Challenge of Quebec secession law finally gets its day in court

After nearly two decades of delays, a Quebec court has finally begun hearing a challenge to a provincial law asserting the province's right to decide the rules of secession from Canada.

A Quebec Superior Court judge heard arguments Monday in a trial examining the constitutionality of Bill 99, a law passed by Lucien Bouchard's Parti Québécois government in 2000.

The provincial law states that Quebecers have the right to decide their own future and that 50 per cent plus one is a clear majority in a referendum.

The bill was passed in response to the federal government's Clarity Act, which set out the conditions under which Parliament should negotiate with Quebec in the event of a referendum win by soveriegntist forces.

Bill 99 was challenged in 2001 by Keith Henderson, the former leader of the Equality Party, a now-defunct anglophone rights provincial party.

"I'm hoping the judge will look at the basic issue, which is fundamental to the country," Henderson said outside the courtroom in Montreal. 

"Is it a popular referendum that gives legitimacy and power to governance, or is it the constitution of the country and the amending formula. Which is it?"

Who decides?

In 2013, the Harper government also got involved in the case. 

The federal attorney general at the time filed a declaration of intervention in the case to challenge several aspects of the law, notably that 50 per cent plus one vote would be enough to trigger negotiations on Quebec's independence.

The intervention from Ottawa prompted outrage in Quebec. The National Assembly passed a unanimous motion condemning the move.

More recently, Quebec nationalist groups launched a petition calling on the Trudeau government to withdraw from the case.

Pro-sovereignty group urges Quebecers to 'wake up'

On Sunday, a group of Quebec nationalists gathered at L'Astral, a venue on Ste-Catherine Street, in support of Bill 99.

The rally was organized by two pro-sovereignty groups, la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB) and le Rassemblement pour un pays souverain.

"[We need to] wake up the citizens of Quebec in regards to this issue," said the president of the SSJB, Maxime Laporte.

Entertainers and politicians were in attendance at the event, including new Bloc Quebecois leader Martine Ouellet and Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée.