Search for "Patriation of the Constitution"

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Statute of Westminster, 1931

The Statute of Westminster is a British law that was passed on 11 December 1931. It was Canada’s all-but-final achievement of independence from Britain. It enacted recommendations from the Balfour Report of 1926, which had declared that Britain and its Dominions were constitutionally “equal in status.” The Statute of Westminster gave Canada and the other Commonwealth Dominions legislative equality with Britain. They now had full legal freedom except in areas of their choosing. The Statute also clarified the powers of Canada’s Parliament and those of the other Dominions. (See also Editorial: The Statute of Westminster, Canada’s Declaration of Independence.)

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Constitution of Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

The Constitution is Canada’s supreme law. It gives the country its legal framework. It defines the powers of both the federal and provincial governments. It overrides any other laws. The Constitution is not one document. It is a complex mix of British and Canadian laws. It also contains unwritten rules known as constitutional conventions.

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

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Constitution Act, 1867 (Plain-Language Summary)

The British North America Act (BNA Act) created the Dominion of Canada. The Act was passed by the British Parliament on 29 March 1867. It came into effect on 1 July 1867. The Act is the foundation of Canada’s Constitution. It outlines how governments in Canada are to be structured. It also says which powers are given to Parliament and to the provinces. The BNA Act was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867 in 1982. This took place when the Constitution was patriated (taken back) from Britain.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Constitution Act, 1867. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Constitution Act, 1867.)

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Statute of Westminster, 1931 (Plain-Language Summary)

The Statute of Westminster, 1931 is a British law. It was passed on 11 December 1931. It made all the Commonwealth countries independent and equal with Britain. They now had full legal freedom except in areas of their choosing. The Statute also clarified the powers of Canada’s Parliament and those of the other Dominions.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Statute of Westminster, 1931. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Statute of Westminster, 1931.)

Editorial

Editorial: Newfoundland’s Contribution to the Patriation of the Constitution

In the decades since 1982, politicians and the media have recounted the same story about the patriation of Canada’s constitution and the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most of the credit in this version goes to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Three others are credited with breaking an impasse in the 1981 negotiations: federal justice minister Jean Chrétien, Saskatchewan attorney general Roy Romanow, and Ontario attorney general Roy McMurtry. But in his memoirs, former Newfoundland PremierBrian Peckford argues that the key intervention in the patriation process came from Peckford and the members of the Newfoundland delegation.

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Federalism in Canada

Federalism is a political system in which government power and responsibility is divided between a federal legislature and state or provincial legislatures. A true federation, in the modern sense, is a state in which the smaller parts are not sovereign and cannot legally secede. In practice, Canadian federalism has swung between the extremes of centralizing control and decentralizing it. The federal government has jurisdiction over the entire country. Each provincial government has jurisdiction over its portion of the population and region. Both levels of government get their authority from Canada’s written Constitution; but it includes features that are incompatible with a strict approach to federalism. Canadian federalism has been tested throughout the country’s history. It remains a subject of great debate.

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Crown

In a monarchy, the Crown is an abstract concept or symbol that represents the state and its government. In a constitutional monarchy such as Canada, the Crown is the source of non-partisan sovereign authority. It is part of the legislative, executive and judicial powers that govern the country. Under Canada’s system of responsible government, the Crown performs each of these functions on the binding advice, or through the actions of, members of Parliament, ministers or judges. As the embodiment of the Crown, the monarch — currently Queen Elizabeth II — serves as head of state. The Queen and her vice-regal representatives — the governor general at the federal level and lieutenant-governors provincially — possess what are known as prerogative powers; they can be made without the approval of another branch of government, though they are rarely used. The Queen and her representatives also fulfill ceremonial functions as Head of State.

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Patriation of the Constitution (Plain-Language Summary)

In 1982, Canada patriated (took control of) its Constitution from Britain. An amending formula (a method for making changes) and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were added. These changes took place after a fierce, 18-month struggle. It dominated the agendas of every government in the country. Patriation was complete when Queen Elizabeth II signed the Constitution Act, 1982 on 17 April 1982.

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

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Dominion of Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

The title “Dominion of Canada” was first applied to Canada at Confederation in 1867. It was also used to describe other countries in the Commonwealth. The federal government stopped using the word Dominion by the early 1960s. The last hold-over was the term Dominion Day. It was changed to Canada Day in 1982. Today, the word Dominion is seldom used to describe Canada.

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

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Patriation Reference

The Patriation Reference, formally known as Re: Resolution to Amend the Constitution, was a reference case of the Supreme Court of Canada. On 28 September 1981, the court decided that it was legal for the federal government to patriateand amend Canada’s Constitution without the consent of the provincial governments. But it also found that to do so in areas that affect provincial powers would be a breach of constitutional convention. The court’s decision concluded that such conventions are of great significance. In the words of the court, “Constitutional convention plus constitutional law equal the total constitution of the country.”

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Constitution Act, 1982 (Plain-Language Summary)

The Constitution Act, 1982 is a landmark document. It allowed Canada to change its Constitution without the consent of Britain. This meant Canada had full independence. The Act also added the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the Constitution. The Act was passed after a fierce, 18-month struggle. The Act was signed by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 April 1982.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Constitution Act, 1982. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Constitution Act, 1982.)

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Charlottetown Accord (Plain-Language Summary)

The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 was a failed attempt to add Quebec’s consent to the Constitution. The Accord would have recognized Quebec as a “distinct society.” It would have given many federal powers to the provinces; addressed the issue of Indigenous self-government; and reformed the Senate and the House of Commons. The Accord was approved by the federal government and all 10 provinces. But it was rejected by the public in a referendum on 26 October 1992.

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

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Notwithstanding Clause (Plain-Language Summary)

Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is called the notwithstanding clause. It is also called the override clause. It is part of the Constitution of Canada. The clause was crucial in winning provincial support for the Charter. The clause allows governments to bypass some rights. Such an override must be renewed after five years. Use of the clause is politically hard and therefore rare. It has been used by provinces only a handful of times. It has never been used by the federal government.

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

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Jean Chrétien

Joseph-Jacques Jean Chrétien, CC, PC, OM, QC, prime minister of Canada 1993–2003, lawyer, author, politician (born 11 January 1934 in Shawinigan, QC). Lawyer and longtime parliamentarian Jean Chrétien was Canada’s 20th prime minister. Early in his political career, Chrétien helped negotiate the patriation of the Canadian constitution as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As Prime Minister, he led the federal government to its first surplus in nearly 30 years. However, his administration also presided over a costly sponsorship program in Quebec that sparked one of the worst political scandals of modern times. His government committed Canadian forces to the Kosovo conflict (1999) and to the war in Afghanistan (beginning in 2002). Chrétien publicly refused to provide direct support for the subsequent American war in Iraq. The recipient of numerous honours and awards, he is involved in several international organizations dedicated to peace, democracy and other global concerns.

Editorial

Editorial: The Canadian Constitution Comes Home

In April 1982, as an Ottawa winter turned to spring, Queen Elizabeth II made her eleventh visit to Canada. She had come to make it official. After more than a half-century of trying, Canada would have its own constitution. A Canadian-made constitution was unfinished business from the country’s colonial past. The British North America Act in 1867 set out the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial governments and created the Dominion of Canada. It was, however, a law of the British Parliament, and it could only be amended (changed) by the British.

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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.