Here’s what you need to know about the Spain/Catalonia independence referendum

Fans raise pro-independence flags and banners during a Spanish La Liga match between Girona and Barcelona at Montilivi stadium in Girona, Spain, September 23, 2017. Picture taken September 23, 2017. REUTERS/Albert Gea

The referendum for Catalan independence is set to take place on Sunday, Oct. 1.

Tensions have been rising for weeks; while Catalonia still plans to go through with the vote, the Spanish government has ordered police to seize ballots if they see them on Sunday, because Spanish officials claim the vote is illegal.

How the 17,000 Catalan regional police respond to this order is regarded as key to the success or failure of the planned vote.

READ MORE: Catalonia to vote on whether to split from Spain

While the issue has been disputed for years, many Canadians are still wondering how the Catalan independence movement came to be, and what implications it could hold for Europe.

What and where is Catalonia?

Spain is divided into 17 autonomous regions, of which Catalonia is one. The regions each have their own parliament which, not unlike Canadian provincial legislatures, have elected officials that govern the region in addition to a federal government.

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The autonomous region handles policing and some health and education policies, but Spain runs key areas like taxes, defense and ports.

Barcelona is the capital of the region. There are 7.5 million residents in Catalonia, which is one of the richest regions in Spain.

Why do they want independence?

Catalonia joined Spain when the country was formed, but Catalan culture was suppressed in the mid-20th century under a military government run by Francisco Franco, Sergi Mainer explained to Al-Jazeera news.

Catalonians were required to speak a different language, and parents were required to name their children Spanish names.

But a large push for independence came in 2010, when Spain’s Constitutional Court struck down key parts of a groundbreaking charter that would have granted Catalonia greater autonomy.

The economic crisis between 2008-2013 also sowed the seeds of discontent, with many Catalans feeling they could do better on their own.

Human rights issue?

While the Catalan parliament has issued the vote, the Spanish Constitutional Court has banned it.

The national administration, based in Madrid, has said the vote would be unconstitutional. Ahead of the vote, 14 Catalan government officials were arrested, police raided headquarters looking for ballots and ballot boxes and referendum websites were blocked.

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UN human rights experts say that amounts to a violation of human rights.

“Regardless of the lawfulness of the referendum, the Spanish authorities have a responsibility to respect those rights that are essential to democratic societies,” said David Kaye and Alfred de Zayas said in a statement on Thursday.

“The measures we are witnessing are worrying because they appear to violate fundamental individual rights, cutting off public information and the possibility of debate at a critical moment for Spain’s democracy.”

Why does Canada care?

The vote in Catalonia has hit close to home for some in Quebec.

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée compared Spain’s effort to clamp down on the vote to Quebec’s October crisis and said the provincial government must ask the Spanish people to respect democracy and allow the Catalan people to vote.

At a rally last week, Jennifer Drouin, president of Quebec Anglos for Independence joined 20 other Quebec sovereignty groups, to protest the Spanish government’s reaction.

“The Quebec people have a right to their self-determination, the Catalonian people have a right to their self-determination, and what the Spanish government is doing is reprehensible,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the vote while attending the United Nations General Assembly last week, and offered no comment on Spain’s affairs.

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READ MORE: Quebec sovereignty groups rally to support Catalans in independence movement

Click to play video: 'Quebec sovereigntists rally in support of Catalan independence movement' Quebec sovereigntists rally in support of Catalan independence movement
Quebec sovereigntists rally in support of Catalan independence movement – Sep 23, 2017

What’s next? 

The government in Madrid says there will be consequences if the vote takes place, but it’s unclear what the consequences would be.

If it does take place, and if the Catalan people vote “yes,”  Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said they would declare their independence within 48 hours, Reuters reports.

Brief timeline

June 28, 2010 – Spain’s constitutional court strikes down parts of 2006 Charter on Catalan autonomy.

Sept. 11, 2012 – Spain’s economic crisis escalates, and people take to the streets in Barcelona to protest for Catalan independence.

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Nov. 9,  2014 – Catalonia’s first attempt at a referendum. The non-binding symbolic vote garnered only a 37 per cent turnout, but 80 per cent of voters asked for independence.

June 9, 2017 – Catalan parliament calls for another independence referendum for Oct. 1

Sept. 6, 2017 – Catalan parliament approves referendum legislation – despite opposition from Spain’s government.

Sept 20, 2017 – National police arrest senior regional officials in an effort to stop the vote. They also searched for ballots

Oct. 1, 2017 – Planned date for referendum.

*With files from the Canadian and the Associated Presses. 

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