Studying Our Nation - The Canadian Constitution - Appendix I
by George Armstrong
Nearly every Canadian outside of Ottawa (and even a very few there) can see that Canada today is a country which is in very serious trouble. There is massive unemployment on the West Coast as the fishery has disintegrated, the situation is so bad on the East Coast that the fishery which has sustained the entire economy since 1947 has been shut down completely.
In Quebec, there is a massive separatist movement which is thriving on a steady diet of unemployment, misdirected nationalism and deliberate misinformation. In the West, there s a growing separatist movement which is fueled largely by a century and more of economic exploitation combined with a general attitude emanating from the federal government that the West just doesn't matter.
Crime is at very high levels, and nothing the government can say with regard to statistics can allay the growing perception of the great majority of the people that crime is completely out of control... and that this is largely to be traced to government policies of one kind or another. In recent years, we have seen an alarming tendency on the part of the court system, and the Supreme Court in particular, toward making law in the courtrooms rather than in the legislatures. One thing after another, we were told, can never be upheld by the charter of Rights and Freedoms...
And, one thing after another we have seen that the exact same Charter does uphold, exactly as the so-called "right-wing fringe" elements have said all along, exactly as one federal government has said all along was not. Clearly, there is something desperately wrong.
The politicians, of course, keep saying, "Well, if you'll just let us tinker with the Constitution a little more, we'll fix everything up." And the people keep replying, "Hey, things were just fine until you started tinkering with it in the first place!"
No one trusts the leaders of the country to change the Constitution, simply because Canadians have far too much experience already with Great Leaders foisting their own political agendas, or the political agendas of small, unpopular pressure groups operating with huge government subsidies, ever to trust a Canadian politician again. But the people sense, due probably to our proximity to the United States, that there is something special about the Constitution. The American Constitution protects the rights of the American people, so, one would think, the Canadian Constitution should protect the rights of Canadians.
But Canadians don't know. They don't know, simply because the great majority of Canadians have never seen a copy of the Canadian Constitution. They go to the public freedomry: it's not there. They go to school: it's not there. They go to a government book store: it's not there. They ask their Member of Parliament: they get no reply. And if they persist in trying to obtain a copy, they will be told that the Government of Canada will not even sell a copy of the Canadian Constitution to a Canadian citizen. But they are certainly willing to take his tax money.
And so the inescapable thoughts begin happening: if the Government of Canada won't even sell a constitution to me, there must be something in it that they don't want me to find out... And when any Citizen gets to this point in his/her thinking, he/she is right, for the Canadian Constitution, if used correctly, can be just as effective a document as that of our cousins to the south. But we have to use it. And, if we are going to use it, first we have to know it... which is difficult if the government won't let you have a copy.
The solution to this dilemma, of course, is simply to pirate an edition of the Canadian Constitution and make it available at a reasonable price so that any Canadian can read it for him/herself.
A copy of The Canadian Constitution has been reproduced photographically, so what you will read is precisely what the Government is concealing. It was not even reset, purposely, in order that a perfect copy be produced, so if some of the type is hard to read, blame the government. But, and this is big "but": the larger type is what the Law actually is today; the smaller type is historical background and changes since 1867.
So, let's open up this "forbidden book" and see what's inside. The first thing the reader will notice in the Foreword on Pages xiv-xvi. This is designed to guide the reader through the remainder of the book, and gives a certain amount of historical background on the text. The reader will notice that there has been a lot of tinkering already with the Constitution, this in the form of amendments, repeals, additions, substitutions, spent provisions, alterations and additions by the British Parliament (whose Act this was until 1982), alterations by the Canadian Parliament, alterations by the Legislatures of the various Provinces, and so forth.
These will all be found in tabular form, on pages 74 et seq., and explained in tiny type throughout the text. On reading this section, perhaps the first thing the reader will notice is that, quite contrary to popular belief, the old British North America Act of 1867, which we all learned about in grade school, is alive and well. This Act, as we all know, was the original Canadian Constitution, even though it was not really written as such, but rather as more or less of a "housekeeping" act to give Canada a legal framework in which to operate.
Some may have learned, in senior courses, that the BNA Act was not what Sir John A. MacDonald wanted. Others may even know that Sir John A. was furious when he found out what was in it. A very few may even know why Sir John A. was furious when he read the BNA Act because it did not give him the near-absolute power he wanted so desperately. And an even tinier number, although growing every day, will realize that, once he found out what was in the BNA Act, MacDonald immediately set out to subvert the act in every way he could, a process that continues to this day.
A student, on reading the entire Constitution of Canada and assimilating it completely, will quickly realize one very important thing: although the Charter of Rights and Freedoms may be a seriously flawed document, the vast bulk of the powers to stop excess on the part of Government is contained within the sections of the old British North America Act. A thorough knowledge of this Act, combined with the willpower to live by this Act, on the part of enough Canadians, will roll back the near dictatorial powers of our Governments of today, and reintroduce to a new generation of Canadians the freedom which our ancestors knew and fought to preserve.
The old BNA Act was in 11 sections, plus the Preamble. Current fashion has it that the Preamble is simply a few lines of Nineteenth-Century legal puffery, and that is precisely what the government would like you to believe. In actual fact, the entire Act is written in plain English and is quite easy to understand. As to the Preamble, a careful reading will show that it is anything but legal puffery, that it is in fact a set of overriding conditions which the entire Act, and anything done under the Act, must accord with in order to have legal power.
The bit about "a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom" gives us Common Law, Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, property ownership (including firearms), our entire system of justice, the right of bail, the principle of presumed innocence ... even the right to physically oppose a government which does not do as the people wish. It is a long, long way from being legal puffery, and it is very easy to understand.The problem, in Canada, seems to be enforcing it. But it's here, and it belongs to you.
Studying Our Nation is a partial reprint of the Introduction to The Canadian Constitution by George Armstrong - a constitutional authority. He provides an overall view of the Constitution and directs readers to specific sections of both Schedule A, which is the modernized version of the old British North America Act, and Schedule B, which is generally known as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The book The Canadian Constitution affords every reader a solid, authoritative overview of the supreme law of the land... and of its limitations.