Canada: Repatriation of the Canadian Constitution

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Documents relating to the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution and the repeal of the British North America Act, 1980-1981; comprising documents issued by the Federal government, 1980-1982, including statements by the Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau; documents issued by the Province of Alberta, 1980; documents issued by the Province of British Columbia, 1980-81, including statements by the Premier, W R Bennett, and the Ministry of Intergovernmental Relations; documents issued by the Province of Manitoba, 1967-1981, including statements by the Premier, Sterling Lyon; documents issued by the Province of New Brunswick, 1980, including statements by the Premier, Richard B Hatfield; documents issued by the Province of Newfoundland, 1980; documents issued by the Northwest Territories, 1980-81; notes for speech by John Buchanan, Premier of Nova Scotia, 1981; pamphlet on Ontario and the debate on the Constitution [1980]; documents issued by Prince Edward Island, 1980; documents issued by the Province of Quebec, 1980-1982; pamphlet issued by the Province of Saskatchewan on the Constitution, 1980; documents issued by the Yukon Territory, 1980; documents issued by pressure groups, 1979-1981, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Progressive Conservative Party; British publications including statement by the Labour Party on Canada and the constitutional question, 1980, and file of press cuttings from 'The Times' and 'The Guardian', May 1980 - Apr 1982.

Administrative / Biographical History

The fundamental text of the Canadian Constitution was the British North America (BNA) Act, 1867, by which the Canadian federation was established, uniting what were then British colonies. The Act was a statute of the United Kingdom Parliament, and as such could only be changed in London.

After Confederation Canada gradually assumed more autonomy over its own affairs until its independent status (and that of the other self-governing dominions) was recognized in the Balfour Report of 1926. Beginning in 1927, discussions were held about patriating Canada's Constitution -- transferring amending authority from the British Parliament to Canada - but governments couldn't agree on constitutional amending procedures. Consequently, when Canada officially ceased to be a British colony with passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, authority to amend the Constitution remained with the British Parliament. In 1949 the Canadian Parliament was given a limited amending power in areas that did not concern provincial jurisdiction. Despite many discussions and several formal conferences, agreement on a comprehensive set of amending procedures proved elusive for more than 30 years.

In November 1981, after intensive negotiations at a First Ministers' conference, the federal government and all the provincial governments except the Parti Québécois government of Quebec, agreed on a package of constitutional amendments. The agreement did not alter the fundamental distribution of powers but included a comprehensive amending formula, a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, entrenchment of the principle of equalization payments to the poorer provinces, and a strengthening of the provinces' control over natural resources.

Despite support for the agreement by a large majority of Quebec representatives in the federal Parliament, the Quebec National Assembly rejected it on the grounds that the Charter limited the Assembly's legislative powers without its consent. The Quebec government objected to two clauses in the Charter: the provision for minority language education rights, which conflicted with restrictions on English schooling in the province's French language charter; and the mobility clause guaranteeing Canadians freedom to live and work anywhere in Canada, which could affect the province's ability to set labour policies favouring the employment of Quebecers. The Quebec government also objected to the amending formula, which offered financial compensation to provinces that opted out of constitutional amendments only on educational and other cultural matters. The Constitution was patriated on April 17, 1982, without the consent of the Quebec legislature, but the Supreme Court of Canada subsequently ruled that the patriation process had respected Canada's laws and conventions, and that the Constitution, including the Constitution Act, 1982, was in force throughout Canada.

Arrangement

Arranged according to originating organisation.

Conditions Governing Access

Open although advance notice should be given.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued to item level (see link to repository catalogue).

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Conditions Governing Use

A photocopying service is available, at the discretion of the ICS Library staff.

Custodial History

At the start of the controversy the ICS Library wrote to all the provincial governments, the federal government, and a number of pressure groups to ask them to donate copies of any documents that they produced on this question. Also included are cuttings from 'The Times' and 'The Guardian' made at the Institute throughout the dispute.

Related Material

Published items on the subject have been added to the ICS library in the normal way. They can be retrieved by looking under the heading "CANADA, Constututional History" in the library's subject catalogue.