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Constitution of Canada

The Canadian Constitution is the highest law of Canada. It outlines Canada's system of government, as well as the civil rights of all Canadian citizens.

The constitution is made up of several parts:

  • The Constitution Act of 1867. Formerly known as the British North America Act, this act was the act of the British Parliament that granted Canada self-government, and spelled out how Canada's government would operate.

  • The Constitution Act of 1871. Another former act of the British Parliament, this act outlines the procedures for allowing new provinces and territories to join the Dominion of Canada.

  • The Constitution Act of 1982. This was Canada's first "Canadian made" constitutional amendment, granting Canada full politicial independence from Britain, and incorporating a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlining the individual rights of every citizen of Canada.

The Charter is by far the most of-cited portion of the constitution. The Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1871, while certainly relevant, are generally not as well known. They have often been denounced as "messy," "almost incoherent" or worse for their somewhat convoluted and dated language.

Much of how Canada's government works cannot be accurately learned from a simple reading of the constitution, as like Britain, the Canadian government is heavily dependent on unwritten constitutional conventions. For example, a literal reading of the constitution would seem to indicate that Canada is an authoritarian nation run almost single-handedly by a dictatorial governor general. Of course this s not the case, the Governor General is merely a figurehead, and the true power rests in the prime minister, despite the fact that until 1983 the latter office was not even mentioned in the constitution.

Amending the Canadian Constitution is a topic of great debate in Canada. While there seems to be little doubt that the constitution needs some amending, the procedure for doing so is quite complex, requiring approval from both the federal parliament and two-thirds of the Provincial governments.

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