On April 17, 1982, Elizabeth II attends a ceremony to sign the new Canadian Constitution, thus giving the country legislative independence from England. But an elected representative of the Ottawa region is conspicuously absent. Ottawa-Vanier MP Jean-Robert Gauthier does not attend the signing, preferring to participate in an international meeting in Nigeria. A few months earlier, he voted against his own government’s plan to repatriate the Constitution – tearfully, it is said. The act raises the ire of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The Franco-Ontarian community does not obtain what it seeks in 1981. During the four years of negotiation leading to the repatriation of 1981-1982, its spokespeople, led by Jean-Robert Gauthier, call for institutional bilingualism in all provinces, education in the minority language from elementary to post-secondary levels and the right to manage educational facilities. The 1982 Charter does not grant any of these requests. French Ontario obtains only the guarantee that its network of secondary schools will be completed, but just where warranted by numbers.
Jean-Robert Gauthier is deeply disappointed. “A people has just been enshrined in second class,” he says, adding that “Trudeau, in wanting to break colonial ties with Great Britain, did so on the backs of Francophones.”1
1 “Un peuple vient d’être enchâssé en deuxième classe,” Le Droit, December 8, 1981 (translated from the original).