24 July 1967: De Gaulle speaks up for Quebec’s independence

Charles De Gaule in Quebec, 1967 © Getty images
Charles de Gaulle’s support shocked Canada

Quebec, originally a French colony, was ceded to the British in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. The Quebec Act of 1774 recognised the French language, and religious rights for Catholics. But in 1838, a pro-independence uprising forced Britain to turn its North American colonies into the Province of Canada in 1840.

This evolved into the semi-autonomous Dominion of Canada in 1867, made up of several regions, including Quebec, which had a degree of regional autonomy and cultural distinctiveness within Canada.

In the late 1950s this arrangement broke down due to concerns that Quebec was becoming “Anglicised”. In 1963 the terrorist Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) carried out a series of bombings.

However, the independence movement did not take off until Charles de Gaulle, then French president, shocked Canada in July 1967 by declaring “Vive le Quebec libre” to a welcoming crowd, while on a state visit to Canada. Protests forced him to cut short his trip, but the symbolic importance of the French president and war hero endorsing separation delivered a huge boost to the pro-independence movement.

In 1968 the pro-independence Parti Québécois was formed, gaining regional power by 1976. It passed laws mandating the use of French and forced a referendum on negotiating independence. While it was rejected by 60% of voters, a second referendum in 1995 came within 1% of gaining a majority.

The language laws have become increasingly strict over the years, culminating in a family being fined C$3,000 (£1,500) last year for writing in English on boxes of household goods.

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