Catalonia's right to vote for independence hits close to home for separatist Quebecers

Quebec's sovereignist leaders are decrying Premier Philippe Couillard and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's refusal to condemn the Spanish government's tough tactics in Catalonia ahead of an independence vote Oct. 1.

Tensions in Catalan ignite debate over Quebec's own sovereignist movement, relationship with First Nations

About 300 people gathered in Downtown Montreal to demonstrate for Catalans right to vote in the referendum set for Oct. 1, as tensions escalate in Spain. (CBC)

Quebec's sovereignist leaders are decrying Premier Philippe Couillard and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's refusal to condemn the Spanish government's tough tactics in Catalonia ahead of an independence vote Oct. 1.

Tensions have escalated as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has ramped up measures to try and prevent the referendum from happening.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée spoke to a crowd of about 300 people at a demonstration in downtown Montreal Saturday where he compared the events unfolding in Catalonia to Quebec's October Crisis.

"The brute force that has been used to arrest people, to accuse them of sedition, to make raids … it's akin to the War Measures Act here in 1970," Lisée said in reference to the act put in place by former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in late 1970 in an attempt to restore order in the province.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée compared the tensions in Spain to Quebec's 1970 October Crisis. (CBC)

For years, Catalans and Quebecers have expressed solidarity for their respective separatist movements. 

​"It's a people and they want to determine their future," said David Gascon at the protest, comparing Quebec and Catalonian separatism.  

"It impacts me that I can see a democratic state who would repress their own people. They just want to vote, they just want to express themselves."

No comment from Couillard, Trudeau

At the protest, Lisée and other Quebec separatist leaders, including the Bloc Québécois's Martine Ouellet and Manon Massé of Québec Solidaire also urged the provincial and federal governments to speak out. 

Mariona Gene, who is from Catalonia, attended Saturday's rally in support of the region's referendum for independence with her baby draped in a Catalan flag. (CBC)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he wouldn't comment on Spain and its "internal processes," which he said other countries shouldn't get involved in. 

Meanwhile, Couillard said he is "preoccupied" by the tensions in Spain this week, but said it wasn't up to the provincial government to comment on the situation. 

He said comparisons between the province and the Catalan sovereignist movements are "risky."

Responding to criticism of his response, he said opening up the debate for Quebec independence would mean discussing the 11 First Nations in the province's right for self-determination as well. 

First Nations and self-determination

Winona Polson-Lahache, chief policy advisor of the Mohawk Council, said Couillard was onto something.

She said it would be a discussion that would have to be had before Quebec thinks about separating from Canada, adding much of the province's territory is unceded First Nations land. 

Winona Polson-Lahache, chief political adviser for the Mohawk Council, says much of the province of Quebec is unceded indigenous territory. (CBC)

Because of that, she says it would be hard for many to relinquish direct relations with the federal Crown.

"I have a hard time imagining that Quebec could be divisible without addressing the rightful interests, the interest-holders which are the First Nations, they're the rightful interest holders over the land," she said

"On a day to day basis, it's hard to get both of those parties [provincial and federal governments] to take First Nations interests seriously, let alone within the context of any sort of separation," Polson-Lahache added.   

with files from Simon Nakonechny