Mr. Speaker, the motion of my colleague from Verchères is of particular interest for me because many events of the 1837 Rebellion occurred in my riding, in the town of Saint-Eustache, which became historic, and in neighbouring villages.
It is impossible to visit this region without seeing traces of these events mile after mile. Some of the villages and localities have evocative and significant names. One village was razed and others were burned to a greater of lesser extent. The English burned these villages in reprisal.
The facade of the main church in Saint-Eustache still bears the marks made by English cannonballs. Many streets in the town are named after participants in these events. The Jean-Olivier Chénier Local Community Service Centre recalls the leader of the Patriotes in this region. These are all visible remnants of the 1837 Rebellion which brought the Patriotes face to face with the British army. We who live in that region cannot forget those events even if we wanted to. The signs are there right before us.
Before anything else, I have to dispel a myth which has to do with the confrontation that did not occur because the Patriotes wanted sovereignty. The motion does not mention only the Patriotes of Lower Canada but also the Reformers of Upper Canada. Let me quote my colleague, the hon. member for Verchères, who presented this motion. He said on June 20, 1994: "The aim of the motion I have just respectfully submitted for the consideration of this House today is to rectify this perception [that they were criminals] and to achieve, at long last, recognition of the historic contribution of the Patriotes of Lower Canada and the Reformers of Upper Canada to the establishment of a truly responsible and truly democratic government in Canada and in Quebec".
At the time, the Patriotes and the Reformers were fighting for a cause that is still dear to our hearts, quite simply democracy.
Therefore, whether they were from Upper or Lower Canada, the insurrectionists were fighting to have the colonial assembly, which represented in the people, take a more active part in the exercise of power and gradually take over the internal management of the colony. As we know, the management of the colony's affairs was, at the time, conducted by London, through the governor and councils.
In short, what the insurrectionists wanted, and the reason why I think the whole country has the duty to recognize them, was, and I repeat, the democratization of the institutions of their country.
Whether it was in the field or at the end of a rope, will we say that the sacrifice of those who lost their lives was in vain? No, because in spite of their defeat, their uprising had the result of drawing the attention of London to the people's aspirations that it had consistently ignored until then. It was as a result of the 1837-38 events that London asked Lord Durham to conduct an inquiry and to propose some solutions to the problems raised by these aspirations from colonies in the north of the United States of America.
The Durham report, which was of course open to criticism in many respects, particularly for us, Quebecers, nevertheless proved the Reformers and the Patriotes right, in the sense that the report ridiculed and criticized the Constitution Act of 1791, which, while giving a representative government, did not accept the principle of responsible government. That was exactly what the insurrectionists had been demanding and, on that point, Lord Durham was in agreement with them.
It would be an overstatement to say that, in and of themselves, the actions of the Patriotes and the Reformers resulted in the Durham mission, the awareness that this mission raised in London and, consequently, the recognition in 1848 of responsible government. It would be unfair to others who helped make our institutions more democratic. The fact remains, however, that this action led to the decision to send Lord Durham on his mission and that the conclusions of this mission strongly influenced London's decision in 1848.
I repeat, the Patriotes and the Reformers were not the sole instigators of the movement towards democracy that started in 1848, but it is important to recognize the part they played, and I will get back to this. We want to give everyone his due.
The causes that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries moved first the Americans, then the French and then the Canadians to rebel violently against authority must be seen in context, and the context was, of course, different for each group. However, the main theme was the same: the will of a mature people to manage its own affairs. This phenomenon was to spread to a number of western countries.
Without going so far as to defend violence, we cannot afford to ignore, for the sake of being politically correct, the important and in some cases unique role played by popular uprisings in the history of democracy.
In Canada as well, history has shown that acts of violence occur only as a last resort, when people try to make themselves heard and all peaceful methods have failed. Perhaps I may recall what was said by the hon. member for Portneuf and emphasize the respectful tone of the resolutions he read to us and the fact that they included the desire to achieve their purpose through legal means. It is only when they realized that legal means were ineffective that they resolved to take arms.
All attempts had failed. There were speeches in the House, demonstrations in the streets, editorials in the newspapers. The Patriotes and the Reformers finally decided to resort to armed rebellion because they had failed to obtain that London limit the discretionary powers of the Governor.
In Canada as everywhere else, violent action, even when defeated, usually brings some movement, even on the part of a previously inflexible government.
It is in this light that the motion seeks recognition of the historic contribution of the rebels of 1837-38, who fought for the democratization of the institutions of the time.
We should not be surprised by the fact that it took so long to realize the significance of the events of 1837-38. By the way, we should remember that the Church took 130 or 140 years before allowing-