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 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.
Women have looked to the law as a tool to change their circumstances, while at the same time the law is one of the instruments which confirms their dependent status as citizens (see Status of Women). The first phase of the Women's Movement, in proclaiming that women were capable of reason as well as reproduction and nurturing, claimed a place for women in the public sphere, while also relying upon the concept of "separate spheres" to delineate their areas of strength and competence.
Administrative tribunals in Canada make decisions on behalf of federal and provincial governments when it is impractical or inappropriate for the government to do so itself. Tribunals are set up by federal or provincial legislation, known as “empowering legislation.” Tribunals are commonly known as commissions or boards, and make decisions about a wide variety of issues, including disputes between people or between people and the government. Tribunals may also perform regulatory or licensing functions. Tribunal decisions may be reviewed by the courts. Because they engage in fact-finding and have the power to impact personal rights, tribunals are often seen as “quasi-judicial.”
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 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 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.
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.
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.
Abortion is the premature ending of a pregnancy. Inducing an abortion was a crime in Canada until 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law as unconstitutional. Since then, abortion has been legal at any stage in a woman's pregnancy, and is publicly funded as a medical procedure under the Canada Health Act. However, access to abortion services differs across the country, and abortion remains one of the most divisive political issues of our time.