Petition of Mgr. L.-F. Laflèche to Joseph-A. Chapleau [May 12, 1890]
[Note from the editor: Mgr. Laflèche [1818-1898] was the leader of the ultramontane school among the bishops of Quebec, following the death of Mgr. Ignace Bourget. Laflèche had been bishop of Trois-Rivières for nearly 25 years when this petition was drafted. The issue of Manitoba and the North-West was of particular interest to him as he was a personal friend of Alexandre Taché, Archbishop of St. Boniface and, as such, leader of the Roman Catholic church in Western Canada. Both had been sent together to the West as missionaries to the Indians and the Metis earlier in their careers and they had developed a close friendship. Thus, it was to Laflèche that Taché turned when he sought support and help at the beginning of the school controversy. On a yearly basis, throughout the 1890's, Laflèche ordered that donations for the catholic schools of the west be gathered throughout all of the parishes of his diocese and that a special Sunday collection be made for this purpose. Throughout the entire period of 1890 to 1898, he was the eastern bishop that displayed the greatest zeal for the cause of the catholic schools of the West.
Joseph-A. Chapleau [1840-1898], to whom the petition was addressed, was the Secretary of State in the Macdonald conservative government when the petition was received. Chapleau had been Premier of Quebec between 1879 and 1882. He finished his career as the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec between 1892 and 1898. An opponent of the ultramontane, Chapleau continued the tradition of LaFontaine and Cartier in sponsoring moderate views and cooperating with anglo-protestants as the best means to assure the survival and development of the French Canadians. Consequently, in 1885, at the time of the hanging of Riel, he refused to resign the Macdonald cabinet to form a separate French party. The prestige of Chapleau was considerable in Quebec, in large measure because of his personal talents but, as well, because he was trusted to work hard on behalf of the interests of Quebecers.
One aspect of particular interest in this document is that it is one of the very few which addresses the linguistic issue as well as the religious one. Laflèche's petition is to the effect of disallowing both the school and linguistic provisions of the 1890 Manitoba bills.]
J. A. CHAPLEAU,
SIR, - The unjust law which the Manitoba Government have caused to be adopted against the Catholic and French-speaking population of that province, abolishing separate schools and the official use of the French language, went into force on the I st May instant. The protests of the minority, so unworthily treated by this infamous law, have been laid before the Dominion Government in order to secure its disallowance and the protection guaranteed them under the constitution. I trust the Government, of which you are a leading member, will lend a favourable ear to this appeal to its authority, and protect the rights of that minority by disallowing this Act, which has been characterized as persecution by Protestants themselves. The manliness with which you repelled a similar attempt in the North-West Territories inspires me with confidence that you will not fail to take a firm stand in this case also. The federal compact was invoked to maintain the abolition of separate schools in New Brunswick a few years ago, and nevertheless, the Catholic ministers, who were then members of the Dominion Government, declared to the Bishops that they were prepared to resign on that question, and it was only through respect for the autonomy of the provinces that that iniquitous law was then tolerated.
To-day it is in the name of the federal compact that the Manitoba minority ask for protection against an unjust law, which is a violation of the federal compact, for that compact guarantees the official use of the French language on the same footing as the English language, and the maintenance of separate schools, conditions without which the Catholic and French-speaking people of Manitoba would never have consented to enter into confederation; now that is the guarantee which the Hon. J. Martin's Act has recently trampled under foot, while unjustly, and without a shadow of pretext, depriving that minority of a right which every people holds most sacred, the right of preserving the language and the faith of their fathers.
I am confident, therefore, that the Ministers charged with the care of our religious and national interests in the Dominion Government, will to-day exhibit the same firmness as their predecessors, and that they will succeed in convincing their colleagues that if they desire to maintain a good understanding between the divers races, and insure peace and stability of Confederation, they must do justice to the minority in Manitoba, and protect them against the iniquitous persecution inflicted upon them by the majority at the instigation of a few fanatics.
In my humble opinion this is a far more serious matter than the Riel question, inasmuch as it involves a direct violation of sentiments dearest to the heart of man, his love for his native tongue and his religion.
Trusting that no Catholic French-Canadian member of the Government will, in the face of the country, take the responsibility of supporting a law so evidently unjust and hostile to our nationality,
I remain, &c.,
L. F., Bishop of Three Rivers.
Source: Canada, Sessional Papers (No. 63), 1891
© 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College