Canada's Constitutional History


No law system in effect

1600 - 1663

At this point in history, we knew that the UK was creating laws in "order to establish mechanisms for governance in the colonies". Major chartered companies were given lawmaking, judicial and administrative powers over the French colonies.

Louis XIV Established the Custom of Paris

1663 - 1675

When Louis XIV established this, it was the only "legitimate source of law throughout New France". Officials were nominated and voted in by the bishop, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and the kings Governer, with the King having the final say. Church was powerless unless given power from these government officials and civil officials were exempt from any powers the church did have.

Treaty of Utrecht

Approx. 1713

At this point in time, France lost a large portion of their North American colonies to the United Kingdom by the Treaty of Utrecht.

The Royal Proclamation


In 1763, King George III released The Royal Proclamation in order to create a base for government administration for North American territories after France ceded them to Britain during the Treaty of Paris also in 1763. This could be called the first real established government in Canada. King George reserved western lands specifically for natives, barring all non-natives from entering. If a native group so chose to, they could create a treaty with authorised members of the British monarchy to sell their land.

Quebec Act


The Quebec Act introduced a governor and appointed members of a government for Quebec, using a seigneurial system of government. It worked to combine French civil law with English criminal law. The Quebec Act was a highly controversial act which prompted Americans to revolt as they felt offended by its tolerance for Catholicism and because it began to extend Quebec's boundaries towards the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Although highly controversial, "many historians feel its concessions helped encourage French Canadian support of continued British rule".

Constitutional Act


Upper (Ontario) and Lower (Quebec) Canada were divided by the Ottawa River. This Constitutional Act gave each part of Canada a two-house legislature.

Act of Union


Responsible Government: Government that is responsible for the people, also described as "an executive or Cabinet that is dependent on the support of an elected assembly, rather than on the monarch"
Governor General Lord Durham came to Canada in 1838 after multiple rebellions. He appointed a cabinet of executive members and began to form his idea of the first responsible government. Once the hesitation had passed from other by standing provinces, responsible government was brought to Nova Scotia (1848) and then spread quickly throughout the rest of Canada.

British North America Act

29 March 1867

In Ottawa, a "federal Parliment of two chambers" was formed. The House of Commons and the Senate. It outlines a democratic government with three levels; executive, legislative and judiciary. "Peace, order and good government" is the opening phrase of section 91 of the BNA. This provided a clause that "was a general power enabling Parliament to enact laws on matters not specifically conferred upon the provinces, ie, on "residuary" matters".

Statute of Westminister


The Statute of Westminister signified the transfer or power from Britain to Canada's Parliment. This gave former colonies full legal rights as their own independent province "except in areas they chose to be subordinate to Britain". This was the first time a British law was put into place clearly outlining Canada's parliamentary power and independence from Britain.

Canada Act


Amending Formula: "To change the Constitution using the general formula, the change needs to be approved by 1) the federal Parliament, 2) the Senate, and 3) a minimum number of provincial legislatures. There must be at least seven provinces that approve the change, representing at least 50% of Canada’s population. This is often called the 7 + 50 rule. This means that provinces with large populations will typically need to approve a change in order for the amendment to succeed. However, the change cannot happen without some support from provinces with smaller populations."

Constitution Act


Patriation of the BNA to the Constitution Act was significant because it was the political process that finally leads to the true and ultimate independence of Canada from Britain. Before this patriation started by Pierre Trudeau, any British laws we wished to change had to go through acts of the British Parliment, although still with consent from the Canadian Government.

Renaming of the BNA to the Constitution Act

April 1982

Meech Lake Accord


In 1987, the Meech Lake Accord was the second rejected attempt from Brian Mulroney's conservative government to gain Quebec's consent for the revised Canadian Constitution. Support for the Accord eventually dwindled resulting in a lack of action to put it into effect.

Charlottetown Accord


The Charlottetown Accord was the third failed attempt after the Meech Lake Accord by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to get Quebec to agree to the Constitution Act of 1982. It was ultimately rejected by voters in a referendum.