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INTERVIEWS REVEAL U.S. DIPLOMATS' DERISION OF QUEBEC SEPARATISM

A former U.S. ambassador to Canada illegally carried a gun with him at all times during his stint in the country and told fellow American diplomats that if separatists like those in Quebec ever gained office in the United States, they would be hanged first, then put on trial.

"Against regulation (and Canadian law), I carried -- in the back seat (of his armored car) in the briefcase -- there was always a snub-nose .38"-caliber gun, said Paul Robinson, who served as ambassador to Canada from 1981 to 1985.

Robinson's recollections and comments are contained in a series of interviews conducted by fellow U.S. Foreign Service officers of American diplomats who served in Canada from the 1930s to 1985.

Robinson also made clear that, despite Washington's official policy of remaining neutral toward Canada's internal problems with Quebec separatists, he found separatist leaders like the late Rene Levesque "despicable."

Robinson said as far as he was concerned, French Canadian separatists were traitors.

"To me, it's treason," he said. "If the governor of Illinois was saying the things Levesque said, we would hang him. And then we would try him later, I suppose."

Another former U.S. official, Michael Rives, who served as consul-general in Quebec City during Quebec's 1980 referendum on independence, said he continually warned provincial leaders their efforts were "absolutely stupid."

Americans, he said, would not embrace an independent Quebec, and worse, the province will "become like Senegal. You'll be a small, unimportant country. As long as you're part of Canada, you're one of the two most important provinces in Canada, and you're part of Canada, which is one of the five big powers in the economic sphere. If you break up Canada, Canada will be nothing, and you will be even less than Canada."

When representatives of Levesque's government asked whether an independent Quebec might choose to join the U.S. if negotiations with Canada ran into trouble, Rives replied, "Are you sure you want to? You know, don't we have enough problems?"

Former prime ministers also were recalled in a variety of terms. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker were joined by mutual antipathy. Diefenbaker regarded Kennedy as a spoiled rich kid, while Kennedy saw Diefenbaker as old and out of touch.

Their dislike for each other grew to epic proportions when Diefenbaker challenged Kennedy's nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Diefenbaker refused to put Canadian forces on alert and even suggested independent observers be sent to Cuba to check on the existence of the Soviet missiles Kennedy used as a reason for the blockade of the Communist Caribbean island.

As a result, Kennedy was barely able to contain himself from breaking protocol and openly campaigning against Diefenbaker and for Lester Pearson during Canada's 1963 election.

Dwight Mason, who served as a political counselor in Ottawa from 1980 to 1983 remembered former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as a man of "brilliance" and "experience," but "we were impatient at times with his advice, sermonizing and his needles."

Trudeau, added Eldon Erickson, an economics specialist posted in Ottawa from 1975 to 1978, wasn't well-liked at the embassy "because he didn't always do what we would like. . . . He was totally a Canadian. He did like tweaking the U.S., and I think we considered him not strongly anti-American but with basically anti-American feelings."

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, however, was seen as extremely effective in dealing with the United States, to the point of turning a skeptical President Ronald Reagan to agree to initiatives on transborder acid rain and Canadian Arctic sovereignty.

Allan Gotlieb, who served as Canada's ambassador to Washington from 1981 to 1989, said the revelations about Robinson's gun-toting ways could have sparked a major international incident if it had become known.

"In the beginning, Robinson ruffled a lot of feathers with his criticisms that Canadians spent too much on social programs, but then people got used to him. However, if it became known he was breaking Canadian law, that would have created an uproar," Gotlieb told The Buffalo News.

While Trudeau may have been viewed in an unfriendly light by some in the U.S. government, including former President Richard Nixon, Trudeau was a great admirer of Nixon's policy of detente towards the Soviets and his opening of Communist China, Gotlieb said.

Canadians, he added, have always been well-regarded by U.S. lawmakers and presidents.

"They see us not as foreigners but as Americans who have misbehaved. We're a sort of perverse Americans," he said.

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