Editor’s note: This preview is excerpted from an article originally published by our friends at The Epoch Times.
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We are regularly treated to surveys of public opinion about Canada’s 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians love it, though the vast majority have never read it. Not a word. The real story of the Charter, the reasons for it, and its political and moral consequences are widely ignored.
Prior to our founding, settlers in the colonies that became Canada lived under English law according to English Parliamentary legislation and common-law precedent. Laws made by Parliament were considered the voice of the people, even—Vox Populi, Vox Dei—as the voice of God, and therefore the “supreme law” of the land. This is still the case in England, which to this day has no written Charter or Constitution. The overarching message of this long, hard-won British tradition is that the elected Representatives of the people are free to make or unmake the laws of the realm without fear of dictation or limit by any higher power.
In the rising democratic spirit prior to Canada’s founding, however, colonists became fed up with control over them by British colonial officials and by bewigged judges of the English Privy Council 6,000 kilometres away. So they periodically revolted to achieve “responsible government.” They wanted those who made their laws to answer to the people governed by them.
It wasn’t until the British North America Act of 1867 creating the Confederation of Canada that we got fully responsible government, and Canadians began growing their own British-style parliamentary and common-law tradition. The only exception was the civil law in Quebec which continued to rely on the French Code Napoléon. At last, Canadians could hire and fire their own lawmakers.
This hopeful regime lasted a mere 115 years. In October of 1980 on CBC Television Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had already announced his lifelong intention “to constitutionalize a Bill of Rights,” and he was prepared to try this unilaterally. But the Supreme Court insisted on consent of the provinces, and after intense federal-provincial deal-making, the passage of The Canada Act 1982 made it very clear Trudeau had succeeded in muscling into existence a French-style Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Why? Because he despised and publicly mocked the English concept of government by a Parliament of changeable Representatives cobbling together laws from their debates, absent any higher guiding principles. And he was unsettled by the idea of ten provincial legislatures making their own sovereign laws which in one province might be in conflict with those of another.
In his first book, Federalism and the French-Canadians (1968), Trudeau displayed a Machiavellian awareness that although our founding BNA Act of 1867 was designed precisely to block heavy-handed rule from the top, what he pejoratively called our “checkerboard” federal system might serve as “a valuable tool which permits dynamic parties to plant socialist governments in certain provinces, from which the seeds of radicalism can slowly spread.” But who said Canada wanted socialist government? Who said Canada wanted to be radical?