Canadian flag-waver faces prison threat

Quebec moves to prosecute unity protester. Hugh Winsor reports

Ottawa - Claude Gingras may be the first Canadian to go to jail for waving a flag for Canadian unity.

The Ottawa businessman has just received a summons from the chief electoral officer of Quebec, accusing him of paying 797.69 Canadian dollars (pounds 400) to rent a bus to take 40 employees to Montreal last October to participate in a huge "I Love Canada" rally the weekend before the vote in Quebec's referendum on separation.

About 100,000 people converged on the centre of Montreal to wave maple- leaf flags. Many had travelled to Quebec from across the country. But the separatist Parti Quebecois complained that Canadians who had come from outside Quebec to say they wanted Canada to remain united were interfering in Quebec's internal affairs.

Following the Parti Quebecois complaint, Quebec's chief electoral officer, Pierre Cote, launched an investigation into whether companies and other organisations that spent money on travel to the rally had broken Quebec's election legislation, which restricts all referendum campaign expenses to two umbrella committees, one for the "Yes" side and one for the "No" side.

Mr Gingras's company of bankruptcy trustees was one of 18 companies, nine from Quebec and nine from outside Quebec, that received summons this week charging them with breaking the law of Quebec. Although the summonses normally call for a fine, Mr Gingras has vowed to fight the charge through the courts up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Another organisation that received a summons was the students' association of Algonquin College, also in Ottawa, because the association had rented two buses to take flag-wavers to Montreal.

The charges and the report of Mr Cote's investigation on which they are based has caused outrage, both because it appears the officer is trying to use Quebec's election regulations to stifle freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and because he said the pro-Canada rally was a threat to democracy in Quebec.

Mr Cote investigated two big Canadian airlines for offering discounted fares to attend the Montreal rally and the Ottawa Sun, a tabloid newspaper which printed flags as banners for those attending the rally to wave.

In the same report, Mr Cote dismissed widespread evidence of attempted vote-rigging in several ethnic areas as a minor problem, even though he has also preferred charges against 29 officials from the "Yes" side for fraudulent activity in connection with a large number of spoiled ballots.

The rejection of ballots by the separatist side's observers happened mainly in federalist areas and the estimated number of falsely rejected ballots is higher than the margin (less than 1 per cent) by which the "No" side won the referendum.

The Quebec official also criticised federal MPs for helping to organise the rally but he did not lay charges against any of them.

Nevertheless, the Cote report prompted a scathing response from Brian Tobin, the former Canadian fisheries minister. He was one of the MPs who organised the rally but earlier this year resigned to become Premier of Newfoundland.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Tobin said he would gladly break Quebec's laws again.

"The chief electoral officer of the province of Quebec says: 'We've had a little minor problem. Somebody stole a few tens of thousands of ballots, that's a minor problem. But the major problem is that MPs were trying to save Canada.' Well, I want to tell the chief electoral officer that if he thinks it is a crime to stand up and say 'I love Canada', I'm guilty as charged . . . and I'll do it again."

Lawyers say that they doubt the electoral officer will get convictions and if he does, the electoral law might be overturned as being contrary to Canada's charter of rights.

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Hydrographic Survey Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Structural Engineer

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Structural Engineer Job...

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape