That, in the opinion of this House, the government should officially recognize the historical contribution of the Patriotes of Lower Canada and the Reformers of Upper Canada to the establishment of a system of responsible democratic government in Canada and in Quebec, as did the government of Quebec in 1982, by proclaiming by order a National Patriots' Day.
Madam Speaker, in the Canadian history course I took when I was in my fourth year at high school, we had to write a paper on the theme, "Louis-Joseph Papineau: Traitor or Hero"? This provocative theme eloquently illustrated the equivocal perception and the historical ambiguity that surrounded, and still surround, Louis-Joseph Papineau and the thousands of men and women who answered to the name of "Patriote" and "Reformer".
The dramatic events known as the Rebellion of 1837-38 have often been depicted in textbooks and tourist pamphlets as the feat of a band of criminals-what today we would call terrorists-who challenged the established order.
The aim of the motion I have just respectfully submitted for the consideration of this House today is to rectify this perception 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 truly responsible and truly democratic government in Canada and in Quebec.
It is important to make clear that the motion does not request a pardon for the Patriotes: they were pardoned by Queen Victoria in 1849. I think it is high time the federal government recognized that the Rebellion was part of a historic current of social and political unrest that affected not just the colonies but their motherlands, starting in the 18th century and stretching into the first half of the 19th.
The rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada were not the work of a restricted segment of the population. Merchants, manufacturers, professionals, farmers, colonists, all shared the goal of freeing themselves economically and politically from Great Britain's colonial grip.
The Patriotes in Lower Canada and the Reformers in Upper Canada were fighting essentially for civil and political rights, for the establishment of truly democratic and responsible institutions, and for a certain degree of national emancipation. How can it be that the role of the Patriotes has been denigrated for so long? Everyone knows that our perception of history evolves according to the values and ideologies prevalent in a particular society, and according to ambient social and political interaction. The best example of this phenomenon is certainly the French Revolution, whose main protagonists came to be viewed over time as visionaries, then as pariahs, and finally as heroes. The Revolution has been described as the best thing that ever happened to France and even to mankind and as a bloody period in history that should have been avoided.
I contend that the time has come for the federal government to make up for lost time and recognize the undeniable contribution to history made by the Patriotes and the Reformers. Previous Canadian governments should be ashamed and embarrassed that the Bloc Quebecois had to be elected before this issue was raised in this House.
Some citizens' groups, primarily from Quebec and Ontario, have been working hard for a number of years to ensure that the Patriotes in Lower Canada and the Reformers in Upper Canada receive their due recognition and find their place in Canada's history. The ultimately violent nature of this political movement must never obscure the inestimable importance of the democratic institutions and representatives that were bequeathed to us.
What we must in fact remember are the basic ideas for which the Patriotes fought. Basically, these people were fighting for three goals. The first was the recognition of the people of Lower and Upper Canada as nations capable of taking control of their own future. Even then, the Patriotes showed their openmindedness and that sense of nationalism that did not rest on ethnicity but rather on their strong sense of belonging to the area. I submit as evidence the wording of a Patriote resolution adopted in Saint-Marc on May 15, 1837 and which reads as follows: "-(the delegates) adhere and will adhere under this agreement
to the following principles: equality of citizens, regardless of origin, language or religion".
The second goal was the establishment of truly democratic institutions. Specifically, they demanded the establishment of the principle of ministerial responsibility or, in other terms, the creation of an executive formed primarily of representatives in the House of Assembly and responsible to it-that is, accountable to the people rather than to the British crown. At the meeting mentioned earlier, one of the resolutions passed required delegates to adhere to the principles of an elected legislative council, an executive responsible to the people, and finally legislative control over all public moneys from any source.
The third goal concerned, to a large extent, the civil, political and economic liberties that many peoples of the world were beginning to adopt.
In addition to being clearly set out in the hundreds of resolutions passed by the various Patriote assemblies, these three main goals were also mentioned in assembly proceedings, statements, newspaper articles, speeches in public and in the House, petitions to the British Crown and throughout the literature of the movement published at the time. For many long years before they took up arms, the Patriotes peacefully defended their civil rights. The pen and the word were the Patriotes' main weapons, before they turned to pitchforks and shotguns. When they saw that their speeches in parliament, their demonstrations in the streets and the articles they published in newspapers were powerless to reorient the governor's autocratic and arbitrary power and that he preferred to further limit their rights, some Patriotes finally decided that they had no choice but to take up arms against Britain's authority.
Some people might wonder whether it is relevant to debate and vote on such a motion today in this House. In answer to their protests, I say that citizens who are interested in history and justice, descendants and friends of Patriotes and Reformers, have been striving for many years to ensure that parliaments recognize, finally and officially, the very source of their existence.
Besides these aspirations that have been held by certain segments of the population, historical arguments can also be raised to justify passing the motion before the House today.
The Patriotes and the Reformers, before some of them decided that peaceful means would not be adequate to the task, were what we would call today model citizens who were involved in community life; they worked toward establishing a government that was responsible for its acts, and promoted self-determination and representative elections.
But our interpretation of history is often quite unreliable; our collective memory seems to retain only what suits it. It must be remembered that some persons who are now described as Canadian heroes were closely linked to the patriot movement. We have only to think of George-Étienne Cartier, a lawyer but also an active politician and later a father of the Canadian Confederation and Prime Minister from 1857 to 1858. We can also think of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, an ardent supporter of the Patriote cause, imprisoned without having taken part in the violence and later Premier from 1848 to 1851.
We can also think of Louis-Joseph Papineau, an MP for 25 years, a politician and above all a free speaker, admired by his peers and by the public; or of William Lyon Mackenzie, an MP from Upper Canada, expelled from the Upper Canada Assembly for libel and then re-elected five times, who chose arms as a last resort. Finally, we can think of Robert Baldwin, who shared the democratic ideals that Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine believed in, so much so that these two men became the leaders of the reform parties in Upper and Lower Canada respectively.
Paying tribute to these persons who ensured that we may live in this democratic system of which we are so proud means, among other things, not denying a part of their lives or the strength of their convictions just because it suits us to do so. The motion tabled today is part of a lengthy historic evolution. In fact, it is one more step toward the recognition of the historic contribution of the Patriotes, which has been laborious and full of unexpected twists.
In February 1849, the Amnesty Act signed by Queen Victoria granted royal pardon to those involved in the skirmishes of 1837 and 1838. That Act paved the way for reparation for losses borne by the people of Lower Canada during looting by British troops. We note that a similar act had been proclaimed in Upper Canada four years earlier, in 1845. This royal pardon made waves in loyalist circles, resulting in the fire in the Parliament buildings at Montreal in April 1849.
A number of years were to pass before a monument to the glory of the Patriotes was unveiled in 1926 by Lieutenant Governor Narcisse Pérodeau, in front of the former Prison du pied-du-courant in Montreal, where 12 Patriotes, including Joseph Narcisse Cardinal, MP for La Prairie, had been hanged nearly a century earlier.
One hundred years after the events, in 1938, the Government of Canada seemed disposed to promote the cause of the Patriotes. An imposing arch to their memory was built at Niagara and unveiled by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. This arch bore a plaque on which were engraved the names of the 32 martyrs of 1837-38, both French speaking and English speaking. Unfortunately this arch was destroyed in 1967, the year of the centennial of the Canadian Confederation, and all
indications are that the then Ontario government seemed to find this weighty souvenir too much of a burden. It was only in 1984 that the ruins of this arch were displayed to the public.
In 1982, the Quebec government decided to move ahead with the process of recognizing the historic contribution made by the Patriotes. Referring to the ideal of liberty, Premier René Lévesque paid tribute to the Patriotes in these terms: "The Patriotes of the 19th century expressed that ideal in their own way, with the means they felt they had to use. No one can doubt the honesty of their approach, whatever judgment one may pass on what has been termed the Rebellion. And we must remember that we owe them a debt for having laid the groundwork here for the advent of responsible government, genuinely popular government". It is from this perspective that the National Assembly voted for the introduction of a Journée nationale des Patriotes, which since then has been marked each year on the Sunday closest to November 23.
In 1987, the bishops of Quebec reacted as well, lifting the previous religious sanctions against the Patriotes who had fallen in battle during the uprisings of 1837 and 1838. At the same time, the bishops recognized that the social and political background of the time had influenced the decision that had been made by the religious authorities. As a result, religious burial of the rebels' remains was finally allowed.
At the federal level, unfortunately, there have been stumbling blocks in the way of slow progress toward regaining respectability for the Patriotes. In 1988, Canada Post, claiming to have lost a file, categorically refused to issue a stamp paying tribute to the Patriotes. This refusal was all the more surprising and incomprehensible since in 1971 Canada Post had issued a stamp to the memory of Patriote and reformer Louis-Joseph Papineau.
I would also regret it if I did not stress one event, one of the oddest and most indicative of the ambivalence of successive federal governments.
In 1970, the Right Hon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, then Prime Minister of Canada, took part in the unveiling, in Australia, of a monument to the memory of the 58 Patriotes from Lower Canada, exiled and imprisoned there for two years and then freed conditionally before most of them decided to return home.
On this plaque can be read, in both of Canada's official languages, the following words: "-in commemoration of the 130th anniversary of the Canadian exiles' landing in Australia and the sacrifices made by many Canadians and Australians for the advent of independent, equal and free countries within the Commonwealth".
We also note that a monument in honour of the 92 Reformers from Upper Canada, who had been exiled to Tasmania, was also unveiled by a Canadian official that same year. It would seem that the Australians have a keener sense of history that did the governments of Canada of those times. This absence of official recognition by successive governments and Parliaments of Canada is all the more odd since we find numerous references to the Patriotes enshrined in the very walls of the building in which Canadian democracy is exercised.
Indeed, sculptures of George-Étienne Cartier, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin can be found at the entrance to the House. Cartier is also one of the persons in the famous painting entitled "The Fathers of Confederation". What is more, in the northeast corner of the grounds of the Parliament Buildings is a statute of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin. We note in passing that coins stuck in honour of the Patriotes were legal tender in this country in the 19th century.
While it is very disappointing to see that, until now, successive governments of Canada have not deigned to recognize the historic role played by the Patriotes and Reformers, we can still be glad that they have shown more diligence in other cases. One particularly interesting precedent reminds us to challenge the implacable verdicts of history. I refer, of course, to the resolution of May 29, 1992, passed unanimously in this House, recognizing Louis Riel as one of the founders of Manitoba and of the Canadian Confederation.
From that point on, no one could challenge Riel's contribution to the historic development of Canada. Although Riel participated in violent uprisings and was hanged in 1885 for high treason, the House recognized the value and the historic role played by that former MP, who had reached the conclusion that change could only come by force of arms. Joe Clark said, referring to Riel: "We must rely on the positive aspects of our experience rather than the negative ones".
The historic vacuum or, more precisely, the historic ambiguity that has persisted since pardon was extended to the Patriotes in 1849 and the Reformers in 1844 must be remedied. Until now, federal governments and Parliaments have been particularly silent on this issue. The vote that will end the debate beginning now on this motion will clarify formally the position of Canada's Parliament on this issue. By means of this vote, the House will have an opportunity to say whether it prefers unctuous endorsement of the decision made over 160 years ago or whether it is time, in light of the findings of the Durham report, the creation of the Canadian federation, and the introduction of responsible government, to take a fresh look at this period in our history.
For me, and for the people of the constituency of Verchères, this motion is especially meaningful. Indeed, I have the honour of representing the constituency that was, in large part, the theatre of the events we are discussing today.
According to popular history, first of all, most of the 92 resolutions adopted by the House in 1834 were written during meetings held in the LeNoblet-Duplessis house in Contrecoeur, and probably at Mr. Masse's inn in Saint-Denis, now the Maison nationale des Patriotes.
In 1837, several assemblies to protest the Russells resolutions took place in Saint-Charles, Verchères, Saint-Marc, Boucherville and Varennes. The famous assembly of the six constituencies, in which Papineau participated, took place in Saint-Charles on October 23 and 24, 1837, bringing together 6,000 persons, including 12 MPs and one legislative advisor.
On the eve of the wave of arrests decided on by Governor Gosford, Papineau and 30 other Patriote leaders decided to take refuge in Saint-Denis.
That is also the reason the first battles between the Patriotes and British troops took place there. On the morning of November 23, the British army, 500 strong, was stopped by 250 Patriotes at Saint-Denis. In the afternoon, 200 more Patriotes arrived from the west bank of the Richelieu-from Saint-Antoine, Verchères and Contrecoeur-led by none other than George-Étienne Cartier, future father of the Canadian Confederation. Twelve Patriotes died during the encounter, including the member for Vaudreuil, Ovide Perreault. The British troops retreated, conceding victory.
Two days later, following a series of mistakes, the Patriotes were brutally squashed in Saint-Charles and lost 35 men. The village itself was looted and burned down. More than 30 Patriotes were taken back to Montreal as prisoners.
That same year, on December 4, a huge meeting of delegates from all constituencies was due to be held in Saint-Charles to form an «assembly», such as the one held in Philadelphia in 1776, to solemnly proclaim Lower Canada's independence. As the story goes, on December 2 or 3, the British troops were back in the area and plundered and set fire once more to the town of Saint-Denis.
Each year, Saint-Denis and Saint-Charles host the most important event held in honour of the Patriotes. That is also where the Quebec government has established a national Patriotes museum, in Mr. Masse's old inn. Finally, it is where the greatest number of monuments honouring the Patriotes are to be found.
Route 133 between Sorel and Iberville, along the eastern shore of the Richelieu River, has also been known, since 1979, as Patriotes Road.
But beyond monuments and with historical hindsight, the goals of the Patriotes and the Reformers are easier to discern. It cannot be concluded from these events that they simply rebelled against the Establishment. The Patriote movement was far from a spontaneous blaze ignited by a handful of individuals. It was indeed the logical outcome of a long process characterized by a strong rallying of the people.
The Canadian Parliament must look at this period of our history with new eyes. It must put into perspective, according to our society's present values, the significance of the 1837 and 1838 events. Thanks to these rebellions, we have inherited a system of responsible government and democratic institutions and traditions admired the world over.
If the national liberation movement started by the Patriotes and inherited by the present sovereignty movement has not yet come to its logical conclusion, the same cannot be said of our civil and political rights and of our democratic and representative institutions. Yet, democracy is a fragile treasure to be cherished and protected, namely by honouring the memory of these heroes and promoters.
This House is the heir to and the embodiment of the ideals fought for by the Patriotes and the Reformers. It is therefore up to this House to give them, today, the legitimate recognition history has always denied them.