MONTREAL — Separatism and national independence were on the menu Thursday at a Bloc Quebecois news conference in Montreal, but party leader Yves-Francois Blanchet wasn't talking about Quebec.
Blanchet, a fervent supporter of Quebec independence, has made a point of pushing the subject to the sidelines during the federal election campaign, as he knows the sovereignty movement in his province is in decline. But he came out strongly against the Canadian government for what he claimed is a tepid defence of the human rights of Catalan separatists in Spain.
Blanchet said exiled Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont should be allowed to enter Canada for a planned visit. And he slammed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his government becoming "a little mouse" when it came to calling out state violence against Catalans.
"There are some rights that have to be respected and there is no reason for the Canadian government not to allow Mr. Puigdemont to come to Canada," Blanchet told reporters at a community centre in east-end Montreal.
He was reacting to Thursday's news that Puigdemont's Quebec lawyer wrote to the federal government this week, giving it until Friday to render a decision on the exiled leader's request to visit Canada or face possible legal action.
The former Catalan president, who fled Spain in 2017 to avoid prosecution after his regional government held an unauthorized referendum on independence, has been trying for months to get a permit to meet with Quebec independence activists in Canada.
Maxime Laporte, president of a Montreal-based sovereigntist group that wants to host the Catalan leader, told a news conference Thursday that Canada was treating Puigdemont like a criminal.
"Like every human being on the planet, Mr. Puigdemont claims his right to freedom of movement and to visit the countries he wants," said Laporte of the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste. "He is not, of course, a criminal; they want to make him look like a criminal."
Puigdemont is in fact the subject of an international arrest warrant. His renewed request to visit Quebec independence activists comes as violence has erupted in Spain over a court decision this week to convict 12 former Catalan politicians and activists for their roles in the 2017 secession movement.
A Spanish Supreme Court judge on Oct. 14. issued an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont following the sentencing of 12 of his pro-Catalonia independence colleagues.
Blanchet says Canada has shied away from defending the rights of Catalan separatists, and Trudeau has acted like a hypocrite on the issue.
He said Puigdemont organized an independence referendum — just as Quebec politicians have done in Canada.
"When it comes for the moment to look good on the world stage, Mr. Trudeau is always there," he said. "But when the Spanish government represses with violence and puts in jail elected people, whose only crime is having organized a referendum ... the Canadian government becomes this little mouse."
Clashes began on Monday between protesters and Spanish authorities following the conviction of the separatist leaders at the forefront of Catalonia's secession bid two years ago.
Riots have made central areas of Barcelona, a leading European tourist destination, a no-go zone. On Thursday, cleaning brigades worked to clear charred cars and hundreds of burned trash bins used as improvised barricades from the streets of the regional capital, where confrontations between rioting youths and police the night before led to scenes of panic.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have issues cautious responses to the Spanish violence, with both of them saying the events are an internal Spanish problem.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2019.
— With files from The Associated Press
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press