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The Republic of Quebec: How International Law Might Affect Quebec's Claim to Independence

141 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2011  

David DesBaillets

University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2008


In 1998 the Supreme Court of Canada was asked by the federal government to gives it opinion on a matter that goes to the very heart of the Canadian constitution. In short: does Quebec have the right, both in terms of international and domestic law, to secede from Canada? The answer would have implications not only for the Canadian constitution but international law as well.

In the event that these questions were resolved by a sovereigntist government in Quebec and that government assumed a mandate to pursue secession from the rest of Canada, to what extent under international law is the question of secession now regulated by international legal norms? In the process of researching this thesis, I came across the work of jurists who vehemently dispute the Supreme Court's contention that the legitimacy of the process of secession is a pre-condition for international recognition nor is it an established norm of international law, as was suggested by the court in its judgment. They maintain that there are a number of cases that contradict the Court. Whether these cases are relevant to the Canadian question of secession, is open to debate. However, it seems clear that, far from being well-established international law, these issues continue to be extremely problematic.

But it does seem clear that the question of secession and recognition in the international system are now, to some extent, subject to certain legal criteria, some of which (e.g. self-determination) are raised by the court in the context of the Reference and must now be regarded as applying to the case of Quebec at least.

Keywords: secession, Quebec, reference, Supreme Court of Canada, recognition, international law, self determination, unilateral declaration of independence, Kosovo, Canadian constitution, territorial integrity

Suggested Citation

DesBaillets, David, The Republic of Quebec: How International Law Might Affect Quebec's Claim to Independence (May 1, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

David DesBaillets (Contact Author)

University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) - Faculty of Law ( email )

PB 8888 Station DownTown
Succursale Centre Ville
Montreal, Quebec H3C3P8

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