A one second view of a giant Canadian flag has separatists apoplectic over it's inclusion in a Toyota television ad. The car company has been forced to remove the commercial in Quebec markets, but continues to play it as is, in the rest of the country.The concept of the commercial is to underline the fact that 80% of cars built by Toyota, over the last twenty years are still on the road.
The spot features a Toyota car, parked in the front row of a drive-in movie, as historical events of the last twenty years play out on the big screen. Scenes of SARS, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela and the giant demonstration in favour of Canadian unity held in Montreal, prior to the 1995 Quebec referendum which featured the infamous giant Canadian flag.
Dubbed the "Love-In" by separatists the event has become a separatist urban myth, one that claims that the illegal demonstration was the tipping point that pushed the "NON" side over the top to victory.
Back in 1995, the separatist Parti Quebecois government drew up a law that created the rules of the referendum which would determine if Quebec would become independent from Canada. The law provided that one global committee would be created for each side in the debate and that only these committees would be allowed to spend money in the campaign, subject to strict spending limits.
To make a long story short, a murky organization called OPTION CANADA , funded by Ottawa worked behind the scene and outside the official NON committee in favour of the no side.
As we all know, the referendum was mighty close and after the slim NON victory, the massive pro-Canada demonstration came under renewed investigation by sovereignists, who concluded that it was illegally funded.
Charges were laid against the directors of Option Canada for breaking the referendum law, but had to be dropped months later, to the consternation of sovereignists, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled (in a case brought forward by my good friend Robert Libman) that sections of the referendum law that dealt with spending and the limitations on individuals and groups outside the official committees to be illegal, thus making the prosecutions impossible.
To this day sovereignists ignore the fact that the sections of the referendum law were ruled illegal and that Options Canada was entitled to do what they did. In fact many years ago, I was told by someone involved, that before Option Canada proceeded, they had legal opinions advising them that the referendum law could not possibly stand a legal court challenge.
If anyone cheated, it was the PQ, who drafted a law, full well in the knowledge that it wasn't legal, a blocking move that would hopefully keep federalist forces from spending in the campaign. The manoeuvre was largely successful, up until the actions of Option Canada.
Today separatists continue to believe that the referendum was stolen. Option Canada and it's actions in the referendum have become fixed in sovereignist lore as a historical betrayal on a par with the actions of Judas against Jesus.
In placing a clip of the giant red Canadian flag in the commercial, the advertising agency may as well have waved a red flag in front of the sovereignist bull.
The pain and angst that the commercial has rekindled in sovereignist forces is deliciously sweet to federalist Quebeckers like myself.
Fifteen years later, the burn remains as painful as the day of the demonstration. The faithful re-telling of the referendum betrayal story to the next generation of separatists by the lst generation, has become as traditional as the re-telling of the story of Exodus by Jewish families at the annual sedar.