaties? Would this language, the language of our fathers, be rehabilitated, as it has just been in the most solemn manner, in the enclosure and in the acts of the Legislature?"

This policy of conciliation with the political institutions of the British, which aim to keep the people away from the sovereign power, weighs heavily on not just Quebec but also Canada as a whole still today.


The Battle of St. Charles, November 25, 1837 (from painting by Lord Charles Beauclerk)

The 1837-1838 Rebellion is an important event in the history of Quebec and Canada. We must grasp its significance so that we can understand today's situation and not allow ourselves to be diverted by the Establishment forces' blackmail according to which Quebec's sovereignty equals the "destruction of Canada." On the contrary, establishing a modern state in Quebec on its own basis remains a necessity, so that the constitutional crisis can be resolved in favour of the people by breaking the hold on society of the institutions that were established by repressing the nation-building project of the patriots 1837-38. The democratic institutions based on "reasonable accommodations" -- the arrangements that the British oligarchs considered "reasonable" so as to strengthen the British colonial rule established after France's defeat on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, meant that Quebec went from being a French colony to an English colony.

British rule divided the people on an ethnocultural basis and enshrined this division in the Act of Union of 1840. Since then, the line of divide-and-rule has served first the British state and now the Canadian state to impose the dictate of the ruling elites on the people of Quebec and the people of Canada, as well as the Indigenous peoples. It is clear that after the 1837-38 Rebellion, all the Patriots who refused to conciliate with these so-called reasonable accommodations were either hung or exiled, and that the current democratic institutions of the so-called responsible government, which came out of the infamous Act of Union, aim to keep the people out of any power-sharing arrangement.

The current situation shows that the cause for which the Patriots fought in 1837-38 today expresses itself in the necessity for the working class to constitute the nation and vest sovereignty in the people so that they can take the decisions on political, economic, social and cultural affairs, and the issues of concern to the nation. This is even more urgent at a time when the governments of Quebec and Canada are intensifying the sellout of the natural and human resources, looking for ways to establish new arrangements that facilitate the political, economic and military integration of Canada and Quebec to a Fortress North America, and restructuring the state to serve the most powerful monopolies within the context of the U.S. striving for world domination. The more they refuse to share power, the more they speak of "reasonable accommodations." The result of this nation-wrecking agenda is that the ruling elites have plunged Quebec and Canada into an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis.

The refusal of these elites to open the path to progress for society can be seen in their increasing attempts to impose the policy of sowing divisions over language, national origin, culture, beliefs, skin colour, gender and other considerations. Every day we witness quarrels among factions who compete to find out who is the best representative of "Quebec values." They reduce the identity of the Quebec people to a matter of language and divide the polity along ethnocultural lines so that they can impose a new "reasonable accommodation" that continues to deny the people their right to be, their right to decide on the arrangements that they need to flourish.

In view of these attacks on conscience, the workers and people of Quebec can either continue down the path which the British colonialists started 200 years ago with the conscious and murderous policy of divide-and-rule, perpetuated by today's elites in the name of "diversity is our strength" or they can look for the ways to put an end to this situation and to build the fraternal unity of the peoples on the basis of the recognition and defence of the rights of all. Only the working class can successfully resolve this question by taking up the path of renewal and progress against the subversion and the block to renewal of the institutions that the ruling circles promote.

The inciting of passions on the question of language, ethnocultural differences and values is not aimed at democratic renewal, but is part of the old British strategy of divide-and-rule. It is the basis of the so-called democratic institutions that still deprive the people of their right to govern. Thus, the task of the working class and people of Quebec and Canada is to break all efforts to establish a so-called social consensus which divides the people on a racist basis. Democratic renewal is the solution to the 200-year-old problem of the subjugation of the Quebec nation by the so-called democratic institutions that deprive the people of their sovereignty.

About Joseph Montferrand

Carving of Joseph Montferrand in Mattawa.

The Joseph Montferrand Collective, based in the Outaouais, is named for Joseph Montferrand (1802-1864), a raftsman and logger who worked throughout Lower Canada, particularly in the Ottawa Valley. Known also as Joe Mufferaw, Montferrand is considered a hero by the working people, both for his renowned strength and courage and, especially, for opposing the brutal treatment meted out to the Quebec workers by their British employers.

Jos Montferrand's exploits took place for the most part in the years preceding the Rebellions of 1837-1838. He first came to fame in 1818 at 16 years of age, when he stood 6' 4" and weighed 240 lbs. At that time, the British military organized boxing tournaments around the world on their gunboats, declaring the winner "World Boxing Champion." In Canada, stationed in the Montreal Harbour, the British marines would taunt and humiliate the crowds of Canadians, ridiculing them that they were too inept to face their "World Champion." That year, young Jos Montferrand took up the challenge, felling the "world champion" with a single punch. He was declared "World Champion" and given prize money, but Jos refused the title and gave the money "to those poor folks who need it."

Montferrand is immortalized in the songs "Johnny Monfarleau" by La Bolduc, "Jos Montferrand" by Gilles Vigneault and "Big Joe Mufferaw" by Stompin' Tom Connors, and many other cultural works.


1. Bill 99 was upheld by a decision of the Superior Court of Quebec on April 19, 2018.

(Translated from the original French by TML. Illustrations from L'esprit révolutionnaire dans l'art québécois, Robert-lionel Séguin (1972))

Haut de



Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  editor@cpcml.ca