Constitutions in transition
Constitutions in transition

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Constitutions in transition

4.2.1 Independence?

Described image
Figure 13 The Supreme Court of Canada (left) and its Grand Entrance Hall (right)

An exploration of the interactive map makes clear that, by 1949, Canada had grown in size and the Supreme Court of Canada had become the court of last resort. Given that the Supreme Court of Canada makes decisions that modify the constitution, the complete independence of the judiciary from the British courts marks a significant shift in the capacity of Canada to determine its own constitutional course.

Another significant movement towards complete self-determination was prompted by the politics of the then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. Attempts to formalise the domestic procedure for amending the constitution took place throughout the twentieth century, but reached a crescendo in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Activity 9 Patriating the Canadian constitution

Timing: You should allow yourself 30 minutes to do this activity.

Pierre TrudeauRead the following short section taken from Loveland (2015) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , focusing on the way in which a Bill to enable Canada to achieve sole and domestic control over constitutional amendments in the 1970s is progressed. In the box provided, give your reflections on what you think the pitfalls of Trudeau’s original plan were.

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Trudeau’s government was keen to ensure that Canada had complete control over its own constitutional affairs and, in effect, unilaterally introduced a Bill to the UK, having secured the assent of only two provinces. Because of this, the UK was concerned that it was going to enact an Act of Parliament in contravention of a parliamentary convention that Canadian Bills would only pass if they had the support of a ‘substantial number of provinces’. As it was, the Supreme Court of Canada gave its own opinion on the matter, stressing the importance of the federal government obtaining support from a substantial number of provinces before proceeding to introduce such a Bill into the Westminster legislative machine. As such, Trudeau backed down and withdrew the Bill. Negotiations were subsequently re-opened with the provinces ahead of another attempt to introduce such a Bill to the UK.


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