MONTREAL – On the streets and around dining room tables, talk of Quebec independence has faded. A Léger Marketing poll published Saturday put support for sovereignty at just 36%, and the opposition Parti Québécois has ruled out another referendum if it wins the next election.

But in Montreal Monday, debate over separation was back in the spotlight as a challenge of a law asserting Quebec’s right to unilaterally secede finally came to trial in a courtroom that had the feel of a time machine.

Lawyers representing the various parties have added grey hairs, and as one of them quipped, a few pounds since proceedings in the case began in 2001.

But for plaintiff Keith Henderson, the former leader of the defunct anglophone-rights Equality Party, the issue to be decided is as vital now as it was in 2000 when the PQ government of Lucien Bouchard passed Bill 99.

The law was a response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1998 ruling on secession and the subsequent federal Clarity Act, which following 1995’s close call set ground rules for any future referendums and negotiations on secession.


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