Diplomatic Faux Pas

24 Jul

There was a controversial phrase in a speech delivered on July 24, 1967, during an official visit to Canada under the pretext of attending Expo ’67 in Montreal, Quebec. So let me introduce you to President Charles de Gaulle of France.

French President Charles de Gaulle in 1963

French President Charles de Gaulle in 1963. Wegmann, Ludwig – Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), B 145 Bild-F015892-0010

The Canadian federal government had been concerned about President de Gaulle for two reasons. One, the French government had not sent a representative to the funeral service for Governor General Georges Vanier on March 5, 1967, even though Vanier and his wife, Pauline, had been personal friends of de Gaulle since 1940; and two because later in April, de Gaulle did not attend the 50th anniversary ceremonies commemorating the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge.

In the spring of 1966, as part of the Expo ’67 diplomatic protocols, De Gaulle and all world leaders whose countries had an exhibit at the fair were invited to visit Canada during the spring and summer of 1967, and a few months later, de Gaulle was also sent a separate invitation to visit Quebec by Quebec premier Daniel Johnson. Although a visiting head of state, the president did not arrive in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, as would be conventional protocol. Instead, he arrived in Quebec City, the province of Quebec’s capital city. There, De Gaulle was cheered enthusiastically, while the new governor general, Roland Michener, was booed by the same crowd when “God Save the Queen” was played at his arrival.

On July 24, de Gaulle arrived in Montreal and was driven up the Chemin du Roy to Montreal City Hall, where Mayor Jean Drapeau and Premier Johnson waited. De Gaulle was not scheduled to speak that evening, but the crowd chanted for him.  He said to Drapeau: “I have to speak to those people who are calling for me”.  An opportune momen for De Gaulle to voice what he had prepared.

He stepped out onto the balcony and spoke to the assembled masses, which was also broadcast live on radio. In his speech he commented that his drive down the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, lined as it had been with cheering crowds, reminded him of his triumphant return to Paris after the liberation from Nazi Germany. The speech concluded with the words “Vive Montréal ! Vive le Québec !” (“Long live Montreal! Long live Quebec!”), but he then added, “Vive le Québec libre ! Vive, vive, vive le Canada français ! Et vive la France !” (“Long live free Quebec! Long live, long live, long live French Canada! And long live France!”),

This statement, coming from the French head of state, was considered a serious breach of diplomatic protocol.  It emboldened the Quebec sovereignty movement, and produced tensions between the leadership of the two countries. The crowd’s reaction to De Gaulle’s phrase was emotional, and has been described as frenzied,Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson rebuked de Gaulle with an official statement, delivered to the French Embassy on July 25, and he read it on national television that evening.  He said “The people of Canada are free. Every province in Canada is free. Canadians do not need to be liberated. Indeed, many thousands of Canadians gave their lives in two world wars in the liberation of France and other European countries.”

There was an uproar afterwards, which resulted in de Gaulle cutting short his visit to Canada.  The day after the speech, de Gaulle visited Expo ’67.  The next day, instead of continuing his visit on to Ottawa, where he was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Pearson, he decided to return to France on a French military jet plane.

De Gaulle was also heavily criticized by a large part of the French media for his breach of international protocol, in particular by Le Monde.

I would suggest visiting Ici Radio Canada for a video of the speech in question.




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21 responses to “Diplomatic Faux Pas

  1. L. Marie

    August 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Oh my word. Open mouth. Insert foot.

    • tkmorin

      August 7, 2014 at 9:21 am

      AND he was smiling with foot in mouth! 🙂

  2. Maurice A. Barry

    July 27, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    That story never gets old, but still I always wonder whether the speech ramped the ferver up a tad too much. Who knows?

    • tkmorin

      July 27, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      Some French Quebecers, as I remember in many years there, get pretty excited about this. It’s not totally surprising. He knew exactly what buttons to push.

      • Maurice A. Barry

        July 27, 2014 at 9:49 pm

        But why cause such strife to a country that had done so much to help him, his country and its people? Evil takes many forms.

  3. hermitsdoor

    July 27, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Guess, our French and Indian War in the 18th century did not settle the matter.

    • tkmorin

      July 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

      Judging from the current world news, I’d say some of us never learn!

  4. seeker

    July 24, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    What a news! What a tactless person this was. He didn’t care for Canada. He cared for the French that are Canadians. Oh… this is appalling!

    • tkmorin

      July 24, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      Isn’t he though? Well, he did want to make an impression! 🙂

      • seeker

        July 24, 2014 at 10:24 pm

        Pie on his face!

        • tkmorin

          July 24, 2014 at 11:44 pm

          LOL. 🙂

        • tkmorin

          July 25, 2014 at 12:12 am

          LOL. Good one, P! 🙂

          • seeker

            July 25, 2014 at 12:13 am

            Laughing hard 😛

  5. Mama Cormier

    July 24, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I was only a teenager when this happened but I do remember the uproar it caused.

    • tkmorin

      July 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      I have to admit, I’m a little surprised that so many people remember this. Huh! 🙂

  6. weggieboy

    July 24, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    I remember this event, amazingly enough, and (even as a kid) couldn’t believe he’d made such basic mistakes of protocol.

    • tkmorin

      July 24, 2014 at 10:13 pm

      He made quite an impression, eh? 🙂

  7. purrfectkitties

    July 24, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    We love your posts! They are so interesting! Thanks for the great history lessons… 🙂 xx Roxy & Tigerlino ❤

    • tkmorin

      July 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      I’m glad you enjoy them. 🙂

  8. avwalters

    July 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Oh, you call it history, but I remember it like yesterday.

    • tkmorin

      July 24, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      Yeah, me too. 🙂


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