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Constitution of Canada

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The Canadian Constitution is the highest law of Canada. It outlines Canada's system of government, as well as the civil rights of all Canadian citizens. Generally speaking all of the British laws that predate or modify the British North America Act make up the legislation that has been come to be known as the Canadian Constitution.

The Constitution, as it is generally known, is made up of many parts (see the list below) , the most significant that are most often cited today are:

  • The Constitution Act of 1867. Formerly known as the British North America Act, this act was the act of the British Parliament that granted Canada self-government, and spelled out how Canada's government would operate.

  • The Constitution Act of 1982. This was Canada's first "Canadian made" constitutional amendment, granting Canada full political independence from Britain, and incorporating a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlining the individual rights of every citizen of Canada. See Canada Act 1982.

Since 1982 the Charter has become an often cited portion of the Constitution. The predecessor acts and orders that are listed below are generally not as well known. These acts have sometimes been denounced as "messy," "almost incoherent" or worse for their somewhat convoluted form and long, unconsolidated history. However, they remain the laws that determine the division of powers between federal and provincial jurisdictions, the terms upon which new provinces entered Canada and the division between executive, legislative and judicial areas of power in a manner very different from the United States.

Much of how Canada's government works cannot be accurately learned from a simple reading of the constitution, as like Britain, the Canadian government is heavily dependent on unwritten constitutional conventions. For example, a literal reading of the constitution would seem to indicate that Canada is an authoritarian nation run almost single-handedly by a dictatorial Monarch. This is not the case, of course. The Monarch is merely a figurehead, and the true power rests in the prime minister, despite the fact that until 1983 the latter office was not even mentioned in the constitution.

Amending the Canadian Constitution is a topic of great debate in Canada. While there seems to be general agreement among provincial governments that some parts of constitution need to be amended to deal with long-standing demands from many provincial governments, , agreement on details of amendments has been elusive. Further complicating attempts to amend the Constitution is the complexity of the procedure for doing so, which in most cases requires approval from both the federal parliament and two-thirds of the provincial governments, and in some cases requires the approval of all ten provincial governments.

The 1987 Meech Lake Accord, a package of Constitutional amendments intended to deal with long-standing concerns of western provinces and demands from the province of Quebec, failed in 1990 when it was not ratified by the ten provincial governments. The last attempt at a comprehensive package of constitutional amendments was the Charlottetown Accord, which arose out of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990. The Charlottetown Accord was defeated in a national referendum in 1992.

There have been several relatively minor amendments to the Constitution since it was repatriated in 1982 including amendments dealing with provincial schooling in Newfoundland and Quebec, making New Brunswick officially bilingual, changing the name of Newfoundland to Newfoundland and Labrador, and creating the territory of Nunavut.

The following is a list of pre-1982 legislation, Orders-in-Council and Statutory Instruments of the United Kingdom that form, or formed, part of the Canadian Constitution:

  • Constitution Act, 1867 (Consolidated) (Formerly known as the British North America Act, 1867 [Consolidated]
  • Rupert's Land Act, 1868
  • Temporary Government of Rupert's Land Act, 1869
  • Manitoba Act, 1870
  • Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory Order
  • British Columbia Terms of Union (Formerly Order of Her Majesty in Council admitting British Columbia into the Union)
  • Constitution Act, 1871 (Formerly British North America Act, 1871)
  • Prince Edward Island Terms of Union (1873)
  • Parliament of Canada Act, 1875
  • Adjacent Territories Order 1880
  • Constitution Act, 1886 (Formerly British North America Act, 1886)
  • Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act, 1889
  • Statute Law Revision Act, 1893
  • Canadian Speaker (Appointment of Deputy) Act, 1895, Session 2 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
  • Yukon Territory Act, 1898
  • Alberta Act, 1905 (Formerly The Alberta Act, 1905)
  • Saskatchewan Act, 1905 (Formerly The Saskatchewan Act, 1905)
  • Constitution Act, 1907 (Formerly British North America Act, 1907)
  • Constitution Act, 1915 (Formerly British North America Act, 1915)
  • British North America Act, 1916 (Repealed by Statute Law Revision Act, 1927)
  • Statute Law Revision Act, 1927
  • Constitution Act, 1930
  • Statute of Westminster, 1931
  • Constitution Act, 1940 (Formerly British North America Act, 1940)
  • British North America Act, 1943 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
  • British North America Act, 1946 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
  • Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General of Canada
  • Newfoundland Act (Formerly British North America Act, 1949)
  • British North America (No. 2) Act, 1949 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
  • Statute Law Revision Act, 1950
  • British North America Act, 951 (Partially repealed by the Constitution Act, 1964, Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
  • British North America Act, 1952 (Repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982)
  • Constitution Act, 1960 (Formerly British North America Act, 1960)
  • Constitution Act, 1964 (Formerly British North America Act, 1964)
  • Constitution Act, 1965 (Formerly British North America Act, 1965)
  • Constitution Act, 1974 (Formerly British North America Act, 1974)
  • Constitution Act (No. 1), 1975 (Formerly British North America Act (No. 1), 1975)
  • Constitution Act (No. 2), 1975 (Formerly British North America Act (No. 2), 1975)
  • Miscellaneous Statue Law Revision Act, 1977

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