Although generalizations about definitions of Indigenous rights are difficult due to the diversity of cultures, broadly speaking, Indigenous rights are inherent, collective rights that flow from pre-contact social orders and the original occupation of the land that is now Canada.1
The Supreme Court of Canada is the court of last resort for all legal issues in Canada, including those of federal and provincial jurisdiction. From humble beginnings as an opaque body subject to being overruled by the British Privy Council, the court now has the final judicial say on a broad range of contentious legal and social issues, ranging from the availability of abortion to the constitutionality of capital punishment and assisted suicide.
The Calder case (1973) — named for politician and Nisga’a chief Frank Calder, who brought the case before the courts — reviewed the existence of Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) claimed over lands historically occupied by the Nisga’a peoples of northwestern British Columbia. While the case was lost, the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling nevertheless recognized for the first time that Aboriginal title has a place in Canadian law. The Calder case (also known as Calder et al. v. Attorney General of British Columbia) is considered the foundation for the Nisga’a Treaty in 2000 — the first modern land claim in British Columbia that gave the Nisga’a people self-government.
The Constitution of Canada is the country’s governing legal framework. It defines the powers of the executive branches of government and the legislatures at both the national and provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one legal document but is composed of several statutes and orders, as well as generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions.
The Québec referendum of 1980, on the Parti Québécois government’s plans for sovereignty-association, was held in fulfilment of a promise that the party had made to do so, during the 1976 election campaign that brought it to power. In this referendum, the government asked the people of Québec to give it a mandate to “negotiate a new constitutional agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations.” When the votes were counted, nearly 60% of Quebecers had voted against this plan, and it was thereby rejected. If the “Yes” side had won, the results of the negotiations would have been submitted to a second referendum. The 1980 referendum was followed by constitutional negotiations that have left an indelible mark on the Canadian political scene.
The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was the forerunner of Canada's iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Created after Confederation to police the frontier territories of the Canadian West, the NWMP ended the whiskey trade on the southern prairies and the violence that came with it, helped the federal government suppress the North-West Rebellion, and brought order to the Klondike Gold Rush. The NWMP pioneered the enforcement of federal law in the West, and the Arctic, from 1873 until 1920.
The Manitoba Act of 1870 provided for the admission of Manitoba as Canada's fifth province. It marked the legal resolution of the struggle for self-determination between people of the Red River Colony and the federal government, that began with the purchase of Rupert’s Land by Canada. The Act contained protections for the region’s Métis. However, these protections were not fully realized, resulting in many Métis leaving the province for the North-West Territories.
The North-West Territories Act, passed by the Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie in April 1875, was an attempt to improve government administration and direct the development of the North-West Territories. Established in 1870, the North-West Territories was the first Canadian territory. It covered a vast area, stretching from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains and from the forty-ninth parallel to the Arctic Ocean.
The Autonomy Bills were the 1905 laws that created the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the North-West Territories (1870–1905). Despite strong support for provincehood, frustrations were evident. The Bills’ most fiercely contested elements revolved around boundaries, the federal government’s ongoing control over public lands and resources and the educational clauses in the Bills.
Introduced by Camille Laurin, Bill 101, Charte de la langue française (1977), made French the official language of government and of the courts in the province of Québec, as well as making it the normal and habitual language of the workplace, of instruction, of communications, of commerce and of business.1
The Rand Formula is a feature of Canadian labour law requiring workers covered by collective bargaining contracts to pay union dues — whether or not those workers are union members. The Formula was a victory for unions struggling for recognition and security after the Second World War, and became a standard part of labour contracts, and union power, in the decades that followed.
The Halibut Treaty of 1923 was a Canadian-American agreement on fishing rights in the Pacific Ocean. As the first treaty independently negotiated and signed by the Canadian government, it was one of several landmark events that transitioned Canada into an autonomous sovereign state. The treaty confirmed Canada’s political and economic place in North America. It was also the first environmental treaty targeting the conservation of an ocean fish stock.
Marijuana has been prohibited in Canada for nearly a century, but the federal government has introduced legislation to make it legal by 2018 – a change supported by a majority of Canadians, despite concerns about the drug's addictiveness, especially among young people. Legalizing marijuana requires changes to international treaties, Canadian laws, and social practices.
From 1978 to 2001, at least 65 women disappeared from the Downtown Eastside district of Vancouver, British Columbia, prompting the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history. Robert Pickton was charged with murdering 26 of the women, and was convicted on six charges. In a jail cell conversation with an undercover police officer, Pickton claimed to have murdered 49 women.
On 19 December 2015, Dennis Oland was convicted of second-degree murder in the bludgeoning death of his father, Richard (Dick) Oland. A year later the conviction was overturned on appeal, and a new trial ordered. The initial, 65-day trial was the longest in New Brunswick history. It also drew national attention due to its brutal nature and revelations about the storied Oland family, founders of the Moosehead brewing empire.
Migration is a unique experience for a child and Canada receives child migrants from all over the world. Some children come as unaccompanied minors and claim refugee status, some come alone and wait to be reunited with their families, while others are international adoptees by Canadian families.
The judiciary – collectively, the judges of the law courts – is the branch of government in which judicial power is vested. It is independent of the legislative and executive branches. Judges are public officers appointed to preside in a court of justice, to interpret and apply the laws of Canada.