Letter to the Editor: Rouse Then From Lethargy

Richard Uniacke was from a prominent Halifax family which included his brother James, the first Premier of Nova Scotia following the institution of responsible government in 1848.

Richard Uniacke

After graduating from law school in 1810, young Richard moved to Cape Breton and in 1814 was appointed Attorney General of the island, a post he held until 1817, when he returned to Halifax. (He also has the distinction of having participated, in 1819, in the last fatal duel on record in Nova Scotia, in which he killed Halifax merchant William Bowie.) Post-annexation, he was elected to the Nova Scotia Legislature as the first MLA for Cape Breton, serving from 1820-1830. He also later served as a puisne judge of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (1830-1834).

The Colony of Cape Breton’s legislature was granted by King George III, and was subordinate to Nova Scotia. As Cape Breton grew and prospered between 1800 and 1820, it asked repeatedly to call its legislature to fiscally manage its own affairs, but was denied by Nova Scotia, which instead administratively (without UK Privy Council approval) annexed Cape Breton.

Uniacke supported the petitions of his constituents to repeal the union of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.  He fully concurred with constitutional lawyers that the union was illegal. Uniacke said that “the people of Cape Breton, who had been transferred without their consent to another country, ought to have the final decision of the Government, or the Tribunals of the Realm.” He further added that he did not believe the union would produce the benefits that NS advocated.  Circa 200 years later, upon reviewing the legal history of the 1820 annexation, I feel that the union with Nova Scotia was illegal and ill-founded, and as free people we must not submit to it quietly.

Cape Breton and its people were denied a legislature against great objection and then, under protest and resistance, were annexed by Nova Scotia. Thanks to  our colonial history we are, by no choice of our own, a non-self-governing territory within Nova Scotia and, subsequent to Confederation, within Canada where we remain subjugated to Nova Scotia.

In 2020, it will be 200 years since annexation. In today’s world order, international laws and conventions, particularly the United Nations (1945) Charter and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), provide strong support for Cape Breton’s aspiration and quest for independence and self determination. The UNDHR Article 21 (3) states “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Without cooperation from Nova Scotia or Canada, and with the continued de-population, reverse-funding and de-servicing of Cape Breton, it is time as Richard Uniacke stated, to:

[R]ouse then from lethargy – shake off any languor which may hitherto have hung over you – renew strenuously your exertions, and when you have put your shoulders to the wheel, call upon Hercules and he will, he must help you.

In 2020, pro-Cape Breton forces must win our municipal elections and call an island-wide plebiscite.

Mark Macneill