QUEBEC – A senior Parti Québécois strategist said Monday a World Court ruling that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law means Quebec also has the right to declare its independence unilaterally.
Louis Bernard, noting the 1998 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that if there is a clear vote in a clear referendum, Canada must negotiate with Quebec, said that the World Court decision strengthens Quebec’s hand.
If those negotiations are going nowhere, he explained, “It is possible for Quebec to declare its independence unilaterally.”
Bernard has been a key adviser to every Quebec premier in the last 50 years, from Jean Lesage to Jean Charest. In 2005, he sought the PQ leadership, taking a moderate stance on the sovereignty process.
“Whether Quebecers want it or not, that is something else,” he said from his Outremont home on Monday.
“It’s like a collective agreement,” Bernard added. “If you can’t agree with your employer and you don’t have the right to strike, you have less strength.”
The World Court, officially known as the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Holland, was asked by the United Nations General Assembly to rule whether Kosovo’s declaration of independence was legal.
In a decision by nine judges to five, the World Court noted in its “advisory opinion” that international law “contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence.”
For Bernard, the World Court ruling amounts to giving Quebec the right to strike.
“You have the right to strike,” he said. “Whether you use it or not is another thing. But you have the right to do it.
“That makes all the parties reflect.”
Bernard also made his case in an op-ed article published on Montreal’s Le Devoir, in reply to Stéphane Dion.
Dion was the former federal Liberal leader and sponsor of the Clarity Act, stating that the federal government has a say in a future Quebec sovereignty referendum.
Dion, who did not return calls Monday, argued in La Presse on the weekend that “if Canada admits it is devisable, it is because it is being pushed there by international law.”
“It is because we cannot conceive that the existence of our country is based on anything else but the will to live together,” Dion wrote, while distancing Canada from the “bloody civil war” that led to Kosovo’s independence.
About 90 per cent of people in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians, although there are two enclaves with a majority Serb population.
In addition to the Serbian minority, Serbia’s claim to Kosovo is based on its sense of identity, dating back to the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje, when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman Turks.
The Ottomans occupied Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 15th century, converting much of the local population to Islam.
Serbia has never recognized Kosovo’s independence and argued that the declaration was “an unlawful act which had been declared null and void by the National Assembly of Serbia.”
Canada did not intervene in the World Court deliberations, although 36 countries, in addition to Kosovo officials, did.
The World Court noted in its judgment the 1998 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, but said the case of Kosovo was “markedly different from that posed to the Supreme Court of Canada,” noting that Canada’s high court was asked to rule on whether the Quebec National Assembly had “the right to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally.”
In this case the World Court was asked “whether or not the declaration of independence” by Kosovo “was adopted in violation of international law.”
The ruling referred to a 2007 report by Martti Ahtisaari, special U.N. envoy to Kosovo, who concluded that “the only viable option for Kosovo is independence.”