Direct Intervention: Canada-France Relations, 1967-1974


203 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88629-289-1
DDC 327.71044





Reviewed by D.M.L. Farr

D.M.L. Farr is professor emeritus of history at Carleton University and
the editor of Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.


General Charles De Gaulle’s resounding cry in Montreal in 1967,
“Vive le Québec libre,” remains one of the most dramatic moments in
recent Canadian history. It ushered in years of diplomatic and domestic
confrontation among Canada, Quebec, and France. These events of the
“battle of symbols,” constitute the subject of this book.

Eldon “Pat” Black was in the midst of the battle. From 1967 to 1971
he was minister at the Canadian embassy in Paris, the number two
official when, for part of the period, the mission was headed by an
ineffectual ambassador. When he returned to Ottawa, he remained closely
connected with the tense Canada-France relationship until it relaxed in
1974. Direct Intervention is a unique personal account, supplemented by
material drawn from the files of External Affairs.

The roots of the diplomatic interchanges that made up the “battle of
symbols,” are varied. There is the overbearing De Gaulle, preaching
solidarity among French-speaking peoples in order to enhance the
grandeur of France, and promoting the emergence of an independent
Quebec. There are the nationalists in Quebec, determined to establish an
international presence for their province in areas of provincial
jurisdiction. There are the governments of Lester Pearson and Pierre
Trudeau, refusing to accept what they consider Quebec’s pretensions,
resenting France’s interference in Canadian domestic affairs and yet
loyally persisting in the effort to maintain good relations with France.

From his inside position, Black recounts his part in the episodes that
marked the stormy trans-Atlantic relationship. There were the meddling
visits of De Gaulle’s language champion, Philippe Rossillon, to New
Brunswick and Manitoba. There was the education conference in Gabon in
1968 when Quebec alone was invited to a meeting of sovereign states (a
round in the fight that Canada lost). There were the later conferences
in Zaire and Niger attended by a single Canadian delegation, which
included subordinate sections representing Quebec, New Brunswick, and
Ontario. There was the creation of la Francophonie, the agency for
cooperation among French-speaking countries in cultural and technical
fields (although Quebec gained a distinctive place here, the agency has
turned out to be marginal among multilateral organizations). There are
heroes and villains in these controversies; Black leaves no doubt of his

The book ends on a sobering final note: our relations with France are
important, but as a country, Canada ranks low in France’s foreign
priorities. Until Quebec decides its place inside or outside the
federation, Canada’s relationship with France will be problematic. If
Quebec secedes, France will be among the first countries to recognize
its independence.

Direct Intervention is a gripping account of a murky chapter in
Canada’s diplomatic history.


Black, Eldon., “Direct Intervention: Canada-France Relations, 1967-1974,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,