Bill C-20

Bill C-20, the bill known as the Clarity Act gives effect to the requirement for clarity set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Québec Secession Reference. It is the interpretation of the Court that the federal government give "political actors" the responsibility of returning the right to determine, what, among other things, constitutes a question and a clear majority after a referendum that one province or territory initiates with a view to secession from Canada.

Bill C-20 also defines in article 3, under what prior conditions the federal government is subject to political obligation to negotiate secession resulting from a referendum that has satisfied the requirements for clarity as defined in articles 1 and 2 of the Act.

The bill was introduced in Parliament on 13 December 1999 by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Despite criticism on both sides of the House of Commons, the bill eventually passed through Parliament, receiving royal assent on 29 June the following year.

According to Bill C-20, only the House of Commons has the power to vote on the clarity of the question and the majority; yet the exclusion of the Senate's power to hold a vote on these issues calls into question the principle of the two chamber system entrenched in the Constitution. As to the government's refusal to recognize the right of Aboriginal peoples to participate in negotiations on territorial division - this directly affects ancestral rights and treaty issues that were recognized in the Constitution.

Legal opposition could conclude the bill invalid. Concerned groups, including the Québec Cree, had already expressed their intentions of bringing the debate before the courts.

Although the Québec government had expressed strong and clear opposition to Bill C-20, and had countered with Bill 99 to deny the legal and political impact of the federal bill, public opinion in Québec remained deaf to the rallying calls of the sovereignist forces.

Bill C-20 was rather favourably received across the country. Nevertheless, the federal government preferred to defend the country's integrity by making the conditions of a province's secession especially difficult, rather than affirming the unity and indivisibility of Canada through the constitutional route, like several Western democracies.