Diplomatic Faux Pas

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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