Montreal

Montreal nixes sovereignist group's plan to mark Charles de Gaulle's 'Vive le Quebec libre!" speech

Fifty years after former French president Charles de Gaulle uttered "Vive le Quebec libre!" during a state visit to Canada, those politically charged words are affecting celebrations marking his speech.

Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste plans to hold event on street outside city hall instead

'Vive le Québec libre!'

3 years ago
Duration 5:22
French President Charles de Gaulle generates controversy when he utters the Quebec separatist slogan "Vive le Québec libre" during a speech in Montreal.

Fifty years after former French president Charles de Gaulle uttered "Vive le Quebec libre!" during a state visit to Canada, those politically charged words are still stirring up trouble, at least in Montreal.

On Wednesday morning, the sovereignist Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montré​al (SSJB) held a news conference to outline its plans to mark the 50th anniversary of de Gaulle's speech.

Before the news conference started, the city of Montreal sent an email to Radio-Canada.

It said that the SSJB couldn't use the famous balcony at Montreal City Hall where de Gaulle stood when he spoke those words as part of its celebrations.

City hall is "neutral and apolitical," wrote Noémie Briére-Marquez, the spokesperson for the mayor's office. "The citizens of Montreal wouldn't accept the exploitation of these places."

De Gaulle's declaration on July 24, 1967, sent shock waves through Canada.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson said his "statements were unacceptable to the Canadian people," and de Gaulle ended up cutting his state visit short.

His words boosted the Quebec sovereignist movement, but frayed relations between Canada and France for years.

Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry , right, and SSJB president Maxime Laporte outlined their plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of then-French president Charles de Gaulle's visit to Quebec where he uttered the famous phrase, 'Vivre le Quebec libre.' (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Back to the future

The SSJB has planned a special commemorative event for the 50th anniversary on July 24, which is to feature a Back to the Future theme and will include actor Denis Trudel portraying de Gaulle, riding in a Tesla electric car. 

Maxime Laporte, the president of the SSJB, said the group originally wanted to have part of the event on the balcony but is going ahead with celebrations, regardless.

The SSJB has asked city police for permission to hold the event outside Montreal City Hall, on Notre-Dame Street East.

"The street belongs to everyone," said Laporte during the news conference on Wednesday at Place Charles-de-Gaulle on Sherbrooke Street East. 

"We want to have de Gaulle's voice resonate again, his original voice," said Laporte. 

Former Parti Québécois premier Bernard Landry said Wednesday that de Gaulle's speech internationalized the Quebec question and drew attention to the struggle for sovereignty.

For those who still want to see the balcony, the city is offering guided tours to the public in both French and English, between 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on July 24. 

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