Dear Sir or Madam,
Today, we write to you regarding a brief history of the events leading to the patriation of the Constitution. For a few of our readers, that sentence probably sounds like a bunch of nonsense. What exactly does it mean to patriate a Constitution? Is that just a big word that a bunch of crafty individuals throw around in a wily attempt to confuse the general population? What does that even mean? Luckily, we here at the Dominion are looking out for our fellow Canadians. Our aim is to give you a brief description of what it means to patriate a document, as well as to describe some of the events that influenced both the Canadian government and the British Crown towards this end.
In 1982, Canada officially patriated its Constitution, which transferred the official control over the document from Britain to the federal and provincial governments.1 This decision effectively established Canada’s independence, and showcased its desire to be distanced from its colonial past. Up until this point, it may be argued that Canada had remained more of a British colony than a completely self-reliant and independent country.
Along with bringing the document home, the name was also changed to better reflect Canada’s newfound independence from the United Kingdom. One must admit it would seem rather strange to fight for exclusive Canadian control over the Constitution while maintaining the name British North America Act (BNA Act). On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II travelled to Canada to introduce the newly named Constitution Act.2 In addition to the name change, the document itself underwent some changes. One of the most notable changes that happened in 1982 was the addition of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.3 The Charter allowed for individual rights and liberties to be protected from intrusion or disregard by governmental bodies. For the first time, Canadian citizens and non-citizens alike had recognized protections in a constitutional document. The Charter addition was a monumental part of Canadian history because it entrenched individual rights into the Constitution, which were missing entirely from the original BNA Act.
People may be under the misguided perception that every province was ecstatic to patriate the Constitution and amend the features of what used to be the BNA Act. This was not the case. Six provinces including: Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Newfoundland, and British Columbia, strongly disdained Trudeau’s proposed Constitution and the Charter that would accompany it.4 Later, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan also joined forces with the other six provinces in their fight against the federal government’s proposed constitutional amendments.5
Eventually, the question as to whether the federal government even needed provincial support to amend the Constitution made its way to the courts. In one of Canada’s leading constitutional law decisions known as the Patriation Reference, the Supreme Court ruled that while by convention the federal government should have substantial provincial support for constitutional amendments, there is no legal barrier barring them from unilaterally amending it.6 This ruling had extreme significance for the Constitution Act of 1982, because it allowed the federal government to pass their new act without the consent of Quebec, who did not authorize it during 1982. So yet again, we here at the Dominion are wondering: have we given the federal government too much power over matters that have a wide impact on the provinces?
Your Most Humble and Obedient Servants,
1Robert Sheppard, “Patriation of the Constitution” (3 September 2012), online: <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/patriation-of-the-constitution>.
6 Re: Resolution to amend the Constitution,  1 SCR 753 at 908-910, 1981 CanLII 25 (SCC).