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British Subject Status

British subject status was the precursor to Canadian citizenship, which was created on 1 January 1947 with the passage of the Canadian Citizenship Act. Until then, people who were considered Canadian citizens were subjects of the British Empire. In a monarchy, subjects serve the monarch; but in a democracy, the state serves its citizens. Changing Canadians from subjects to citizens provided a fundamental advancement in Canada’s democracy, rule of law, and civil rights. Like the Statute of Westminster in 1931, it was a key step in Canada’s journey toward sovereignty and autonomy from Britain.

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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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Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is a board of the British Privy Council. It was formed in 1833. In 1844, it was given jurisdiction over all of Britain’s colonial courts. People who had been judges in high courts in Britain served on the Judicial Committee, along with a sprinkling of judges from the Commonwealth. Their decisions were often criticized for favouring provincial powers over federal authority, especially in fields such as trade and commerce. The Judicial Committee served as the court of final appeal for Canada until 1949, when that role was given to the Supreme Court of Canada.  

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Governor General of Canada

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. As such, there is a clear division between the head of state and the head of government. The head of government is the prime minister, an elected political leader. The head of state is the Canadian monarch. Their duties are carried out by the governor general, who acts as the representative of the Crown — currently Elizabeth II — in Canada. (Lieutenant-Governors fulfill the same role in provincial governments.) The governor general performs a wide array of ceremonial duties. They also fulfill an important role in upholding the traditions of Parliament and other democratic institutions. Inuk leader Mary Simon was formally installed as Canada’s 30th Governor General on 26 July 2021. She is the first Indigenous person to hold Canada’s viceregal position.

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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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R.B. Bennett

Richard Bedford Bennett, 1st Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell, businessman, lawyer, politician, philanthropist, prime minister of Canada 7 August 1930 to 23 October 1935 (born 3 July 1870 in Hopewell Hill, NB; died 26 June 1947 in Mickleham, England). R.B. Bennett is perhaps best remembered for his highly criticized response to the Great Depression, as well as the subsequent unemployment relief camps and the On to Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot. However, he also created the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which became the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also oversaw Canada’s signing of the Statute of Westminster. For his service during the Second World War, he was appointed to Britain’s House of Lords and became Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell.

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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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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.)