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Slavery Abolition Act, 1833

An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Service of such Slaves (also known as the Slavery Abolition Act) received Royal Assent on 28 August 1833 and took effect 1 August 1834. The Act abolished enslavement in most British colonies, freeing over 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South Africa as well as a small number in Canada.

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Constitution Act, 1867

The Constitution Act, 1867 was originally known as the British North America Act (BNA Act). It was the law passed by the British Parliament on 29 March 1867 to create the Dominion of Canada. It came into effect on 1 July 1867. The Act is the foundational document of Canada’s Constitution. It outlines the structure of government in Canada and the distribution of powers between the central Parliament and the provincial legislatures. It was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867 with the patriation of the Constitution in 1982.

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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.)

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Conscription in Canada

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” of citizens for military service. It is sometimes known as “the draft.” The federal government enacted conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War. Both instances created sharp divisions between English Canadians, who tended to support the practice, and French Canadians, who generally did not. Canada does not currently have mandatory military service. The Canadian Armed Forces are voluntary services.

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Quebec Act, 1774

The Quebec Act received royal assent on 22 June 1774. It revoked the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which had aimed to assimilate the French-Canadian population under English rule. The Quebec Act was put into effect on 1 May 1775. It was passed to gain the loyalty of the French-speaking majority of the Province of Quebec. Based on recommendations from Governors James Murray and Guy Carleton, the Act guaranteed the freedom of worship and restored French property rights. However, the Act had dire consequences for Britain’s North American empire. Considered one of the five “Intolerable Acts” by the Thirteen American Colonies, the Quebec Act was one of the direct causes of the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). It was followed by the Constitutional Act in 1791.

This is the full-length entry about the Quebec Act of 1774. For a plain language summary, please see The Quebec Act, 1774 (Plain-Language Summary).

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Military Service Act

The Military Service Act became law on 29 August 1917. It was a politically explosive and controversial law that bitterly divided the country along French-English lines. It made all male citizens aged 20 to 45 subject to conscription for military service, through the end of the First World War. As such, the Act had significant political consequences. It led to the creation of Prime Minister Borden’s Union Government and drove most of his French-Canadian supporters into opposition.

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Conscription in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

Conscription is the drafting of people for mandatory military service. Canadians have been conscripted twice in history. Both times, only males were conscripted. The first time was during the First World War. The second time was during the Second World War. Conscription was an issue that divided Canada. Most English-speaking Canadians supported it. Most French-speaking Canadians opposed it.

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

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Official Languages Act (1969)

​The Official Languages Act (1969) is the federal statute that made English and French the official languages of Canada. It requires all federal institutions to provide services in English or French on request. The Act was passed on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (established by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson) and came into force on 7 September 1969. It created the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which oversees its implementation.

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Indian Act

The Indian Act is the primary law the federal government uses to administer Indian status, local First Nations governments and the management of reserve land. It also outlines governmental obligations to First Nations peoples. The Indian Act pertains to people with Indian Status; it does not directly reference non-status First Nations people, the Métis or Inuit. First introduced in 1876, the Act subsumed a number of colonial laws that aimed to eliminate First Nations culture in favour of assimilation into Euro-Canadian society. A new version of the Act was passed in 1951, and since then, has been amended several times, most significantly in 1985, with changes mainly focusing on the removal of discriminatory sections. It is an evolving, paradoxical document that has enabled trauma, human rights violations and social and cultural disruption for generations of Indigenous peoples.

This is the full-length entry about the Indian Act. For a plain language summary, please see Indian Act (Plain Language Summary).

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Indian Act (Plain-Language Summary)

The Indian Act was first created in 1876. A new version was created in 1951. Since then, the Act has been revised several times. The main goal of the Act was to force First Nations peoples to lose their culture and become like Euro-Canadians. The Indian Act does not affect either the Métis or Inuit.

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

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Gradual Enfranchisement Act

The Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 was a legislative measure passed by the government of the new Dominion of Canada. It attempted to control, regulate and assimilate Indigenous peoples (referred to as “Indians” in the Act) in the country. This legislation followed An Act for the better protection of the Lands and Property of the Indians in Lower Canada of 1850 and the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857, passed by the Province of Canada (formerly Upper and Lower Canada). It preceded the Indian Act of 1876.