147 Years Since Its Birth, It’s Still Fleur-de-Lis and Maple Leaves for Canada

Today is Canada's 147th birthday and as a present to itself, the country might finally be putting its national identity crisis to rest. Since its birth, America's northern neighbor has been grappling with a conflict between its British and French roots. The residents of its French-speaking province, Quebec, have by and large felt no great deal of affection for their English-speaking countrymen, and have several times attempted to secede. But now, on the occasion of Canada's birthday, that split appears to be healing -- at least in the minds of Quebec residents.

According to a new poll from the Association for Canadian Studies, a Montreal-based think tank, some 64 percent of Quebecois, as natives of Canada's predominantly French-speaking province are known, say they no longer feel the need to choose between allegiance to Quebec and Canada, perhaps signaling the end of Canada's cultural divide.

Quebecois separatism and nationalism have long been defining features of Canadian politics, and Tuesday's finding marks a significant milestone for a region that has often resisted being part of Canada and has agitated for independence. Canadian territory was first colonized by France in the 16th century and remained under the French colonial yoke until 1763. Ever since, New France, now called Quebec, has existed as a distinct culture within Canada. This separate identity has often clashed with the rest of Canada, with its roots as a British colony. That conflict has spawned two popular referendums for independence, in 1980 and 1995, both of which failed.

But even as residents of Quebec are feeling less of a divide between their Canadian and Quebecois loyalties, they aren't exactly rushing into Canada's embrace. When the ACS pollsters asked Quebecois how attached they feel to the rest of Canada, they found that their level of attachment has remained mostly the same over the last 10 years.

For now, Quebec has largely put its ambitions for independence on ice. In April elections, the separatist Parti Quebecois, the main political vehicle for Quebecois nationalism, lost control of the provincial government to the more federally-minded Liberal party. Many observers saw it as a sign of a newfound fondness for Canada among the province's historically antagonistic residents.

Moreover, Quebec's young people aren't hankering for independence. According to the ACS poll, 65 percent of Quebecois between the ages of 18 and 24 say they are strongly or somewhat strongly attached to Canada. This finding is in line with a June poll from ACS that found 61 percent of Quebecois were not interested in separating from Canada.

Though Quebec's independence movement isn't gaining much traction, nationalist sentiment in Quebec is being channeled toward other expressions of the province's French-inspired identity. During its time in power from 2012 to 2014 at the provincial level, the Parti Quebecois pushed projects promoting the French language and religious secularism. Though it died in the provincial legislature, Bill 14 would have mandated that Quebec's business owners advertise in French and restricted the use of English in the workplace. The Parti Quebecois also tried to promote secularism through such things as the Quebec Charter of Values, which, if approved by the legislature, would have banned public employees from wearing religious symbols, such as the Muslim veil, at work.

Despite the dissipation of Quebec's identity crisis, there is still appetite for similar legislation. Among francophone respondents, 54 percent would like to see the charter become a topic of public debate once more after it effectively died with the Liberal party's electoral win.

That public sentiment is having an impact on Quebec's Liberal government. This fall, Premier Philippe Couillard is planning to introduce a diluted version of the charter at the provincial legislature.



Human Rights Group Locates ISIS Massacre Site in Just Two Weeks

Earlier this month, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham posted a series of grisly photos purportedly documenting the execution of Iraqi soldiers. Those images, reportedly taken in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, show a group of militants herding their captives toward a ditch to be executed. The militants seem to execute about 150 men but ISIS claimed they killed as many as 1,700 Iraqi soldiers.

Now, in an incredible piece of detective work, Human Rights Watch has, in part, verified the heinous claims. In a report released Friday, Human Rights Watch pinpointed the exact location in which the images were taken. Corresponding satellite images show ground disturbance that apparently matches what the area would look like if mass graves had been dug and heavy vehicles -- as seen in images posted by ISIS -- had been driven there there.

Human Rights Watch determined that the photographs were taken a stone's throw from the Tigris River and a former Hussein palace. The group's analysis picks out individual captives and militants who appear across the photographs, seemingly bolstering the photos' authenticity. The analysis suggests that between 160 and 190 men were killed between June 11 and June 14, though the actual death toll from ISIS executions in Tikrit could be significantly higher. The slides documenting the analysis are reproduced at the bottom of this post.

"If ISIS is serious about executing 1,700 people in Tikrit, then it would be the largest single killing of people in Iraq since 2003," Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, told Foreign Policy.

The analysis by the execution site in Tikrit marks a major step forward in the use of social media and satellite imagery to authenticate atrocities. According Bouckaert, his group's analysis of the Tikrit events is the first time Human Rights Watch has used such techniques to not just locate killings but determine where the bodies may be buried. The group did similar work in Sri Lanka in 2009 when the army defeated the Tamil Tigers, a rebel group. Although that work showed the use of artillery to target civilians, the Tikrit analysis is unprecedented in its identification of a large execution site.

In the history of documenting mass atrocities, that's an incredible thing. "At the time of Srebrenica, satellite imagery was not available to nongovernmental organizations so obviously we didn't have the capacity to do this kind of work," Bouckaert said, referring to the 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now, massacre sites can be identified within hours. Two weeks later, exact geographic coordinates can be determined.

When Hussein brutally put down a Shiite uprising in 1991, human rights advocates, including Bouckaert, couldn't investigate the incident until after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Chillingly, Bouckaert says ISIS executed its prisoners in much the same manner Baathist troops executed Shiites in the early 1990s. "We haven't seen a single execution using this modus operandi in Syria," Bouckaert said. "We have to remember that the fighting in Iraq also involves Baathists who were involved in 1991."

The full Human Rights Watch analysis of events in Tikrit is here: