Canada has earned the title of being a peacemaking nation which is well deserved and known in the international community. It supports equality among everyone, protects and guarantees the rights of its citizens, and is considered a role model for protection of human rights around the world. However in Canada’s history, it’s society was once filled with prejudice and there were many discriminatory laws. This was evident in many historical events such as the mistreatment of the First Nations people, and the unfair Chinese Immigration Acts. Those laws had a very negative significant impact on the people. Considering the profound influence it had on our country, it is important to recognize that all the legal and social changes that came later on, occurred because of the Constitution Act of 1982. Therefore, the Constitution Act of 1982 is the most historically significant document in Canada’s legal history because it has shaped Canadian society in many ways. It was a milestone in our nation’s history that established Canada as a country separate from Britain, enshrined the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada’s highest laws and brought major social changes such as protection of individual and collective rights, women’s reproductive rights and judicial activism.The Act of 1982 is a very historically significant document because it shows the full independence that Canada got from Britain. Before 1982, Canada had its own national symbols and was an independent nation. But, there was one exception. It didn’t have the power to modify its own Constitution, which could only be done by the British Parliament. Before the act, British had the constitution and were able to legislate the laws (Wells). The decision of repatriating the Constitution was a long and complicated process (Library & Archives of Canada).  However, it allowed Canada  to separate from Britain. That meant that Britain was unable to intervene in any of Canada’s foreign affairs and it was able to have its own parliament. According to Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, some of the remarks he said at the proclamation ceremony was:  “Today, at long last, Canada is acquiring full and complete national sovereignty. The Constitution of Canada has come home. The most fundamental law of the land will now be capable of being amended in Canada, without any further recourse to the Parliament of the United Kingdom (Library & Archives of Canada).  Therefore, the Act of 1982 completed the unfinished business of Canadian independence, allowing Canada to amend their own constitution without the consent of the British Parliament. It was a document that was designed to help address Canadian issues and concerns on their own (Flaherty). The Act of 1982 not only showed the political independence Canada gained from Britain, but also enshrined the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, making it Canada’s most supreme law (“Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”). However, before the Charter came to power, there was another important Canadian law that guaranteed the rights and freedoms of its citizens. It was the Canadian Bill of Rights legislated in 1960 by former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. It recognized the rights of individuals to life, liberty, security and property. It also stated that no law should be interpreted in a way that violated the rights recognized by the Bill. However, the document did have its drawbacks.  Firstly, it did not apply to provincial laws since it was not in the Constitution.  Furthermore, there were  judiciary issues, since the courts never really took it seriously. Judges found that it only applied to the existing laws and were skeptical to expand rights or strike down any laws. (“First Attempt at a Human Rights Charter: The Canadian Bill of Rights”). Even though, the Bill of Rights is considered a significant legal document, it got replaced by the Constitution Act in 1982. That’s because the document is not only a human rights law, but also has greater power because it applies to the provincial level (McConnell). Another reason why the Act of 1982 is Canada’s highest laws is because it is entrenched to be part of the constitution. Because of this act, all of the laws must be constant with the rules that are set in the Constitution. If they are not aligned with the Charter, they are considered invalid. This also implies to the government since they have to create laws that are consistent with the Charter. For example, it is obligatory for the federal department of justice to make sure that new laws introduced by the government must follow with the Charter (Heritage). Given these points, the Act of 1982 is a very historically significant document because it entrenched the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, making it Canada’s supreme law. The Act of 1982  is a historically significant document in Canada’s national history since it brought major social changes to the Canadian society such as protecting the individual and the collective rights of its citizens, and changes like women’s reproductive rights and judicial activism.  The Canadian Constitution of 1982 protects the rights of citizens, such as their individual rights. It ensures that the laws affecting the individual rights conform to the Charter. In order to protect the individual rights of a person such as privacy, the act also changed the nature of criminal investigations by limiting police powers. There were many Charter cases that systematized these changes. The best example for this change was the David Oakes case in 1986, who was charged for selling narcotics. At that time, the law speculated that anyone that was carrying drugs was going to eventually sell them – which was a serious crime. However, David Oakes had claimed that he wanted to consume them instead of selling it.  His lawyer had argued that the law had violated the Charter’s right to be innocent until proven guilty. The Supreme Court agreed with this and declared that the law was unconstitutional. Ever since this incident, no one can be assumed to be selling drugs just because a person has it in their possession (Flaherty). Therefore, this was a good example of how the Constitution Act of 1982 protects the individual rights of its citizens. Furthermore, the Act of 1982 also protects collective rights. These rights are different from individual rights because those rights are promised to everybody, while the collective rights belong to the three native people of Canada:  English, French and the Indigenous People. One of the rights that they are given are the minority language rights. It guarantees the rights of the English or French speaking populations to be educated in their own language. The other modification to the Charter, was section 25, which outlines Aboriginal Land Claims (Schwartz). The Charter has enforced on the government a duty to consult Aboriginal people when government policies affect them. According to Renee Dupuis, the former chief commissioner of the Indian Specific Claims Commission, told CBC news : “The Charter’s recognition of   Aboriginal people sent a very important message (Schwartz).  In addition to the individual and collective rights, the Charter also recognized women’s reproductive rights. On January 28th 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion law as unconstitutional (Schwartz). The law is said to interfere with women’s right to life, liberty and security. The Chief Justice Brian Dickson had wrote: “Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of the security of the person (Schwartz).” Therefore, the Charter recognizes that this law intervenes with other rights such as right to life, liberty and security. Canada is also one of the few nations around the world with no legal limitations on abortion. It is treated like a regular medical procedure that is governed by Canada Health Act. Lastly, judicial activism (constitutional interpretation) is a very important change in Canadian history. Because of the Charter, the role of the courts had been raised. This allowed the judges to make social and legal changes  through the interpretation of the Charter’s meaning. There is a lot of criticism on this issue, because many people believe that all the power is in the hand of the judicial branch and the Parliament and Legislature don’t have much authority (“The Courts and Parliament: Balancing the Roles”). This was a very significant change in our nation’s legal history because before the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, the federal and provincial governments were allowed to infringe on Canadian Rights and freedoms. However, when the Charter was put in place, it prevented them to do so. As mentioned before, Canadian society was heavily influenced by the British and was filled with prejudice and  many discriminatory laws such as the mistreatment of First Nations people,  the unfair Chinese Immigration Acts and  it did not fully protect the rights of its citizens. After considering all these points, it is important to recognize that the enactment of the Constitution, had a very positive significant impact on the people. It showed the political independence Canada got from Britain, enshrined the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms making it Canada’s highest laws, and brought major social changes such as the protection of rights of citizens, women’s reproductive rights and judicial activism. In conclusion, the Constitution Act of 1982  represented a significant achievement in Canada’s history and made it a strong and unified nation, which contributes to the Canadian identity.

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