First Published: In Struggle! No. 220, September 30, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In 1867, the Fathers of Confederation cooked up a Constitution behind closed doors which included absolutely nothing concerning national rights, the rights of the people or the rights of the labour movement.
Over the past 113 years, the labour movement has won fundamental rights, women have won major victories and nations and national minorities have specified their demands. All these victories, demands and acquired rights must find a place in the Canadian Constitution.
But just like 113 years ago, there is a serious danger that the new Constitution will be drawn up behind the backs of the people.
In the months to come, IN STRUGGLE! intends to wage a broad information campaign explaining what is at stake and the importance of the constitutional debate for the labour and popular movements.
For several months now, the newspapers have been full of articles on the Constitution. We have been bombarded with scoops about closed-door meetings, document leaks and personality conflicts. People are getting to the point where they would almost like to tell them to take their Constitution and leave them alone.
Many people have the impression that the debates on the Charter of Human Rights are just a series of games for constitutional experts. And that is in fact the bourgeoisie’s aim: speak about the people and keep them out of things.
In opposition to the bourgeois media, we intend to orient our information around two objectives:
– to show how important it is that the popular forces get involved in the Constitution to defend their demands.
– defend the fundamental demands put forward by different workers and community organizations, by nations and national minorities by publicizing them in our press and by concretely supporting them.
We will do this regularly in the pages of our paper, and also in a small pamphlet entitled The Constitution: our basic rights are on the line which we intend to widely distribute as of mid-October.
Despite repeated attempts on the part of the bourgeoisie to try and keep things for itself, an increasing number of organizations have begun to make themselves heard, notably among Native peoples and among the most oppressed groups in society: women, Blacks, francophones outside Quebec, prisoners, etc.
We are going to work to broaden the demands which touch the Constitution by participating in forums, panels, and information meetings and by encouraging such intiatives so that a genuine people’s tribune on the Constitution be created.
The Quebec referendum triggered the renewal of the Constitutional debate. This does not mean that the question of Quebec is exclusive or even central in the constitutional debates. Some of the committees to defend Quebec’s right to self-determination have decided to take up their work again this fall.
We will continue to intervene in the committees to defend Quebec’s right to self-determination so as to demand that the national rights of Quebec be respected in a future Constitution. But our main work will be to encourage these committees or individuals within the committees to join with other organizations in the defence of popular demands.
The commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the October crisis is a reminder of the violence and repression used against the Quebec nation and the unjust treatment of many political prisoners. It also reminds us that a federal document proposes that there be dispositions in a future Constitution to “make any law invalid in cases where it is necessary to protect national security or public order...”
The commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the October Crisis should be the occasion to demand:
– the immediate repeal of the War Measures Act
– general amnesty for all political prisoners
– that the future Constitution explicitly forbid any recourse to emergency powers that would suspend or limit in any way democratic rights.
This commemoration should be the occasion to recall the role played by many progressives in English Canada in the support of the national demands of the Quebecois. This year again,commemorations of the October Crisis will be held in certain cities in English Canada.
These then are the main objectives of our plan of action and the main activities in which we intend to intervene. We cannot forsee the future. Other activities might have to be added on and some might become less important, but the main thing is not to lose sight of the objectives we are pursuing: to involve the popular forces in the Constitution and to let those who have struggled for their rights speak out.
The struggle that we are waging around the Constitution is not an easy one. Some people feel that it is only a quarrel among capitalists, others see no link between the Constitution and the aspirations of the masses, while others could tell of interesting experiences. We invite all those who have a point of view on the question, to send us their comments.