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Article

Guarantee Act

Guarantee Act, 1849, conceived by Francis HINCKS and carried in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, established the principle of government assistance to railways. Under the terms of the Act, any railway more than 75 mi (120 km) long was eligible for a government guarantee on the interest of half its bonds as soon as half the line had been completed.

Article

Enfranchisement (Plain-Language Summary)

Throughout much of Canadian history, a First Nations person would lose their Indian status if they were enfranchised. An enfranchised person is someone who has the right to vote in elections. A First Nations person who is deemed a Status Indian has certain rights and benefits granted to them through the Indian Act.

(This article is a plain-language summary of Enfranchisement. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Enfranchisement).

Article

Official Languages Act (1988)

The Official Languages Act (1988) consolidates all of the changes made to the Official Languages Act of 1969, providing more detail and making them clearer within a new legislative framework. This version highlights the responsibilities of federal institutions with respect to the official languages (see also Language Policy in Canada).

This is the full-length entry about the Official Languages Act of 1988. For a plain language summary, please see The Official Languages Act (1988) (Plain Language Summary).

Article

Constitutional Act, 1791

The Constitutional Act, 1791 was an act of the British Parliament. Also known as the Canada Act, it divided the Province of Quebec into  Upper Canada and Lower Canada. The Act was a first step on the long path to Confederation, but its rigid colonial structures also set the stage for rebellion in the Canadas. (See Rebellions of 1837–38.) The Act was also notable for giving women who owned property in Lower Canada the right to vote — a high level of inclusion by the standards of the time.

Article

Chinese Immigration Act

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, known also as the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned the entry of virtually all Chinese immigrants for 24 years. Although migration into Canada from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, only Chinese people were singled out completely from entering on the basis of race. The four exceptions to the exclusion were students, merchants (excluding laundry, restaurant and retail operators), diplomats and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. The limit on absence from Canada was two years, and the consequence for not returning on time was being barred re-entry. Additionally, every person of Chinese descent, whether Canadian-born or naturalized, was required to register for an identity card within 12 months. The penalty for noncompliance was imprisonment or a fine of up to $500. Though the Act was repealed in 1947, immigration restrictions on the basis of race and national origin were not fully scrubbed until 1967.

Article

Gradual Civilization Act

An Act to Encourage the Gradual Civilization of the Indian Tribes in the Province was passed by the fifth Parliament of the Province of Canada (formally Upper Canada and Lower Canada) in 1857. The Gradual Civilization Act, as it came to be known, was part of a state effort to use government policy to assimilate Indigenous peoples to the economic and social customs of European settler society.

Article

Constitution Act, 1982

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document in Canadian history. It achieved full independence for Canada by allowing the country to change its Constitution without approval from Britain. It also enshrined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s Constitution, the highest law of the land. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country. (See Patriation of the Constitution.)

Article

Quarantine Act

Canada adopted quarantine legislation in 1872, five years after Confederation. It was replaced by the current Quarantine Act, which was passed by the Parliament of Canada and received royal assent in 2005. The act gives sweeping powers to the federal health minister to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases. These powers can include health screenings, the creation of quarantine facilities and mandatory isolation orders. The Quarantine Act was introduced in the wake of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis of 2003. It was invoked in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macleans

Gay Rights Bill Passes

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on May 13, 1996. Partner content is not updated.

One year ago this week, Chris Phibbs and Chris Higgins, lesbian partners for seven years, hosted a celebration at their Toronto home. "There were flowers, telegrams, balloons," recalls Phibbs. "It was as much fun as a family has ever had.

Article

Canadian Bill of Rights

The Canadian Bill of Rights was the country’s first federal law to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was considered groundbreaking when it was enacted by the government of John Diefenbaker in 1960. But it proved too limited and ineffective, mainly because it applies only to federal statutes and not provincial ones. Many judges regarded it as a mere interpretive aid. The bill was cited in 35 cases between 1960 and 1982; thirty were rejected by the courts. Though it is still in effect, the Bill of Rights was superseded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

Article

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was enacted by the United States Congress on 18 September 1850. It extended the reach of the institution of slavery into the free Northern states, stating that refugees from enslavement living there could be returned to enslavement in the South once captured. The Act led thousands of freedom-seekers to take refuge in Canada. It was repealed 28 June 1864.

Article

Constitution of Canada

The Constitution of Canada is the country’s governing legal framework. It defines the powers of the executive branches of government and of the legislatures at both the federal and provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one document; it is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. In the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, “Constitutional convention plus constitutional law equal the total constitution of the country.” The Constitution provides Canada with the legal structure for a stable, democratic government.

Editorial

Editorial: The Statute of Westminster, Canada's Declaration of Independence

In the fall of 1929, Canada’s Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, travelled to England. He took with him Dr. Oscar Skelton — the “elder statesman” of the Canadian civil service, as William Lyon Mackenzie Kingonce described him. When Lapointe and Skelton were done their negotiations, they had confirmed that Canada would have its independence from the British Empire.

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Capital Punishment in Canada

In pre-Confederation Canada, hundreds of criminal offences were punishable by death. By 1865, only murder, treason and rape were still considered capital offences. In 1962, Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas were the last of 710 prisoners to be executed in Canada since 1859. After 1976, the death penalty was permitted only for members of the Armed Forces found guilty of cowardice, desertion, unlawful surrender, or spying for the enemy. The federal government completely abolished state executions in 1998.

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Criminal Code of Canada

Canada’s Criminal Code is a federal statute. It was enacted by Parliament in accordance with section 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction to legislate criminal offences in Canada. The Criminal Code contains most of the criminal offences that have been created by Parliament. Other criminal offences have been incorporated into other federal statutes. The Code defines the types of conduct that constitute criminal offences. It establishes the kind and degree of punishment that may be imposed for an offence, as well as the procedures to be followed for prosecution.

Article

Youth Criminal Justice Act

The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which was proclaimed in force on 1 April 2003, replaces the Young Offenders Act. It applies to a young person, or youth, who is or who appears to be 12 years old or older, but who is less than 18 years old and who is alleged to have committed an offence as a youth.

Article

Manitoba Act

The Manitoba Act provided for the admission of Manitoba as Canada’s fifth province. It received royal assent and became law on 12 May 1870. It marked the legal resolution of the struggle for self-determination between people of the Red River Colony and the federal government, which began with Canada’s purchase of Rupert’s Land in 1870. The Act contained protections for the region’s Métis. However, these protections were not fully realized. As a result, many Métis left the province for the North-West Territories.