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The Clarity Act (formerly Bill C-20, before it became law) in Canadian politics is federal legislation that established the conditions under which Ottawa would recognize a vote for secession by one of the provinces. First introduced in the House of Commons on December 13, 1999, it was subsequently passed by the House on March 15, 2000, and by the Senate on June 29, 2000.
A contradictory Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State was introduced in the National Assembly of Quebec only two days after the Clarity Act had been introduced in the House of Commons.
The motivation behind the Clarity Act was largely based on the near separation vote of the 1995 Quebec referendum, in which the people of Quebec voted against the sovereignty option by a razor-thin margin (50.58% to 49.42%). Many federalists in Ottawa were caught off-guard by the results and there were concerns over the manner in which the referendum had been allowed to be carried out.
The strongest complaints were on the presumed ambiguity of the 1995 question and the fact that Quebec had passed a law reserving the right for the National Assembly to declare independence unilaterally if Ottawa decided not to negotiate following a winning referendum.
See the article on the 1995 Quebec referendum for the wording of the question and the External links at the bottom of this article for the Act Respecting the Future of Québec which contains the details on the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).
Prior to the Quebec Secession Reference, lawyer and staunch federalist Guy Bertrand (today turned sovereignist again) filed a private suit against the Quebec government asking that future referendums like that of 1995 be prevented.
- Under the Constitution of Canada, can the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?
- Does international law give the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally? In this regard, is there a right to self-determination under international law that would give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally?
- In the event of a conflict between domestic and international law on the right of the National Assembly, legislature, or government of Quebec to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally, which would take precedence in Canada?
As soon as these questions were made public, both parties of the National Assembly, the Bloc Québécois and numerous federalists denounced Ottawa's gesture.
In contradiction with each other, both the government of Quebec and the government of Canada publicly stated that they were very pleased with the opinion of the Supreme Court.
The Clarity Act (Bill C-20) was later drafted and presented to the House of Commons on December 13, 1999. This move by Ottawa was more bitterly denounced by both parties of the National Assembly, the Bloc Québécois and many federalists than the Reference on Secession. Notably, the Progressive Conservatives under Joe Clark opposed it.
Following the adoption of the Clarity Act, an open letter supporting Quebec's democratic right to self-determination was published and signed by numerous intellectuals from Quebec and English Canada.
The key points of the draft included the following elements.
- Giving the House of Commons the power to decide whether a proposed referendum question was considered clear prior to the public vote;
- Giving the House of Commons the power to determine whether or not a clear majority has expressed itself in any referendum;
- Specifically stating that any question not solely referring to secession was to be considered unclear;
- Stating that all provinces and the First Nations were to be part of the negotiations;
- Allowing the House of Commons to override a referendum decision if it felt the referendum violated any of the tenets of the Clarity Act.
- 1995 Quebec referendum
- Quebec sovereignty movement
- Politics of Quebec
- Politics of Canada
- Chinese Anti-Secession Law (counter-independence law regarding Taiwan)
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