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Reference Re Secession of Quebec

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. Sup. Ct. of Canada 2 S.C.R. 217. 37 I.L.M. 1340 (1998)

Brief Fact Summary.

Quebec attempted to secede from Canada.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The right of a people to self-determination cannot be said to ground a right to unilateral secession.


Under international law, is there a right to self-determination that would give the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec, the right to effect Quebec’s unilateral secession from Canada?


The principle of self-determination captured under international law has evolved within a framework of respect for the territorial integrity of existing states. It is only people under colonial or foreign occupation that are granted the right to external self-determination, based on the assumption that both are entities inherently distinct from the colonialist power and the occupant power. Quebec is neither a colony nor a foreign occupied land in this case nor have her people been victims of attacks on their physical existence or integrity or of massive human violations. But Quebecers are represented equitably in legislative, executive and judicial institutions, they occupy prominent positions within the government of Canada and they equally enjoy the freedom to pursue their political, economic, social and cultural development.


The possibility that the international law right of self-determination could entail secession as a “last resort” in cases of especially severe oppression, in which other channels for exercising internal self-determination had been “totally frustrated” is left open by the Reference Re Secession of Quebec.

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