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Patriation of the Constitution

In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.

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Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick, feminist, social activist, author, broadcaster, public speaker (born 15 August 1945 in Reno, Nevada). Judy Rebick has championed the rights of women, minorities and the working class since the 1960s. She was a member of the NDP’s Waffle caucus and a pro-choice spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics. She rose to national prominence as the president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (1990–93) and as the host of CBC TV programs (1994–2000). From 2002 to 2010, she was the Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University. She is also a best-selling author and was the founding publisher of rabble.ca.

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Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, PC, CC, CH, FRSC, prime minister of Canada 1968–79 and 1980–84, politician, writer, constitutional lawyer (born 18 October 1919 in Montreal, QC; died 28 September 2000 in Montreal). A charismatic and controversial figure, Pierre Trudeau was arguably Canada’s best-known politician, both at home and abroad. He introduced legal reforms to make Canada a more “just society” and made Canada officially bilingual with the Official Languages Act of 1969. He negotiated Canada’s constitutional independence from Britain and established a new Canadian Constitution with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He played an important role in defeating the Quebec separatist movement of the 1970s and 1980s; although his decision to invoke the War Measures Act in response to the 1970 October Crisis drew sharp criticism. His federalist stance as well as his language and economic policies alienated many in Canada, particularly in the West. His eldest son, Justin Trudeau, became leader of the Liberal Party in 2013 and prime minister in 2015.

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Queen Elizabeth II

Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, the United Kingdom and 13 other Commonwealth realms (born 21 April 1926 in London, United Kingdom; died 8 September 2022 at Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland). The Queen reigned since 1952 and was the Head of State of Canada, the United Kingdom and 13 other Commonwealth realms. Elizabeth II was the first monarch to be crowned Queen of Canada. She was the longest reigning monarch in British and Commonwealth history and celebrated her Platinum Jubilee, the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne, in 2022.

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Harjit Sajjan

Harjit Singh Sajjan, PC, OMM, MSM, CD, soldier, policeman, politician, Minister of National Defence 2015–21, Minister of International Development 2021–present (born 6 September 1970, in Bombeli, Hoshiarpur, India). Harjit Sajjan enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces at age 19 and joined the Vancouver Police Department in 1999. He served for 11 years and became a detective. He also served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, where he was hailed as Canada’s “best single intelligence asset.” Sajjan rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and became the first Sikh Canadian to command an Armed Forces regiment. He was elected as a Liberal MP for Vancouver South in 2015. He was Minister of National Defence for nearly six years — one of the longest tenures in the country’s history. He has been Minister of International Development since 2021.

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John Diefenbaker

John George “Dief the Chief” Diefenbaker, PC, CH, KC, FRSC, prime minister 1957–63, politician, lawyer (born 18 September 1895 in Neustadt, ON; died 16 August 1979 in Ottawa, ON). John Diefenbaker was Canada’s 13th prime minister. He was well known as a defence lawyer before his election to Parliament, and was an eloquent spokesman for “non-establishment” Canada. A supporter of civil rights for all, Diefenbaker championed the Canadian Bill of Rights and the extension of the right to vote to First Nations peoples. He also played an important role in the anti-apartheid statement that led to South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961. He was a charismatic and popular speaker; but he was also a divisive force within the Progressive Conservative Party. He was criticized for his indecision concerning nuclear missiles on Canadian soil; for his strained relations with US President John F. Kennedy; and for his cancellation of the Avro Arrow project.

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Clayton Ruby

Clayton “Clay” Charles Ruby, CM, lawyer, writer, activist (born 6 February 1942 in Toronto, ON; died 2 August 2022 in Toronto). Clayton Ruby was a lawyer, activist and social justice advocate. He specialized in civil rights, criminal law and constitutional law. One of Canada’s best-known defence attorneys, he was an impassioned defender of press freedom and an active member of Canada’s environmental movement. Ruby worked to ensure that all people receive equal access and treatment under Canada’s laws. His more notable clients included the surviving Dionne Quintuplets, Donald Marshall Jr., Guy Paul Morin, Michelle Douglas, Svend Robinson, Dr. Henry Morgentaler and the men charged in the 1981 Toronto Bathhouse Raids.

Article

Wilton Littlechild

Jacob Wilton (Willie) Littlechild, CM, athlete, lawyer, Cree chief, politician, advocate for Indigenous rights (born 1 April 1944 in Hobbema, [now Maskwacîs] AB). Littlechild formed and coached Alberta’s first all-Indigenous junior hockey team and created the National Indian Athletic Association. He is a member of seven sports halls of fame. In 1976, Littlechild earned a law degree from the University of Alberta. He went on to become the first member of Parliament with Treaty Indian Status in Canada in 1988. Littlechild served as a commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009. Throughout his career, Littlechild has promoted Indigenous rights both nationally and internationally.

Article

Lester B. Pearson

Lester Bowles (“Mike”) Pearson, PC, OM, CC, OBE, prime minister 1963–68, statesman, politician, public servant, professor (born 23 April 1897 in Newtonbrook, ON; died 27 December 1972 in Ottawa, ON). Lester Pearson was Canada’s foremost diplomat of the 1950s and 1960s. He formulated the basics of the country’s postwar foreign policy; particularly its involvement in NATO and the United Nations, where he served as president of the General Assembly. In 1957, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts in facilitating Britain and France’s departure from Egypt during the Suez Crisis. A skilled politician, he rebuilt the Liberal Party and as prime minister strove to maintain Canada’s national unity. Under his leadership, the government implemented a Canada Pension Plan; a universal medicare system; a unified Armed Forces; and a new national flag.

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Hector Fabre

Louis-Roch-Hector Fabre, journalist, newspaper publisher, senator and diplomat (born 9 August 1834 in Montreal, Lower Canada; died 2 September 1910 in Paris, France). Hector Fabre’s appointment to serve as the Agent General of Quebec in Paris in winter 1882 marked one of the first milestones in the history of Quebec representation abroad. Fabre, who also represented the government of Canada starting in July 1882, helped to establish diplomatic and economic relations with France and other European countries and also marked the beginning of permanent Canadian representation abroad.

Article

Paul Hellyer

Paul Theodore Hellyer, PC, politician, engineer, businessman, writer (born 6 August 1923 near Waterford, ON; died 8 August 2021 in Toronto, ON). A long-time Member of Parliament (MP), Paul Hellyer served in the cabinets of prime ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, and was the longest-serving member of the Privy Council at the time of his death. As defence minister, he oversaw Canada’s adoption of nuclear weapons and organized the unification of the armed forces. Hellyer contested the leadership of both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties and led two small federal parties of his own creation. He was a notable critic of free trade and advocated for monetary reform. He also gained international notoriety for claiming that Western governments possess — and have been suppressing — evidence of UFOs and extraterrestrial life.

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Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, 2022

On 6 February 2022, Queen Elizabeth II marked the 70th anniversary of her accession to the thrones of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms in 1952. In the spring of 2022, there were Platinum Jubilee tours of the Commonwealth by members of the royal family and a four-day holiday weekend of Platinum Jubilee celebrations in the United Kingdom from 2 to 5 June 2022. The Queen is the only British and Commonwealth monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. The Queen is currently the second-longest reigning monarch in world history, her record exceeded only by the 72-year reign of King Louis XIV of France.

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Michelle Stilwell

Michelle “Mikey” Stilwell (née Bauknecht), wheelchair basketball player, wheelchair racer, politician (born 4 July 1974 in Winnipeg, MB). Michelle Stilwell is the only Canadian woman to win gold medals in two sports at the Paralympic Games. She and the Canadian team won gold in women’s wheelchair basketball at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. Stilwell also won gold in women’s wheelchair racing at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games. From 2006 to 2016, she was the fastest wheelchair racer in the world in the T52-class; she currently holds world records in the women’s 100 m and 200 m. She also served as a BC MLA for Parksville-Qualicum from 2013 to 2020.

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Numbered Treaties (Plain-Language Summary)

The Numbered Treaties are a series of 11 treaties. A treaty is an agreement between two or more nations. The Numbered Treaties were signed by the Canadian government and Indigenous people. All 11 treaties were signed between 1871 and 1921. The Numbered Treaties cover parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario. They also cover portions of Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

The treaties provided the Canadian government with land. The government wanted land for industrial development and white settlement. In exchange, the government promised Indigenous people special rights and benefits. These treaty terms are controversial and contested. The Numbered Treaties have ongoing legal, social, and economic impacts on Indigenous communities. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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

Article

Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Louise Jamieson, OC, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) lawyer, ombudsman, Six Nations chief, policy advisor, senior mediator, businesswoman (born in 1953 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory near Brantford, ON). Jamieson was the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a law degree (1976); first non-Parliamentarian appointed to a House of Commons committee (1982); first woman appointed ombudsman in Ontario (1989); and first woman elected as Six Nations chief (2001).

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Yvon Dumont

Yvon Dumont, CM, OM, Métis leader, lieutenant-governor of Manitoba (born 21 January 1951 at St. Laurent, Manitoba, a mostly Métis community northwest of Winnipeg). Dumont became involved in Indigenous politics as a teenager and, throughout his career, held senior positions in the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), the Native Council of Canada (now the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples) and the Métis National Council (MNC). As MNC president in 1986, Dumont participated in the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord. On 5 March 1993, he was sworn in as the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba, the first Métis person in Canadian history to hold a vice-regal office. Yvon Dumont was a successful appellant in the 2013 Supreme Court of Canada land claims case Manitoba Métis Federation vs. Canada. This case helped bring about the signing of a memorandum of understanding in May 2016 between the Canadian government and the MMF to “advance exploratory talks on reconciliation.” Dumont remains a proponent of recognizing the Métis people as a distinct Indigenous population.

Article

Lillian Dyck

Lillian Eva Quan Dyck, OC, scholar, feminist, senator, advocate for Indigenous rights (born 24 August 1945 in North Battleford, SK). Lillian Dyck was the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a PhD in science. She was also the first Indigenous female senator and the first Chinese Canadian senator. During her time in the Senate, she was part of several actions to improve life for Indigenous people in Canada. This includes work on criminal justice and Indigenous education reform, and bills to reinstate Indian Status to women who had lost it based on sexist laws. Dyck was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2021.